Q&A with Professor Neha Jain

March 31, 2019

Catherine Ulrich, 1L, a student on the Law School’s Diversity Committee interviewed Professor Neha Jain about teaching and learning in a diverse and inclusive Law School environment.

Where are you from?

I was born in and grew up in India, but I have spent most of my adult life living, studying, and working in multiple countries in Europe, SE Asia, Africa, and the US, so I do not identify as being from anywhere in particular.

What led you to MN?

The weather, of course! I was thrilled when I received an offer to join the Law School as an Associate Professor and I have very much enjoyed being part of our wonderful university and law school community and exploring the theater, music, and food scene in the Twin Cities.

What type of legal scholarship do you work on and what led you to that practice area?

I work at the intersection of criminal law and international law and my research, policy, and work experience focuses primarily on accountability for mass atrocity crimes such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. For me, this is the area that is both the most intellectually stimulating and where I can make hope to make a difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people.

From your experience, what equity and inclusion initiative or change has been most successful at the Law School, and why?

If you aren’t familiar with any, maybe describe an initiative you are familiar with and why you think it works. It is not so much one initiative that stands out, either at the Law School or elsewhere, but cultivating the attitude and temperament that signals a genuine willingness to translate our abstract commitment to equity and inclusion into a living and breathing institutional priority. Even in the relatively short span of time that I have been at the Law School, I have seen any number of efforts championed by students, faculty, and staff, ranging from dedicated fellowships to bringing in diverse external experts to engage with our community. Needless to say, there is much more than we can and need to do as a community, but it has been exciting and humbling to see the immense time and energy that the student body, in particular, has put into making some of these initiatives as successful as they have been.

In many ways, diversity is proven to be a critical asset to the success of the workplace. Do you feel this to be true in the classroom/at the Law School and how do you/faculty make sure to include students of all diverse backgrounds in the classroom?

Yes, absolutely. In my classes, I strive to create a respectful environment so that students from diverse backgrounds and holding diverse viewpoints feel comfortable engaging with me and with their peers on topics that can oftentimes be politically fraught and challenging. This is especially true of my 1L Criminal Law class, given the various ways in which the the criminal justice apparatus reflects and perpetuates systemic inequalities. This year, I have also helped initiate a criminal law lunchtime lecture series where we bring in external speakers representing a range of backgrounds to discuss the criminal law’s disparate impact on already marginalized and disadvantaged individuals and communities.

What advice do you have for students in helping them ensure that the Law School is supportive and inclusive of persons from all different types of backgrounds?

Don’t be afraid to suggest something new or off-the-wall! No one is better placed than you to know what forms of support and encouragement would be helpful and, conversely, what is clearly not working. You also bring with you your recent experience of successful diversity and inclusion efforts at your former universities, workplaces, towns and communities. Learning how to advocate effectively, both for yourself and on behalf of your peers, including in situations where this feels like an uphill battle, will stand you in good stead throughout your professional lives.

What are some ways in which you think the Law School can improve its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts?

One concrete suggestion would be to have standing faculty/student/staff joint dialogues, where different constituencies in the Law School meet regularly to take stock of and brainstorm how we can work collectively to improve our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Another is to have a monthly speaker series (which is also open to the University and the public at large) focusing on the lived experience of, and challenges surrounding, diversity in our student, staff, and faculty community.

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