By Phil Stempin, UM News Service
MISSOULA – During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alicia Miles packed up her car and moved to Montana. She had just been hired by the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana as the new director of admissions. Part of her new job description included increasing diversity within the law school. As a Black woman from Southwest Louisiana, she was up for the challenge.
“When I moved to Montana, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Miles said. “I did know I wanted to create opportunities for as many different people as possible. Diversity is more than just race. There are wide socioeconomic differences [in our students] as well.”
After Miles arrived, the number of minority students entering law school in Montana increased from 11% to 20% in three years. She increased recruiting events in areas where the law school hadn’t previously spent as much time. Miles also started traveling to events at historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and showed up to all Montana tribal colleges in person.
She is the face of the law school at recruiting events.
“Having a person of color behind the recruiting tables helps open the door for minority students to become interested in going to law school in Montana,” Miles said. “Prospective students see me and think that Montana has a spot for them as well.”
With first-year law student (1L) tribal representation at 16%, more Native students are finding success at the Blewett School than any other time in history. Native students at the school represent over half of the recognized tribes in Montana, as well as several tribal nations from out-of-state.
Miles said there is more to increasing the percentage of minority students than just getting students enrolled.
“It is one thing to recruit minority students to come to our school; it’s another to retain them,” she said. “We are looking for opportunities for all students to be successful from when they first get accepted until they get a job. The process doesn’t stop at law school.”
Many tribal members from reservations look to return to their communities to serve.
“We are looking for students who want to practice law throughout Montana, and the tribes are no exception,” Miles said. “We want our graduates to effectively serve their communities throughout the state and beyond.”
She said a larger percentage of non-white enrollment is advantageous to every student.
“We would be doing a disservice to all of our students if they weren’t exposed to other cultures and ways of thinking,” Miles said. “Many of their future clients may look different from themselves or have different backgrounds. We want to our students to have plenty of experience with diversity before they ever graduate.”
One of her favorite parts of the job has been interacting with students throughout the entire law school experience – from admissions to graduation and getting a job.
“I meet them before they know anything about law school,” Miles said. “Then I get to see them finish school and get jobs. For a lot of students, the law school process is shrouded in mystery. I like opening doors to people who don’t even know the doors existed in the first place.”
Miles enjoys introducing students to UM’s law school for the first time and said Blewett’s smaller size and hands-on approach to legal education is a big selling point.
“Many of our students integrate with our community and become part of Montana in ways they didn’t expect,” she said.
Miles recently received a national award from the American Association of Law Schools for her efforts in bettering the legal community and increasing diversity.
“Increasing diversity is an ongoing effort and not solely my task,” Alicia said. “Our community as a whole is always better with more diversity, and it can only be achieved when everyone gets involved.”
Contact: Phil Stempin, director of events, marketing and communications, UM Blewett III School of Law, 406-243-6509, firstname.lastname@example.org.