During Orientation Week for the newly admitted 1Ls, student organizations were petitioned to place information tables encouraging students to engage in extracurricular activities. We had vivid brochures, a sign-up sheet, and enthusiastic Board Members answering all sorts of questions. More than 50 women approached the table and showed a genuine interest in participating and becoming part of the National Women Law Students’ Organization. We were all very excited. There was a lot of movement and the table was rarely ever empty. Yet, as we tried to welcome all, we noticed that men would curiously look and ask those near: “Which one is this?” “Oh, a women’s organization?” “Feminists?!” As soon as we had their attention, we would almost yell: “Men are welcomed too!” Immediately, as they approached us with an incredulous demeanor, they would respond: “Really? Men are welcomed too?”
When our Board of Directors was completed two weeks after, we all agreed that our goals, programs, mentorship, and call for equality would not progress without the full collaboration and involvement of men. All of us understood that while there is a perpetuated view that women should unite to demand equal and just conditions in their academic, professional, familiar, economic, and social contexts, it should not arise from practices that are essentially exclusive. The much-needed gender perspective required to further diminish discrimination, wage-gaps, institutionalized sexism, and oppression has to be defined from both a woman and a man’s viewpoint. This does not mean they are inherently different, however, it recognizes that embracing both viewpoints, from their respective experiences in society, is crucial for a richer and a more inclusive examination.
Shortly after classes begun, NWLSO launched its pilot Student Mentorship Program and a social media campaign (Women of UPR Law, #WoUL) that illustrates women in law school while describing their experiences, motivations, and ideas. These initiatives have helped conversations evolve between students and professors and interestingly enough the inclusion of men, in what seemed to be an all women’s organization, was very well accepted. Male students have started hallway conversations by expressing their own concerns regarding gender issues in law school and the legal profession. At times, these conversations have turned into fascinating debates where we end up acknowledging that the mere voicing from both sides is necessary to thrive and enhance our discourses not only as men and women, but as human beings.
The National Women Law Students’ Organization fundamentally creates a space for female students to engage, network, commit, raise awareness, and put leadership skills to test; yet it is determined to do it in a wide reaching manner. And how could this possibly be done if we do not welcome men too?