Penn State Law co-hosts inaugural workshop to support Asian American women

August 10, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than 100 current and aspiring law professors participated in the inaugural Workshop for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Women in the Legal Academy on Aug. 5-6. The event included workshops focused on professional development, scholarship, wellness and Asian American history.

The AAPI workshop was co-hosted by Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar, clinical professor of law, and director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Penn State Law in University Park; and Sudha N. Setty, dean and professor of law at Western New England University School of Law.

“Watching this workshop turn from an idea to a space for Asian American and Pacific Islander women to build community, share their scholarship, and navigate the challenges and complexity of identity in the legal academy has been a truly rewarding experience,” said Wadhia. “I am grateful to have collaborated with Dean Sudha Setty and our stellar planning committee in this historic workshop, and hope it inspires representation and inclusion of AAPI women in the legal academy for generations to come.”

In addition to providing inspiration, the workshop offered tangible support to individuals from populations that are historically underrepresented in the legal field.

“I’m delighted that WNE University School of Law and Penn State Law in University Park have been able to partner on bringing this workshop to fruition,” Setty said. “Law schools have spent the last year focusing on antiracism as a guiding principle in legal education, including what that means in terms of supporting historically excluded populations of students, staff, faculty and administrators. This workshop is one important way in which we can engage in some of that work. The overwhelming positive response to this workshop is evidence that it is much needed and long overdue.”

This year’s workshop was dedicated to Mari J. Matsuda, professor of law at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law and a pioneer of Critical Race Theory. Matsuda serves on national advisory boards of social justice organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Asian American Justice Center. By court appointment, she served as a member of the Texaco Task Force on Equality and Fairness, assisting in the implementation of the then-largest employment discrimination settlement in U.S. history. In 1999, A Magazine recognized her as one of the 100 most influential Asian Americans.

In a message to Asian American women attending the workshop, Matsuda said, “After all these years, you will still encounter students and colleagues who are not prepared to see an Asian woman in a position of power. Never mind. We who have come before you expect to see you there, expect you to speak up, expect you to exercise power, and know you will succeed. Your communities of origin need you to succeed, and when you feel discouraged, their hopes and sacrifice will lift you.”

Given the workshop’s success in its inaugural year, Wadhia said that the hope is for it to be an annual event hosted by a rotating group of law schools across the country. Institutional support, she added, is key to making progress on diversity, equity and inclusion within the legal academy.

“Penn State Law in University Park is proud to support the efforts of Associate Dean Wadhia and her colleagues to establish this important and impactful workshop,” said James Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law in University Park and the School of International Affairs. “It is inspiring to see leaders in the legal field dedicate their time and energy to support one another and help cultivate the next generation of scholars.”

Workshop sessions were led by planning committee members of the workshop, and included:

  • "Entering the Legal Academy," led by Meera E. Deo, professor of law at Southwestern Law School and Suzanne Kim, associate dean of academic research centers, professor of law, and Judge Denny Chin Scholar at Rutgers Law School. This session discussed law faculty hiring as it relates to diversity and inclusivity, the nuts and bolts of being on the legal teaching market, and shared experiences of pathways into legal academia.
  • "Works in Progress (WIP)" session, led by Margaret Hu, associate dean for non-JD (juris doctor) programs and professor of law at Penn State Law, professor of international affairs, co-hire with the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences, and faculty of the Institute for Network and Security Research in the Penn State College of Engineering. In this session, nine scholars presented and received feedback on their draft articles.
  • "Professional Development," led by Sudha Setty and Shoba Sivaprasad Wadia. Going beyond the fundamental questions of how to get hired, promoted or tenured, this interactive discussion focused on the tools and skills that aspiring and current law professors can use to improve their professional identity and networks in ways that benefit their teaching, service and scholarship.
  • Incubator session, led by Rose Cuison-Villazor, interim dean, professor of law, and Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar at Rutgers Law School. In this session, 12 scholars received feedback on their incubator ideas.
  • "Fulfilling Scholarships and Wellness," led by Sudha Setty and Margaret Y.K. Woo, professor of law at Northeastern University School of Law. This session also featured scholars Cynthia Lee, Edward F. Howrey Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School, and Nancy Kim, a ProFlowers Distinguished Professor of Internet Studies and professor of law at California Western School of Law. Lee and Kim shared their experiences on how they find fulfillment in their scholarship — one through activism, and the other through the creative voice.
  • "Asian American History: A Conversation" with Ellen Wu, associate professor in the Department of History, director of the Asian American Studies Program, and affiliate faculty of the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society at Indiana University. Wu talked about Asian American history, including the origins of the “model minority myth,” and the contradictory positions of Asian Americans in struggles for racial justice. 

The planning committee for the workshop included faculty and administrators from Northeastern University School of Law, Penn State Law in University Park, Rutgers Law School, Santa Clara University School of Law, Southwestern Law School, and WNE University School of Law.

Co-sponsors of this year’s workshop include the Asian American Bar Association of New York, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Conference of Asian Pacific American Law Faculty, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut, and South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston.

Visit the event page for more information about the AAPI Women in the Legal Academy Workshop, including the planning committee, speaker bios and other resources.

Last Updated August 10, 2021