Written by Allison Render, Student at McGill Faculty of Law.
Alana Klein, Assistant Professor
Research Areas: Health law, criminal law, human rights
Alana Klein did not initially plan to become an academic – she saw herself working in an NGO. However, while clerking for Justice Louise Arbour at the Supreme Court of Canada she found she was drawn to more academic questions, ones that couldn’t be answered through policy advocacy alone.
She decided to pursue graduate studies in law at Columbia University, returning to McGill in 2007 as a Boulton Fellow. In between, she worked as a policy analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
Klein says being a feminist has an impact on her research and her teaching. It provides a critical angle to her work and draws her to study the lived reality of law. Her work on participatory approaches in health care, for example, is informed by feminist ideas. She says her focus on active learning approaches is both beneficial to students consistent with some feminist conceptions of learning.
While Klein was reticent to give advice to students interested in academic careers, because individual circumstances can vary, she did offer an anecdote.
At the beginning of the year, she asked her Criminal Procedure students to write down when they thought the police should be able to stop people on the street, before they knew what the law is. Klein said one student, who is a women’s rights advocate, particularly appreciated being told that the students would someday be writing laws.
The classroom, she says, should be a place to work out feelings in a thoughtful way. Students should not be afraid to share ideas without taking a strong position, or that are not yet fully formed.
“Don’t forget you have an impact on the world around you…I don’t want my women students to silence themselves for fear of not knowing.”
Dia Dabby, DCL Candidate
Research Areas: Constitutional law, religion and the law, legal pluralism and legal education
Dia Dabby initially applied to law as a “throw-away thing”, because she couldn’t find a supervisor for her first choice program: a master’s in constitutional politics. Ten years later, Dabby is completing her doctoral studies in law, with plans to go into teaching.
Dabby said she has long known she was drawn more to academia than to legal practice. While completing her law degrees at the Université de Montréal, she did research for several professors. She articled with the Court of Quebec and was called to the Quebec bar in 2008.
For her doctoral work, she is conducting a comparative constitutional examination of children’s rights to freedom of religion and equality.
Dabby says some of her research applies feminist approaches, but she doesn’t personally identify as a feminist. However, she is concerned about challenges facing women in academia and is planning a coffee hour for doctoral students the topic. While more women are entering law schools at all levels – Dabby’s D.C.L. class is more than two-thirds women – there are still challenges in academia.
Women compose 42 per cent of overall academic staff in Canadian law faculties, and closer to 50 per cent of staff below the rank of full professor.
However, according to eigenfactor.org, women account for only 24 per cent of authors on legal papers published between 1990 and 2011.
Since publishing is key to career advancement, such disparities can have an impact. Dabby says she won’t speculate about the causes of this disparity, but has personal knowledge of the circumstances that may influence it.
“My mother is a university professor who did her doctorate while we were growing up, and used to write her thesis after we went to bed.”