Professor Jamie Abrams Receives Presidential Exemplary Multicultural Teaching Award
Assistant Professor of Law Jamie Abrams has been named the recipient of this year’s university-wide Presidential Exemplary University Multicultural Teaching Award, sponsored by the University of Louisville’s Diversity Programming Committee of Commission on Diversity and Racial Equality. Previous winners of the award include fellow Brandeis School of Law professors Enid Trucios-Haynes and Cedric Powell.
The intent of this teaching award is to affirm, value, honor, and recognize members of the university teaching staff (full- or part-time; undergraduate, graduate and/or professional) who integrate multicultural and global perspectives into their scholarship, teaching practices, curriculum, and research.
Professor Abrams, who has served as an assistant professor at the law school since 2012, was nominated for the award by Dean Susan Duncan, who had personally observed Professor Abrams’ teaching style. Her nomination provided information on the ways in which she incorporates multicultural perspectives into her classroom and scholarship.
Professor Abrams regularly teaches torts, domestic relations, legislation, and a seminar on women and the law; despite the diverse array of topics she teaches, Professor Abrams said that she has, at least, one common goal among all of these classes: “My goal is not just to teach what the law is in a value-neutral, abstract way, but also to push students to think harder about who actually wins and loses based on what the legal rule or standard is…I want to make sure that we pause and reflect on who’s left out of the standard that we just selected and studied.”
This way of thinking is sometimes particularly challenging for students who “often approach the law with a sense of reverence and a really high regard for the study of law, which almost creates a built-in bias because you believe what you’re learning has to be the right way…or that diversity is merely a tangent in the casebook, which is not the case,” said Abrams.
According to Professor Abrams, a straightforward example of the application of her multicultural perspective teaching style can be seen in her domestic relations class, where much of the law is framed around the institution of marriage. From a multicultural perspective, notes Professor Abrams, this framing can be problematic as the institution of marriage explicitly excludes whole members of the population, whereas other people simply choose to opt out of marriage, thereby privileging certain families based upon marriage, and consequently privileging certain families because of class, race, sexual orientation, or other characteristics.
Similarly, when producing her scholarship, Professor Abrams seeks to try out her ideas in workshops in diverse and interdisciplinary settings, immerse herself into the legal context in which she is trying to better understand, and challenge herself to analyze whatever legal issues she is writing about from a variety of different “lenses” rather than starting with a basic assumption about how a law or laws apply to different groups of people.
In fact, this penchant for challenging widely-held assumptions in the practice and study of law likewise served as the basis for Professor Abrams’ forthcoming scholarly piece in 2015, where she argues for reframing the Socratic method at law schools—a method that “disincentivizes inclusion and diverse perspectives” by its inherent nature—and replacing this traditional method with a client-focused approach, where students can think of how a particular precedent would affect one of their clients.
Receiving the award has already affected Professor Abrams: she has been further motivated to continue to incorporate and learn new multicultural perspectives in her teaching and work with the support of her colleagues and mentors in the university community.