A Letter of Appreciation from uRSA

When the Class of 2013 arrived at UCI Law as 1Ls, we were welcomed by what was then the largest and most active student organization, the under-Represented Student Alliance. Dedicated to the pursuit of social justice, uRSA sought to engage all students in its mission. The lower-case “u” symbolized the principle that small numbers have no bearing on the impact that a group of people can make in the world.

With the support of many others, uRSA was founded by four members of the inaugural class: Edgar Aguilasocho, Joni Carrasco, Diana Palacios, and Irina Trasovan. There were four main branches: Voice, Perspectives, Focus, and Pipeline. Voice began as uRSA’s newspaper dedicated to social justice issues; but, as the de facto school newspaper, it broadened its scope to encompass all aspects of law student life. Perspectives, a monthly reading group that continues today through the Center for Law, Equality, and Race (CLEaR), created a space for students and professors to talk about the relationship between law and power in ways that are often avoided in the classroom. The topic of each month’s book corresponded to the theme for Focus, a monthly film and speaker series. Finally, the Pipeline program provided resources and mentorship to undergraduates interested in pursuing legal careers. UCI Law’s tradition of sponsoring the annual For People of Color workshop is the result of Pipeline’s work.

For many of us, it is difficult to graduate knowing that uRSA may not be there in the future to welcome new 1Ls the way it did for us. However, we recognize that a big part of uRSA’s decline has been the result of beneficial changes to the law school. Its most successful projects—Voice, Perspectives, For People of Color—have become institutionalized or are sponsored by other organizations. In addition, the broad-based approach of the early days (when there were few, if any, other groups focused on social justice) is no longer necessary because of the great work being done by newer affinity groups, many of which were founded by uRSA members.

Hence, this article is not intended to be “uRSA in Memoriam.” Rather, we write for two purposes. First, we hope to retain some of the institutional memory that has already begun to disappear as the law school grows. We hope that this article helps explain the early years of UCI Law so that future legal anteaters will continue our school’s tradition of support, service, and community. Second, we would like to thank the faculty who made uRSA’s success possible. Despite the infinite demands on their time, they have spoken on our panels, supervised our projects, and listened to our concerns. They have taught us, mentored us, and inspired us. They will always be our “uRSA professors,” and we cannot thank them enough for everything they have done to make under-represented students feel so valued at UCI Law.

In Solidarity,
Jennifer Chin, Zeenat Hassan, Christina Chen
Michael Klinger, Andrea LaFountain, Jonathan Markovitz
Tommy McClain, Andy Smith, Meg Tanaka
& Anonymous Students of uRSA

Personalized Messages from uRSA Members

When I came to law school, I was worried.  I wanted to pursue a career that would enable me to promote social and economic equity for all communities. But, as anybody with an unfiltered understanding of American history is aware, the rule of law is often undermined by racist, sexist, and homophobic regimes that suppress the rights of the most vulnerable. Needless to say, I had my doubts about law school, but I am so grateful that I chose UCI Law. We focus on experiential learning in the form of clinics and interdisciplinary seminars, complemented by a strong pro bono program headed by the indomitable Anna Davis. We encourage critical thinking and deep investment in our clients, refusing to shy away from politically unpopular projects. UCI Law has offered us a more meaningful basis on which students can engage with public service work. This is in large part thanks to our outstanding faculty. I will always treasure Professor Barnes’s incisive critiques on how courts can demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of victim behavior in cases of domestic and sexual violence, reflecting outdated judicial perspectives on the responses of survivors to the people who assault and abuse them. I will remember his reading of the racial and class undercurrents in our Criminal Law cases. I love Professor Daar’s commentary on how the misogynistic chauvinism of judges often rears its ugly head in the context of Property jurisprudence. And I will treat everything that Professor Ashar has said as guideposts for my legal career.

Professor Glater cares about his students and takes the time to thoughtfully answer all questions. He encourages students to speak up if they are not familiar with a certain legal concept, which is comforting for those of us who may not have had as much exposure to the legal profession prior to law school. It is often easy in classrooms to perpetuate a basic assumption that some people may not actually understand. Professor Glater encourages that our voices be heard.

UCI Law has been daring in its ambitions to break out of the more traditional tenets of the law school curriculum. It has brought us along for the ride, encouraging students to participate in building our school to the fullest extent. And we’ve had truly special professors who have encouraged us to be critical thinkers, and allow us to question even the basic efficacy of the legal process in achieving social justice. At the same time, they have encouraged us to arrive at solutions in which we are courageous in our political visions, informing us that we have the power to mold and realize the potential of law to accomplish our desired ends. UCI Law has made me more optimistic about the possibilities that are in store for wielding and tapping into law as a transformative vehicle for achieving social justice.

Professor Barnes engages students in deeper thinking to address systemic social issues. In order to stay accountable within our legal profession, we should all be required to spend some time critically analyzing the law and its impact on underrepresented communities. His insights and stories provide the real-world implications that are not necessarily ascertainable from the pages in a casebook.

Professor Glater has put a tremendous amount of effort into creating a community that will make UCI Law the “ideal law school for the 21st century.” He teaches us how to be creative lawyers in his courses, and he gives us nearly all of his time outside of his courses. I hope everyone has the opportunity to take a course with him or attend a speaker panel on which he is featured, and I hope that he stays at UCI Law for as long as he chooses to be a law professor.

Even though her final exams still give me anxiety nightmares, Professor Chacon is one of my favorite professors of all time. I cannot explain how much it meant for me to learn Criminal Law in my first semester from a strong woman of color. I imagine that when she’s not busy teaching classes, serving on faculty committees, being a mother of two young children, researching a dozen potential articles, and supervising student notes, she spends her five free minutes a day deciding which awesome power suit and kick-ass heels she’s going to wear tomorrow. I am so grateful for having her as a professional and sartorial role model. I am also very grateful that this article is being published anonymously, because I don’t think I could maintain eye contact with her if she knew how much I just gushed about her in a public forum.

Professor Barnes sincerely cares about his students and adds intangible value to UCI Law that cannot be quantified. He is one of the few professors who truly understands the unique challenges that underrepresented students face in the legal arena. He gives honest advice and looks out for the best interest of his students. His mentorship and encouragement have proven to be invaluable during my time in law school.

UCI Law has had a great four years, but this is just the beginning. Students have put a ton of time and effort into creating a certain culture, but students move on. In contrast, professors have the opportunity to create a lasting impact on the culture of a law school. One of the things that I enjoyed most about UCI Law, and one of the things that I believe will make UCI Law a great place for a long time, is the fact that we have the privilege of learning from professors who care about teaching and mentoring students. One professor who is quietly helping to foster a culture of care and support is Professor Glater. He goes out of his way to mentor and assist students however he can. For example, he does not hesitate to agree to speak on panels or lead reading groups, and he frequently attends student-organized functions, even when he is not a featured participant. Professor Glater brings a journalist’s curiosity to the classroom. His White Collar Crime seminar was one of the best and most enjoyable courses I had in my three years. He crafted engaging discussions, brought great speakers, and assigned challenging memos that forced us to wrestle with difficult real life issues: Why does Wal-Mart México get to pay bribes and get away with it? How does Pinkerton liability not violate due process? Is it right that the DOJ uses heavy-handed federal prosecutions to make examples of individuals? Professor Glater teaches his students how to be lawyers.

In my life, I have come across professors that repeatedly came to class intoxicated, refused to teach class and told their students to study on their own for the quarter, slept with several students in the class at the same time, and had their spouses teach their classes for them. The horrors stories are endless. When I hear of other law school horrors stories, I conclude that the worst teacher here would be better than 90% of law professors in general. Consequently, I feel truly blessed. When I think of all the doctrinal classes I have had here, Criminal Law with Professor Barnes has probably best prepared me to actually practice law. He did not just focus on what was the black letter law, but all the racial, gender, class and other logics that inform how the legal system actually operates. He did not pretend that the law was coherent when it was not. When I interned, his class most prepared me for what I actually experienced. The written law didn’t correspond to how things actually operated. Judicial opinions did not necessarily have coherence. And when advocating for clients, one had to take into account the ideological baggage that judges, juries, and lawyers have in negotiating with them. And anyone who can keep me awake in an 8:30am class is a great professor!

Whenever I see Professors Chacon, Lee, Barnes, Glater, and Ashar talking to each other, I think: “Someday, that’s going to be me and my friends.” I have such admiration and respect for all of them. Despite being intimidatingly intelligent, they never make students feel inadequate. They are always willing to talk to you, whether it’s about a problem you’re having in class or just how frustrated you are with all the injustice in the world. And even though Professor Ashar acts like he’s too cool for school, I know he’s going to cry at Commencement.

I have taken many great classes, but one that stands out for me is Professor Glater’s Public Companies. I have really appreciated how he never presumes a base of knowledge among students and never makes me feel stupid when I have to ask very simple questions. For someone like myself who knows nothing about the corporate world, I can get confused and intimidated easily by the material. But his openness to students of all knowledge levels makes me excited to learn and willing to take risks on material with which I am uncomfortable. I also really like the fact that he does not just teach the written law, but subtly encourages us to look at the larger context in which corporate law operates. Without directly announcing that he is doing this, he has taught us a lot about how power operates, what accountability should look like, and the strategies that those with less power can employ to challenge the powerful. His class has taught me more than I ever could have imagined about how our current economic system operates and by extension, what can be done to challenge this system.

Professor Barnes’s Criminal Law course was one of the most difficult and exhilarating intellectual experiences I’ve ever had. I had to read every case incredibly carefully to make sure that I understood what was going on in class, and, despite this, I got lost regularly. But I loved every minute of the class. I appreciated his command of the material, his sense of humor (who’d have imagined that a criminal law classroom would be filled with laughter pretty much every day?), and his willingness to debate issues from every possible angle. I emerged from the class understanding the material with a kind of depth and complexity that I would have never gotten from another professor. The course is a big part of why I think of UCI Law as being defined by its warmly supportive, fun, and intellectually stimulating and rigorous environment.

When we chose to come to UCI Law, we each had our own reasons. But for those of us who affirmatively chose to join a young community so that we could help to define a new way of learning the law, and who have a personal interest in using our legal training to inform and order our approach to how the power of the state is enacted upon marginalized, disenfranchised, disempowered, or otherwise vulnerable communities of human begins, a few attributes of this young institution will always stand out in our memories as pivotal. uRSA, in its two years of high-impact interventions in life at UCI Law, created a roadmap for navigating law school using a critical lens to consider how legal training, privilege, opportunity, and humanity can be made to intersect meaningfully. And although the incredible faculty at UCI Law has helped to support and nurture our community—including uRSA—some faculty members in particular have provided the vision and wisdom that have helped so many of us model how to be thoughtful and humble advocates for the communities we seek to partner with in the future. Whether because they represent minority voices in their scholarship, because they embody a minority viewpoint in their lived experiences, or because their work and their passions are exemplary of the role of dedicated allies, Professor Glater, Professor Ashar, Professor Barnes, Professor Chacon, Professor Jones, Professor Lee, Professor Menkel-Meadow, and Professor Weinstein have each made an invaluable contribution to a meaningful dialogue at UCI Law. Those of us who sought to challenge boundaries and build a new kind of community owe each of these faculty members a special debt of gratitude. Thank you!