AABANY Fall Conference: APA Women in the Legal Profession Panel

“Stronger Together: APA Women in the Legal Profession – Strategies to Support, Lead, and Advance” was one of the many panels presented at AABANY’s Fall Conference this year. Held on Saturday, September 26 from 10:45 am to 12:15 pm, the panelists consisted of:

Moderators:

  • Connie Montoya, Partner, Hinshaw & Culbertson
  • Sandra Yamate, CEO, Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession

Speakers:

  • Anna Mercado Clark, Partner, Phillips Lytle LLP
  • Judy Lam, Partner, Maynard Cooper & Gale
  • Honorable Grace E. Lee, Administrative Law Judge, State of New York
  • Sandra Leung, General Counsel, Bristol Myers Squibb
  • Sapna Palla, Partner, Wiggin and Dana

The panel was not recorded to create a safe environment for panelists as well as listeners so that there could be a candid conversation about race and the experiences APA women have had to face throughout their legal careers.

The panel started off with discussing the challenges and barriers of being an APA woman in the legal profession. Shared experiences among the panelists were that they were often overlooked in the courtroom, being perceived and mistaken as the court interpreter or court reporter rather than as the lawyer or judge. Even when they were correctly perceived as the lawyer, the panelists were still treated differently compared to their white male counterparts. In response to these challenges, the panelists discussed how it was okay to feel uncomfortable about these topics and it is important to focus on the microaggressions. If people are more vocal about the uncomfortable situations and share their experiences with the community, it creates a greater ability to mobilize and create change.

The panelists stressed the importance of seeing more APA women in higher positions and one way of achieving that is through having role models and mentors for rising APA lawyers. Current AABANY President, Sapna Palla, highlighted the AABANY Leadership Development Program which has been successful in teaching participants the skills to advance into executive positions, and she hopes to see more programs that do the same.

The panel ended with each panelist going over one action item they were willing to commit to within the next year that will help support and advance APA women in the legal profession. The general consensus among the panelists was to start a mentoring circle. Not only do the panelists want to be an available resource for people who come up to them and have questions, but also they want to be active in following up with mentees and seeking feedback from them.

The panelists also vow to use their positions as a platform to continue this dialogue. Advancing APA women in the legal profession is an ongoing conversation and hopefully, listeners of the panel are inspired to continue the dialogue with their friends, peers, and colleagues.

Thank you to the panelists, Anna Mercado Clark, Judy Lam, Honorable Grace E. Lee, Sandra Leung, and Sapna Palla, and moderators, Connie Montoya and Sandra Yamate for sharing their experiences and leading an important discussion about supporting APA women in the legal profession.

“Uncovering Talent: The Case of Asian Americans” – Lecture by Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law Kenji Yoshino

At the 14th Annual Korematsu Lecture Series, presented by the NYU Asian-Pacific American Law Students Association, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law Kenji Yoshino spoke about the phenomenon of ‘covering,’ discussed at length in his first book, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. The Korematsu Lecture Series, since 2000, has recognized Asian Americans whose work challenges legal boundaries and serves as an inspiration to all people of color.

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Professor Kenji Yoshino touched upon his extensive research regarding the frequency of incidence and perceived impact of covering. As opposed to “passing,” the practice of concealing a part of one’s identity in order to present as a member of the dominant major, “covering” differs in that a person who covers is unable to completely conceal that part of his or her identity so must instead downplay qualities associated with it. In Prof. Yoshino’s words, “covering” is a tax that minorities have to pay in response to a much less visible second-wave discrimination. Examining both the demand and the performance of covering, the research explores whether certain professional organizations live up to their stated values of inclusion. Asking the question of whether certain groups feel as though they must cover in order to be successful and have their successes attributed to their personal qualities rather than their race, Prof. Yoshino identified four kinds of covering: (1) appearance-based covering (e.g. a black woman straightens her hair to downplay her race), (2) affiliation-based covering that avoids behaviors associated with identity (e.g. a mother avoids talking about her children because she does not want her co-workers to believe she is less committed to work), (3) advocacy-based covering that determines how much a person ‘sticks up’ for their group (e.g. a veteran lets a military joke slide lest he or she be seen as strident), and (4) association-based covering (e.g. a gay man does not bring his partner to work functions so as not to be seen as ‘too gay’).

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In many ways, Prof. Yoshino’s research brings together many groups who feel the need to cover their identity, including the often elevated or demonized straight white males who feel they have to cover other factors, such as their socioeconomic background or their veteran status. At the same time, his findings also reveal the differences in impact respectively felt by members of different groups. Whereas most people feel the impact of covering, racial groups feel the impact to a greater degree, with no one impacted more than women of color who must simultaneously play down both their gender and race.

Here are some of the ways you could say I am “white”: 
I listen to National Public Radio. 
I have few close friends “of color." 
I furnish my condo a la Crate & Barrel. 
I vacation in charming bed-and-breakfasts. 
I have never once been the victim of blatant discrimination. 
I am a member of several exclusive institutions. 
I have been in the inner sanctums of political power. 
I have been there as something other than an attendant. 
I have the ambition to return. 
I am a producer of the culture. 
I expect my voice to be heard. 
I speak flawless, unaccented English. 
I subscribe to Foreign Affairs. 
I do not mind when editorialists write in the first person plural. 
I do not mind how white television casts are. 
I am not too ethnic. I am wary of minority militants. 
I consider myself neither in exile nor in opposition. 
I am considered “a credit to my race.”

– Eric Liu, The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker

"The loudest duck gets shot,” laughed Prof. Yoshino. Underscoring a dark history of discrimination, Prof. Yoshino explained how Asian Americans occupy a liminal space in which they are seen both as “honorary whites” and perpetual foreigners. Asian Americans cover or reverse-cover in numerous ways, either feeling pressure to live up to the model minority myth or feeling pressure to perform and act in certain ways to emphasize their Asian American identity. Professional Asian women are the least likely to have children. Asian Americans cover on the issue of age, often engaging in behaviors like wearing glasses or dressing conservatively in order to appear older and more authoritative. 

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(Above: Prof. Kenji Yoshino and former student and AABANY member George Hang.)

“Covering” gives a name to the phenomenon, which gives a person the tools to self-diagnose and consciously uncover. What is called for now by Prof. Yoshino’s research is self-reflection within organizations and communities. Having leaders who do not have to downplay their identities works to dismantle the harmful associations which might lead a person of color, mother, or other marginalized person to cover. 

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Prof. Yoshino closed with his own uncovering story: his own title, previously the “Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law” at NYU, had been a delicate issue in accepting his position. A Japanese American, Kenji Yoshino had been wary of taking on the title of the man who as Attorney General commissioned the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. After much deliberation, the offer was again extended to Prof. Yoshino, appending the words “Chief Justice” – after the initial confusion, Prof. Yoshino learned that later in life as Chief Justice, Earl Warren had recanted and expressed his deep regret that he had ever done such a dishonorable action. In the spirit of the Chief Justice, Prof. Yoshino accepted the position – his research works to change perceptions and increase cultural awareness for the better, and that deeply matters, even over the course of one lifetime. 

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Special thanks to Prof. Kenji Yoshino, the NYU Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, and Hanah Kim and Ted Kim of the Korematsu Committee for continuing the tradition of education and inspiration! 

An Endangered Species? The NYC Dept. of Education’s SHSAT: Perspectives from the Asian American Community

On Sunday, March 30, at the Flushing Library, members of the Asian American and Specialized High Schools community, including education activists, SHS alum, parents, and students, met to address the NAACP complaint leveled against the single test criteria for admission to the NYC high-performing Specialized High Schools, backed by AALDEF (Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund).

With the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test as the only criteria for admission, the racial composition of the SHS consists of a high percentage of Asian Americans (72% at Stuyvesant) disproportionately low number of Latino and especially African American students (less than 1% black students at Stuyvesant), a major issue of concern in NYC. Panelists and community members shared opinions, arguments for and against opening the criteria for admission, and personal experiences as parents and students in the testing system. 

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Panelists included: Roksana Mun (Youth Organizer, DRUM), Mitch Wu (Program Manager, Coalition for Asian American Children & Families), Larry Cary (President, Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation*), Stanley Ng (BTHS Alumnus & Lower Manhattan Representative for Citywide Council on High School), Catherine Zhou (Stuyvesant Alum & Education Activist), Michael F. Han (SHS Parent), Kathy Wang (SHS Student), Shikha Rawat (SHS Student & Youth Leader from DRUM). The moderator was Nelson Ma, lifelong New Yorker, AABANY member and Education Law Specialist. 

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Roksana Mun (left) and Mitch Wu (center left) represented views that support opening the criteria for admission to include top students and across different New York neighborhoods. They also discussed issues of standing in solidarity with other communities of color, Asian American issues of identity and the “model minority” myth, and the problematic nature of many expensive test prep academies, which many working class and immigrant families will work long hours at hard jobs to pay for. Larry Cary (center right) and Stanley Ng (right) represented views that support the SHSAT as the most non-political and least easily biased admission for acceptance and offered alternative explanations for the discrepancy. Larry Cary and Stanley Ng contextualized the larger disparities within the New York City public school system and presented case studies of schools that opened admission criteria and yet still failed to promote diversity.

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Above: Catherine Zhou shares concerns about recent cheating scandals and the test culture created out of the high-pressure single test system.

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Above: Stanley Ng presents information about the neighborhoods feeding into the Specialized High Schools. He pointed out that the willingness of Asian American students to travel a long commute for their education, as well as a lack of seats for public high schools in Queens if similar numbers of Asian American Queens residents do not feed into the SHS system.

We can all agree that every NYC student deserves the best education possible. A special thank you goes out to Chris Kwok, Labor and Employment Law Committee Co-Chair, and Nelson Mar for organizing and moderating an event revolving around an important issue that affects the Asian American community!

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Co-sponsored by the Coalition for Asian American Children & Families (CACF) and the Asian American Bar Association (AABANY)

*Appearing in his personal capacity, and not representing the views of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation

Ozawa/Thind Re-enactment Video

Ozawa/Thind Re-enactment Video