Nikita Srivastava (’19)
The University of Cincinnati was one of the first law schools to develop a joint degree in Women’s Studies and Law. In addition, the number of women applicants and law students has steadily increased over the years; women now comprise about half of every entering class. Despite these rising numbers, women in the law continue to face issues that merit special attention – issues such as pay equity, networking, promotions, etc. Fortunately, the College of Law has several centers and student groups that address issues faced by women in the law. These include the Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice, Out and Allies, and If/When/How. However, over the past several years, a student group devoted solely to women in the law was non-existent.
UC Law Women, a student group formed in the 1980s, was founded to raise awareness of the unique issues faced by women in the legal community but, for a variety of reasons, faded away in the mid-2000s. Then, in the fall of 2016, Maria Catrina Castro, a current 2L, saw Law Women listed on UC’s organization page; she asked how to join and discovered the organization did not exist anymore. Disappointed, Maria made a mental note to reboot the organization. She knew it would not be possible in her first semester to create a student organization, so Maria waited until Spring 2017 to start the process. She approached students who took active roles in social and gender issues – and sought out a variety of perspectives to ensure that the club would be an inclusive group.
The formal process of rebooting Law Women began in February 2017. During a Student Federal Bar Association dinner for Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bernice Donald, Maria asked me if I had ever heard of Law Women – I shook my head no. Maria then asked, “Do you want to start a women’s club with me?” “Absolutely!” I replied. The idea that Maria had carried with her for months was taking shape. Maria informed me that she talked to other 1L students Natalia Trotter, Jessica Nguyen, and Megan Powley about the relaunch. We then approached Professor Betsy Lenhart, who was coincidentally hosting the dinner for Judge Donald, and asked if she would be our faculty advisor. Professor Lenhart agreed, expressing surprise that so many years had passed without an active Law Women student group. She said she had no doubt, especially knowing Maria and me as students, that the new club would succeed.
We got to work on the mission statement right away, stressing the diversity and inclusivity of the new organization. Our mission statement provides:
The mission of UCLW is to provide a diverse and inclusive forum for UC Law students to promote the representation and leadership of women in the legal profession and within the law school community. UCLW advocates for the legal, political, economic, and social equality of all people regardless of sex, gender, race, color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, political ideology, sexual identity, age, disability, class, or socioeconomic status.
Maria continued to reach out to people who were interested in organizing the new group. She held an initial meeting with about 11 people to discuss the organization’s goals for the law school and the legal community. This group drafted the mission statement and constitution, which Professor Lenhart received in late March. Professor Lenhart noted the inclusiveness of the mission statement and the importance of recognizing that women’s experiences in the law are often different than men’s. As faculty advisor, Professor Lenhart said that she was honored to work with a group of students who had restarted an organization by scratch. She added that she wants to be an active advisor, and sees the potential for UC Law Women to play a unique role at the law school.
The goals of UCLW are threefold: (1) to promote representation and leadership of women in the law school and legal community, (2) to contribute to a legal environment that is supportive of women, (3) and, to build a strong network of women in legal community. Moreover, as a new organization, UCLW must also promote the organization within the law school and Cincinnati legal community. As Maria told me:
“I want to make sure that our current and future members take an active role in helping to build this student organization. My hope is that all UCLW members feel committed to the organization and excited about its potential. So ultimately, I hope to avoid a fizzle out by helping to create an organization full of active involved members and leaders who will take over and continue to build on this work.”
UCLW’s first Fall event is a Meet and Greet with women faculty on September 7 from 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm in the Crow’s Nest. UCLW’s first general informational meeting will be September 20 from 12:15 pm to 1:15 pm, where the founding members will not only address the issues women face within the legal profession, but also possible solutions to these problems. Also, UCLW, recognizing that women are in many different organizations, wants to collaborate with other student organizations. Vice President, Jessica Nguyen, organized a “Trunk N Treat” charity event with South Avondale School on October 28. This event is a great way for the UC community to gather and provide a safe environment for local children to trick and treat!
“Women make up at least 50% of the student population,” Maria noted, “and they are involved with everything across the board. I want to make sure as many different perspectives as possible are represented. And I want to make sure that we built an organization that embraces everyone.”
All events are open to all students!
For more information, email UCLawWomen1@gmail.com
Nikita Srivastava is 2L and Fellow with Ohio Innocence Project. Currently, she is Vice President of Criminal Law Society and Secretary of UCLW.