Nikola Nable-Juris & Meredith Leeson, University of Maryland School of Law
After our first year of law school, we knew a lot about the law–elements of a negligence claim, reasons a contract may be unenforceable, and the mens rea needed for different criminal charges. However, for those of us looking to relate these principles to real life, the core courses of our education failed to reflect our personal and political realities. Torts class neglected to mention tort claims for forced sterilization or medical complications resulting from being shackled during delivery, and Contracts class kept silent on contracts between same-sex couples creating families. We entirely missed the range of criminal charges for pregnant women who struggle with addiction in Criminal Law, and Roe v. Wade made only a brief appearance in second year Constitutional Law. Even electives like health law or family law that touch on some of these issues often lack a comprehensive intersectional analysis. Instead of being frustrated by what we weren’t being taught, University of Maryland’s LSRJ chapter channeled its energy into proposing the course we wanted to take—a Reproductive Justice (RJ) course.
In early September 2010, with a small executive board and a designated Course Campaign Coordinator, we launched a course campaign on Maryland’s campus. The Coordinator researched which other law schools had existing RJ courses (only 39 schools offer a reproductive rights law or justice course), examined their curriculums, and gathered over 300 student signatures of support by tabling in the hallway and giving short presentations in classes. The Coordinator compiled all of this information into a comprehensive proposal, including a list of eleven other student organizations in support of the course, an alumni letter of support, and the 2010 LSRJ Course Survey (updated 2011 LSRJ Course Survey here). We presented this proposal to the Law School’s Associate Dean for Academic Programs with arguments for why this course was necessary. We are proud to announce that the University of Maryland will be offering “Reproductive Justice and the Law” in Spring 2012, taught by Professor Leslie Meltzer Henry. For those of us who recognize the RJ framework to be a valuable viewpoint, this course will be critical to our education as informed social justice advocates. Even for those who are new to reproductive rights, the RJ course will provide an important foundation for understanding some of the most important and contentious political and social issues of our times.
In law school, we are taught to be advocates, whether as litigators, policy makers, or impartial decision makers. As students, we must begin our advocacy careers by taking charge of shaping our own legal education. In addition to resulting in a fantastic course, a course campaign allows students to build networks of like-minded students and faculty, interact with school administrators, and spread the word about RJ to diverse audiences on campus. By campaigning for the RJ courses at our own school, we learned the fundamentals of being advocates even before setting foot in the courtroom.