Professor Hillary L. Burgess presented “Thank You for Adding Diversity, Now Conform: Understanding How Conversational Styles Can Impact Student Advising, Mentoring, and Classroom Participation” as a poster, sponsored by the Section on Minorities, at the AALS Annual conference. Professor Burgess also had a designated time to discuss the topic with interested members of the legal academy.
In her poster and presentation, Professor Burgess applied Deborah Tannen’s work on conversational styles to teaching and learning in the law school. Professor Tannen had argued that when people with diverse conversational styles interact, they often misunderstand each other’s conversational cues, and hence, misunderstand each other’s meaning. Professor Burgess argued that these conversational differences can lead to significant, though unintended, discrimination for ethnic, gender, and regionally diverse law students when they interact with law professors. Professor Burgess further argued that law schools, and particularly law professors, have an affirmative duty to understand how conversational styles differ especially for ethnic, gender, and regional groups and to use this knowledge to mitigate even unintentional discrimination. Professor Burgess’ article on this topic will be published in the Spring edition of The Law Teacher.