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Narberth, Pa., residents Manpreet S. Dhanjal and Ruth E. Gordon have a lot in common with their fellow students and professors at Villanova University School of Law. Like most of his classmates, the 26-year-old Dhanjal comes from a middle class family in the Northeast. He grew up in the comfortable suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J. His father is an engineer, and his mother runs a hospital laboratory. His older brother is a doctor in Detroit. Dhanjal has an easy smile and gentle manner, but his resume reveals the ambition needed to thrive in law school. He worked on Capitol Hill before coming to Villanova, and his law school record includes an editorship at a law journal, apprenticeship at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia and internship at the school’s asylum clinic where he is now representing a Liberian refugee in Immigration and Naturalization Service proceedings. After taking the bar this summer, Dhanjal will top these credentials with a judicial clerkship. Much in Gordon’s resume is also what one might expect from a tenured professor at a top law school: 1977 B.A. and 1980 J.D. from New York University, clerkship with a federal district judge, stints in public interest and private practice jobs, and 1987 LL.M. from the London School of Economics. Gordon has published several articles in her fields of expertise — U.N. interventionism and constitutional law in the Third World — in the international law journals of Cornell, Michigan, Penn, American University and other schools. She speaks on these topics at conferences across the country and around the world. Demographically, though, the Indian-American student and African-American professor stand out. Like most U.S. law schools, Villanova is a largely white institution. According to Dean Mark A. Sargent, the school has an 11 percent minority student enrollment, and its 39-member faculty includes one Asian American and four African Americans. Dhanjal is one of 12 Asian Americans among Villanova’s 233 third-year law students. His turban and thick beard mark him as the only Sikh at the Catholic law school. Professor Gordon is a woman in the male-dominated international law field, an African American in a largely white institution, and a self-described liberal — inspired by progressive legal luminaries like Thurgood Marshall, A. Leon Higginbotham and Nelson Mandela — teaching to the relatively conservative law students of today. LAW AND POLITICS Dhanjal’s background defies the common belief that today’s law students have given up political activism for personal advancement. As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., he was president of his freshman and sophomore classes and worked on sexual assault and harassment issues. After graduating in 1996, he plunged into politics full time, signing on as deputy finance director for the congressional campaign of San Francisco-area Democrat Ellen Tauscher. It was the second most expensive congressional campaign that year, said Dhanjal, with his candidate raising $2.6 million in her successful bid to unseat the Republican incumbent. Dhanjal followed Tauscher to Capitol Hill, where he worked for the congresswoman on transportation and immigration issues. He returned to his hometown during the 1997 election season. Cherry Hill, N.J., Mayor Susan Bass Levin, who is of counsel at Pepper Hamilton, hired Dhanjal to manage the winning campaign of the four Democratic town council members. Dhanjal has remained politically active in law school, volunteering last year for former Sen. Bill Bradley’s unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Several of his classmates share his political passion, with the school hosting strong Republican and Democratic student organizations. According to Dhanjal, many students volunteered at last year’s Republican Convention in Philadelphia, and in local races in Montgomery, Pa., and Delaware, Pa., counties. After a one-year clerkship with Middlesex County, N.J., Superior Court Judges Jane B. Cantor and Travis Francis, Dhanjal hopes to work in the immigration or employment discrimination fields. According to Dhanjal, Villanova is “very committed” to public interest law. Elaine Petrossian, the school’s new career services director, “has been helpful in trying to place students in public interest [and] government jobs,” he said. FROM SUBCONTINENT TO SUBURB Dhanjal’s parents immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1970s with little more than their suitcases and their education. His father, Gurdeep, a native of Jamshedpur in eastern India, was hired by Raytheon Corp. His mother, Manmohan, a biology teacher from Bombay, found work as a lab technician and is now a lab supervisor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Dhanjal and his family are Sikhs, a monotheistic offshoot of Hinduism based on principles of equality. He remembers few issues of racial or religious discrimination during his childhood in Cherry Hill, which he terms a “pretty diverse, tolerant, progressive community.” Like all observant male Sikhs, Manpreet and his older brother Upendra wrapped their unshorn hair in a turban. His peers were very accepting of this distinctive headdress, says Manpreet, although he remembers a few run-ins with adults. When he was 9, for example, a soccer referee told him he couldn’t play because a league rule banned headgear. The referee retreated after Dhanjal’s coach told the official that “if he can’t play, then the whole team won’t play.” A few years later, while attending a friend’s bar mitzvah, the attending rabbi told Dhanjal that he had to wear a yarmulke instead of a turban. The rabbi relented after the friend’s father pulled the cleric aside for a quick lesson in multiculturalism. Dhanjal said he is drawn to the law as a tool for political empowerment. He is among a handful of Indian-American law students at Villanova and believes he may be the first practicing Sikh to attend the school. After graduating from a public high school and a large state university, Dhanjal said he was “a little surprised at the small number of minority students here.” However, he also noted a “conscious effort to raise the number of minority students attending Villanova.” The school is supportive of minority students, he added, hosting organizations for Asian-American, African-American and Latino students, and organizing a special minority student orientation before the regular orientation. MEMORIES IN THE MAKING Dhanjal said his most memorable times at Villanova would probably be in his first and final years. “I don’t think I was prepared for the amount of work and the new way of thinking I had to use in order to navigate through our first-year curriculum.” he said. “The amount of time studying, preparing for classes and worrying [about] getting called on was something I do not want to go through again.” His third year has been a more positive experience. Dhanjal is enrolled in the school’s immigration clinic. He is presently representing a Liberian refugee claiming political persecution based on his tribal affiliation. Working with another student, Dhanjal prepared a 500-page documentary submission and represented his client at a hearing before an immigration judge. “It was nice to see all the skills we have been taught actually come together to help an actual person,” he said. ACTIVIST TO ACADEMICIAN Like Dhanjal, Professor Gordon has an international focus and left-of-center political orientation. Born in Philadelphia and raised in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens in New York, Gordon graduated from Stuyvesant High School, New York City’s most competitive public school. Already active in the civil rights and anti-war protests, Gordon said she “discovered feminism” as an NYU undergraduate and helped establish a black women’s organization at the university. As a law student at NYU, Gordon spent a summer working on anti-apartheid issues with the National Lawyers Guild in San Francisco. She was also active in the Black American Law Student Association, running BALSA’s 1980 national convention at NYU. After graduation, Gordon worked at the Washington, D.C., office of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, where she co-authored a study on South Africa’s violations of U.N. resolutions in Namibia. After a stint at a lobbying firm in D.C., she worked for Robert VanLierop, an international law practitioner in Manhattan. Among VanLierop’s clients was the Pacific island nation of Vanuata. In addition to handling their legal affairs in the United States, VanLierop served as the country’s U.N. ambassador and pressed Gordon into service as a legal adviser to the U.N. mission. In this role, the young lawyer attended General Assembly and committee meetings on behalf of the tiny republic. Her experience at the U.N. left her both realistic and idealistic about the international organization. While often frustrated at the U.N.’s “bloated bureaucracy,” she became convinced that the world body serves a vital role in international diplomacy. The organization is especially critical for small countries like Vanuata that cannot post ambassadors around the world, she said. Gordon entered the teaching market in 1990 after earning her LL.M. from the London School of Economics. She was offered positions at Syracuse, Loyola of New Orleans and the University of Denver, but she said she opted for Villanova because of the strength of its international law faculty, including heavy hitters like Joseph Dellapena and John Murphy. BREAKING BARRIERS Gordon enjoys “the life of the mind” in academia, and is happy with her work at Villanova, she said. Professors may earn less than law partners, but visits to the Third World have given Gordon some perspective on her true material needs. “I’ve traveled to poor countries and seen how people can live on a lot less,” Gordon said. “Hell, if you’re living in Narberth, Pa., you’re doing well,” she laughs. She wishes, though, that being a black law professor was not such a unique designation. According to the American Association of Law Schools, minorities made up 10.6 percent of the professors at U.S. law schools in the 1999-2000 academic year, up from 7.8 percent in 1994-95. African Americans made up 7.1 percent of the total law faculty in 1999-2000, and 5.4 percent of the full professors. “I think people, white people, don’t realize how isolating it can be,” she said. “It wears on you, especially living in the Main Line.” According to Gordon, some white law students led “sheltered lives” before coming to Villanova, with relatively minimal contacts with minorities. Occasionally, this comes through in comments to African-American students, said Gordon. “It never happens in my class, but when, say, discussing criminal law, a [white] student might say [to a black student] ‘You must know, you’re black. Aren’t most criminals black?’ “ Such passing, unguarded comments may linger, said Gordon. “They don’t understand what they’re saying and how racist and painful it might be.” However, Gordon says that she likes and respects her colleagues, and believes that the feeling is mutual. “I’ve been there a long time. The faculty knows me,” she said. Villanova’s law school dean said the institution is committed to a diverse faculty and student body. In a recent conversation, Sargent said the law school is “always striving to improve” its minority enrollment through scholarships, minority alumni networks and recruiting in areas with large numbers of black and Latino college students. He noted that Villanova recently hired Frank Cooper, an African-American criminal law professor. Cooper joins a faculty that is “the most ideologically diverse I’ve ever seen,” said Sargent, ranging “from libertarians to Ralph Nader progressives.” Gordon now teaches a first-year contracts class and upper-level courses on international trade, international organizations and international environmental law. She enjoys teaching international law to students “who really want to be there,” she said, but also appreciates the eagerness and excitement of first-year law students. She calls on her contracts students randomly, picking from cards with each student’s name. Mindful of 1L terrors, she said she won’t call on those who tell her before class that they’re unprepared. “I try not to be intimidating, but some people are naturally intimidated,” she said. Gordon doesn’t fault her students for not being as politically active as her college and law school classmates. “I’ve stopped thinking, ‘Gee, what’s wrong with these kids? Why aren’t they demonstrating?’ ” she said. “ That’s not appropriate in an era when progressive politics aren’t at the center of political discourse.” “I don’t give people a hard time for not being an activist, because that’s not part of these times.”

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