Contours

voices of women in law // voix des femmes en droit

DIALOGUES IN COLOUR

BY THE WOMEN OF COLOUR COLLECTIVE OF MCGILL LAW

 

INTRO

As women of colour, we are situated in between two worlds - neither of which has a legal system built for us. Awareness of this reality becomes acute in law school, where it seeps through the readings we are assigned, the lectures we receive, and the hallways we walk. At best, we are one of many lenses through which to view a case, and, at worst, we are a question. Is the law discriminatory? This question, when asked, gives the Women of Colour Collective and similar groups reason enough to exist.  

 

At the beginning of this semester, our executive team met to discuss the direction in which we wanted to grow as a club. We decided on two major, perhaps contradictory, but theoretically reconcilable goals.

 

Firstly, we wanted to echo the sisters who built our group by continuing to provide a supportive space for women from racialized backgrounds, Indigenous women, and trans people of colour at our faculty. In this vein, we have hosted events for our members, ranging from social gatherings to professional development programs, and have sought to broaden our community both at the faculty and online, so that minoritized legal professionals, law students, aspiring jurists, and our allies might safely unite in solidarity with one another.

 

Secondly, in breaking from the mold set for us, we wanted to venture out of the space we’ve worked so hard to cultivate and start a conversation at the faculty (and beyond) to find understanding and compassion in an increasingly polarized environment. Allyship is an important part of any movement. We understand that to get it we must indeed give it. Moreover, the exchange of ideas, fundamental to any social system, is necessary for change. Achieving this requires, on the one hand, taking up space and getting our voices heard, and, on the other, leaving space for others to disagree with us and engage with our opinions.

 

This project attempts to reconcile our two goals. These pictures were taken while doing what this club is ultimately about - sharing experiences. These next pages record our thoughts on a variety of topics, ranging from being a woman of colour, the role of WOCC, our hopes for and issues with the legal profession, and, naturally, Mindy Kaling.

 

We hope that minoritized readers find comfort in our shared experiences. We hear you; we are you. For others, we hope that you gain a more thorough understanding of what WOCC seeks to accomplish and why the space we create is necessary. We offer this piece to you and in doing so invite you into our space.

 

We ask you to join the conversation.

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CAPTIONS (ACCOMPANYING PICTURES)

“DO YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY WHEN YOU SPEAK YOUR MOTHER TONGUE?

- It’s like I have two of me: a self-conscious me for you and a free me for me, does that makes sense?

- I think so.”

 —-

BOUNDLESS. I like that word because none of us have boundaries. If there’s no space for you, make space. Even though I don’t know how to do that, and there are so many institutional problems and barriers… I like that word. And I like strength too. I think the people that we least expect are the strongest people and we can learn from them. And that reminds me of people back home, like those in refugee camps – no, they’re not the most educated, but they are the strongest.

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WHAT DOES WOCC MEAN TO YOU?

“WOCC is a space that has allowed me to be unapologetically myself. A space that has nourished my curiosity and catapulted my academic and spiritual growth.  A space that has given me the opportunity to reflect on my identity and to connect the missing dots of my story. A space that has brought strong, smart and dynamic women into my life. WOCC is a space where solidarity, empathy and debate come together.”

“As women of colour, we have to make our own community within the legal profession.

The recruitment process more than anything has shown me that. It’s been hard but I can’t really put into words why. And so, I’m grateful for the women of colour at this faculty, because they know how it is without me even having to explain it, and their support is there without me even having to ask. They’re more confident in me than I am in myself, and that’s what keeps me going when my insecurities -of which there are increasingly more- tell me to stop.”

 

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ON LAW SCHOOL

"Perspective taking has been an incredibly useful tool for me in these first few months of law school. It's been crucial to me in trying to connect with my roots and in deciphering the grey zone in which I've always lived. But now, it has unexpectedly brought so much wealth to my law school experience in providing a variety of lenses through which to interpret the grey zone inherent to a legal education."

“Especially if it’s corporate, you have to participate five times as a woman of colour for them to be like, oh, okay, maybe you have a decent opinion.”

“I’m working on being my authentic self without modifying the way I self-present to fit a certain ideal.”

——

“WHAT DO I HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH WITH MY LEGAL STUDIES?

This could be largely idiosyncratic. But, what has stood out throughout my legal studies is the way in which “The Law” is so deeply invested in rules, categorization and legibility. I’ve found that this perpetuates a narrative of perceived clarity which is mirrored in the structure of law school and our transition into the legal profession more generally. I think that for a lot of law students certainty is the norm which is then punctuated by flashes of uncertainty - it’s all the more destabilizing when uncertainty is your constant reality.  It is spaces like WOCC which have allowed me to lean into and embrace the liminality of my law school experience. So when asked what I hope to accomplish with my legal studies my answer is still comically opaque but (ironically) there’s clarity and confidence in my uncertainty.”

——

GROUP PICTURE

“- I don’t want to be the first woman of colour at a firm.

- It’s unfortunate that sometimes you have to be and that’s just not an option. For example, there’s this firm I genuinely wanted to work with, loved everything, their business-

- I wish I loved corp as much as you do.

- I was the first Arab to go to this firm - so there’s no one like me here, and I don’t know how to act. My interview was with 4 white men. And me on the opposite side of the table. And I started talking about how Western legal systems are becoming a standard and that’s not necessarily a good thing. One of the questions was like, has your study of the law been satisfactory? And I meant to say yes, because it’s a legal job obviously. But I was like, no honestly, it’s just one narrative that I’m getting tired of. And they were probably like, do we want to take her on? She’s a bit much.

- That’s amazing.

- And even if we’re not choosing to be trailblazers, people assume that for us.

- It’s just like, man, I’m not the trailblazer you want. I’m a mediocre student just trying to get a job.”

“How do I feel about Dua Lipa?

- I really like her style.

- She does have great style – and she’s very… she’s cool.

- My best friend’s cousin does her costumes.

- That’s actually very cool.

- Best friend?

- One of them - Best friend is a tier.

- I agree – Mindy Kaling said that.

- I love her.

- I followed her with the WOCC Instagram hoping she would follow us back.

- Did she?

- ... she didn’t.”

 

 

Contours is made possible by funding from the McGill Law Students’ Association / L’Association des étudiant-e-s en droit de McGill. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part without permission from the authors.

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