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Professional Identity Crisis

Race, Class, Gender, and Success at Professional Schools

Carrie Yang Costello

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The fact that women and people of color tend to underperform at professional schools is a source of controversy. Conservatives blame affirmative action, while liberals blame intentional discrimination. The extensive research reported in Professional Identity Crisis belies both conspiracy theories.

The author spent over 400 hours observing how first-year students are socialized in two very different environments, Boalt School of Law and the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, watching how they adapted to different expectations of how to speak, dress, and behave in the classroom.

Costello found that students who were female, of color, disabled, or poor were not underqualified compared with their privileged peers. Nor did the research uncover intentional bigotry. Instead, the disproportionate success of white men can be explained by the fact that they are more likely to acquire appropriate professional identities swiftly, with little inner conflict. Students from less privileged backgrounds, however, suffered from "identity dissonance." For example, Jasmine, a Filipino student from Los Angeles, explained, "In the legal culture you have to adopt a different way of being, a different vocabulary and way to carry yourself . . . That's how I got this far. And when I go home, if I act the way I do here, they won't get it. My cousins and my friends say, 'You're kind of whitewashed.' And when I come back here I have to get back my law style."

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Civil Rights, Gender Studies, Education