November 2, 2017

Understanding + Empowering: How to move forward

ACS Midwest Regional Student Convening, James Willis Alt, Katherine LaRosa

by James Willis Alt, Vice President of The University of Toledo College of Law ACS Student Chapter and Katherine LaRosa, President of Chicago-Kent College of Law ACS Student Chapter

What can progressive law students do to better understand bigotry and intolerance and promote diversity? This is the question we sought to answer at this year’s ACS Midwest Regional Student Convening, which drew students to Chicago from across the Midwest. We assembled attorneys, judges, and legal advocates currently working on the front lines of progressive advocacy to discuss the effect and impact of bigotry in our often divisive and polarized political discourse.

We kicked off the convening Thursday night with remarks about restoring voting rights, the role of state attorneys general, and equity in the law.

On the Friday morning panel, “Fighting Bigotry”, John Bouman, president of the Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law, advocated that students should not “stay in their lane” regarding intolerance and bigotry because social change comes from progressive advocates fighting for others. Further, panelists Sufyan Sohel, the deputy director & counsel at CAIR Chicago and Melody Gomez, a Chicago attorney and author of Brown Girl Talks blog discussed what students can do to engage and empower our community to effect change.

Camilla Taylor, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, delivered the keynote address. Ms. Taylor discussed pending Supreme Court cases such as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that could put anti-discrimination laws, and the people they protect, at risk across the country.

One highlight from the convening was the vibrant discussion of the ACS Gavel Gap report, where local federal and state judges discussed diversity on the bench. Moderated by Juan Thomas, president of the National Bar Association, the panel was composed of federal and state judges who discussed how bigotry has impacted their careers and what law students can do to promote inclusion and equity in the legal community.

Finally, student leaders from several ACS student chapters in the Midwest discussed what students can do to affect change and promote a progressive dialogue on our campuses. All in attendance walked away from this event with plans on how to further these initiatives in our communities and lives.