Thank You for Adding Diversity, Now Conform: How Conversational Styles Impact Diverse Students with Participation, Counseling, and Mentoring

I will apply the research by Deborah Tannen on Conversational Styles to the law school setting by discussing how differences in conversational preferences like eye contact, pacing and pausing, and backchanneling differ across regions and cultures. For example, whether averting eye contact communicates respect or disinterest varies across cultures. I will then discuss how these differences can lead to misunderstanding when diverse students use conversational styles intending to convey very different meaning from the way their professors interpret their conversational style. These mismatches in conversational styles can result in diverse students being misunderstood during classroom participation, academic counseling, and extra-curricular conversations with faculty. These misunderstandings can make it more difficult for diverse students to earn top grades, receive good advising, or find mentors. I posit that faculty and administrators have a duty to familiarize themselves with conversational customs of diverse students. Faculty and administrators have a further duty to interpret conversational styles in context rather than expecting students to conform to the conversational preferences of the region. Law schools will not add meaningful diversity to their environment unless and until law schools become more accepting and inviting to diverse students.