Focusing a legal lens on diversity and inclusion

MLS alumnus David Glasgow (LLB(Hons) 2007, BA 2007) has recently taken up the role of Executive Director at NYU School of Law’s new Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. MLS talked to David about the pathway which led him to this role and the importance of breaking down barriers to equality.

Photo of David Glasgow

Tell us about the aims of the new Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU School of Law. What does your role as Executive Director entail?

The Center comes at a time when communities across the globe have an unprecedented variety of people living side by side, whether measured by race, national origin, religion, ethnicity, sexuality or otherwise. Societies are asking how we can best promote human flourishing in the context of that diversity, and institutions are grappling with how to create more inclusive workplaces and educational environments where everyone can feel a sense of belonging.

So the Center will advance interdisciplinary legal scholarship on these topics, support the NYU School of Law community as it strives to live up to those values, and share expertise through targeted engagement with public and private institutions.

My role is to manage the Center under its director, Professor Kenji Yoshino. To give a few examples, we will be co-teaching a subject on Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace, supervising independent student research on diversity and inclusion topics, and running a speaker series on campus with leaders in the field. I will also be coordinating a reading group for students, and will be heavily involved in the Center’s engagement with external organisations seeking to apply research-based insights to their workplaces.

Throughout your career, you have done a lot of work around diversity and discrimination. What inspires you to do this work?

I’ve always had a very strong innate sense of fairness and a visceral reaction to inequality. My earliest political memory was feeling outraged in primary school when I learned that women are often paid less than men. That sense only deepened when I discovered I was gay and felt what it was like, personally, to experience stigma and discrimination. At a basic human level I struggle to understand why we erect so many artificial barriers that prevent some groups from achieving full equality.

Also, intellectually they’re fascinating subject areas. In both Australia and the United States, people are constantly debating topics like assimilation and multiculturalism, the merits of “political correctness,” and issues like racism, sexism, and homophobia. And social mores are constantly shifting as new movements arise and political changes occur. So it’s a very dynamic and engaging field that’s easily relatable on a human level. I wanted to work in an area of law that touched on human emotion, and this one absolutely does.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your work and what are some of the most rewarding moments?

The Center is brand new, but one of the challenges of this area in general is making sure everyone—regardless of who they are—feels a part of the conversation on diversity and inclusion, while also devoting sufficient attention to the unique barriers faced by certain groups. We need to care about all cohorts because the desire to belong is a universal human trait, but in universalising we can’t lose sight of the particular.

The most rewarding aspect already is knowing that the Center is contributing to a conversation, and a topic, that is incredibly important in people’s lives. There is already a lot of enthusiasm for the Center both within and outside the law school, and it’s both a challenge and a privilege to try to live up to that enthusiasm.

How has your previous work in law firms and the court system prepared you for work in research and academia?

Working in law firms taught me to write clearly, conduct thorough research, and manage my time effectively. It also gave me an awareness of how legal norms affect organisations and people on the ground. I also think that having a wide variety of probono and corporate clients equipped me to work effectively with people from various backgrounds and walks of life.

Working as a judge’s associate deepened many of those same skills, but also gave me incredible respect for the judicial system. My judge’s ability to wrap her head around massive piles of complex materials within a narrow time frame and churn out a prodigious volume of well-reasoned decisions was awe-inspiring.

I’ve been very lucky to work for extraordinarily smart and inspiring people in all my roles to date. If I’ve developed enough of the interpersonal, organisational, research and writing skills to work in a law school environment, I owe a lot of that to the mentors I’ve had in my previous jobs.

What did you expect to do when you graduated from MLS? Has your career path met those expectations?

I didn’t have many expectations when I graduated from MLS. I knew I had a job lined up at Mallesons Stephen Jaques (now King & Wood Mallesons), but I had no idea where it would take me. I’ve always enjoyed the more academic/intellectual side of law, so I’m not surprised to have found myself working in a university setting at this point in my life. That said, there were a lot of unplanned twists and turns that got me here. Avoiding fixed expectations and being open to unexpected opportunities has served me pretty well so far.

Do you have a favourite memory of your time at MLS?

I loved how knowledgeable and passionate the lecturers were about their fields. I enrolled in a combined Arts/Law degree at MLS expecting to drop out of Law after a year, because I thought studying law would involve learning a long list of boring rules. But the lecturers at MLS made law come to life.

24 October 2016