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Yale Law Women Speak Up
November 11, 2015
I remember reading Speak Up about Gender: Ten Years Later, a Yale Law Women (YLW) report on gender dynamics at Yale Law School, just after applying to YLS. I had heard about the gender issues students faced at many prestigious law schools, such as lack of female faculty and disproportionate classroom participation. These were certainly concerns of mine while choosing where to apply. I was so excited to see that Yale had a strong group of women who were focused on these issues and working toward positive change.
It was no surprise that YLW was one of the first student groups to welcome me to the law school with its annual 1L welcome reception. Throughout my 1L year, YLW events introduced me to amazing women at the law school and in the legal profession and taught me ways to navigate my new environment. The many resources YLW provided helped me with everything from finding great restaurants to taking exams.
I was so excited to become a board member at the end of my 1L year! Since being on the board, I have gotten to help with the planning and execution of events similar to those that helped me so much in those first, most trying and confusing months at the law school. The highlight of my experience has been getting to know my amazing fellow board members and all of the other students that have helped us do great work here at Yale Law.
That work includes keeping students connected with alumnae. We pair rising 2L students with alumna mentors. We also honor one distinguished alumna each year with our Alumnae Achievement Award. In the past, we have honored notable alumnae such as Hillary Clinton and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Most recently, we honored feminist scholar Catherine MacKinnon.
We also plan events to build community among women at the law school. This includes our 1L welcome reception, matching upper-class women with 1Ls in “Big Sib/Little Sib” mentorship pairings, hosting all-YLW mixers, and facilitating faculty dinners. We work to build connections between Yale Law and the New Haven community by organizing community service opportunities with local nonprofits. We also honor and encourage outstanding students, faculty, and staff with our Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards and our Outstanding Leadership Award.
We help women adjust to the law school environment by hosting workshops and student panels on topics such as choosing classes and studying for exams. We also offer speaker events designed to encourage discussion of pressing legal issues and introduce students to potential career opportunities. Some speakers we have hosted this semester include: Caroline Krass (General Counsel of the CIA), Susan Sommer (LGBT advocate and Senior Counsel and Director of Constitutional Litigation for Lambda Legal), Purvi Shah (Bertha Justice Institute Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-founder of the Ferguson Legal Defense Committee), and Robin Steinberg (founder of The Bronx Defenders). Additionally, we host small-group “Day in the Life” conversations with recent alumni, who come back to discuss their career paths and provide advice for aspiring students.
We also work to improve the law school and our community by taking on special projects. Past projects include an outline bank for current students, a bar exam bank for recent graduates, our Top Ten Family Friendly Firms Initiative, and the Portraits Project, which highlights the women whose portraits are sprinkled among those that hang in Yale Law School. Currently, we are running a Critical Theory Series that introduces first year students to critical legal theory—especially critical feminist theory—in the context of contracts, torts, constitutional law, and civil procedure. Our Know Your Rights Advocacy Committee is surveying local anti-discrimination law and creating resources for a Know-Your-Rights training curriculum with the ACLU of CT.
Finally, we advocate for the rights and interests of women at the law school. Most notably, YLW has compiled and released Speak Up 2002, Speak Up: Ten Years Later, and Speak Up: Now What?, reports about gender dynamics and the importance of diversity at Yale Law School. While these reports focus on Yale Law School specifically, we believe they reflect issues common to most law schools in the United States. We are proud to help facilitate regular discussion about these issues among faculty, students, and staff, and to see the Yale Law School administration brainstorming solutions for future generations of students.
You can find more information about Yale Law Women at yalelawwomen.org.