At Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ), we are committed to providing our student members with educational and training opportunities which are critical in creating confident, well-prepared chapter leaders. That’s just what we accomplished on the weekend of July 11-12, 2009 at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where we held our second annual Leadership Institute, entitled “Justice Doesn’t Just Happen.” We set an LSRJ record, with 67 attendees representing 50 law schools throughout the United States. Our targeted efforts during the past year to increase our presence at Southern law schools paid off at the Leadership Institute, as we had student participants from Southern University Law Center, Florida A&M, University of Texas – Austin, Vanderbilt, Duke, and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, four of which are launching chapters during the 2009-2010 academic year.
As LSRJ’s Program Director, I believe that the resources we invest in chapter leaders will pay dividends for years to come. One of my responsibilities is to ensure that law students feel supported as they work independently at their schools to build and sustain chapters, and I have found that bringing them together at least once per year is critical in this quest. Student leaders are inspired and motivated when they share ideas face-to-face; there really is no substitute. Like many non-profit organizations, LSRJ has had to watch our budget during this uncertain financial crisis. The financial cost of bringing students together, however, is nothing compared to the cost of failing to provide that shared space.
LSRJ has a relatively short period of time (law school typically takes three years to complete) to reach our target audience. With busy school schedules and myriad extra-curricular activities vying for attention, LSRJ must offer law students innovative programming in order to compete. Our skills-based training opportunities, like the Leadership Institute, coupled with our commitment to educating, organizing, and supporting law students to become the next generation of reproductive justice advocates, allows us to attract and sustain an incredibly talented membership devoted to making justice happen.
LSRJ Executive Director Jill Adams kicked off the Leadership Institute with a discussion of the fundamentals of reproductive justice. Chapter leaders were asked to take a typical law school event and think of ways in which they could add a reproductive justice focus – by including underrepresented groups in the discussion and planning process; by examining the interrelatedness and intersection of issues; and by co-sponsoring events with a diverse set of student groups. The brainstorming sessions were intense and fruitful, and participants then returned to the larger discussion with concrete ideas for using the reproductive justice lens to modify chapter events.
In addition to this training on reproductive justice, we provided opportunities for students to caucus on various issue-based topics. Saturday’s lunch doubled as a Law Students of Color caucus; a session on working with anti-choice groups on campus; a discussion group for new chapters; and a caucus for chapters based on religious and ideologically conservative campuses. Sunday’s caucuses had a regional focus, which allowed students to develop ideas for regional collaboration. Seven of the eight caucuses were led by students, further strengthening their facilitation and leadership skills. Students also presented their homegrown interpretations of LSRJ’s Easy-Events-in-an-Envelope (neatly packaged time-savers that students utilize for easy event planning) to their peers, which gave them the chance to practice public-speaking, show off their campus organizing triumphs, and brainstorm new ideas for successful event planning.
LSRJ is fortunate to have the support of numerous organizations committed to empowering law students as advocates for reproductive justice. Justice doesn’t just happen without the help of many dedicated individuals and organizations, including Cynthia Soohoo of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Jill Morrison of the National Women’s Law Center, Angela Hooton of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Trevor Lippman of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Patty Skuster of Ipas, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom Project. We would not be able to provide programming like the Leadership Institute without the generosity of these groups.