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Speaker Series: Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Fellows

  • When: September 16, 2020, 12 pm
  • Where: Zoom: To register, contact Sophie Kofman at

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ABF Presents its 2020 Doctoral/Post-Doctoral Fellows

Speaking from the Margins: How Youth Confront Sexual Harassment & Abuse in Juvenile Detention

Roughly 7.1 percent of youth in juvenile detention facilities and 2 percent of youth in adult facilities report sexual victimization. Yet, existing studies reveal little on how confined youth make sense of sexual victimization and the role of law and legal institutions in perpetuating this violence. Drawing upon documented legal grievances, facility audits, investigative reports, and qualitative interviews with formerly confined young adults, youth justice workers, sexual assault advocates, and attorneys, my dissertation asks: (1) How do confined youth experience and respond to sexual harassment and abuse within detention? (2) How do systems of inequality such as race, gender, sexuality, age, and legal status inform youth interpretations and decision-making around sexual victimization under confinement? (3) How might law and legal procedures aid and/or inhibit effective responses to youth victimization? Illuminating how youth make sense of sexual harassment and abuse within the context of carceral organizations allows us to unearth how law and legal institutions simultaneously produce and conceal violence.

Amber Joy Powell, ABF Doctoral Fellow in Law and Inequality

 Amber Joy Powell is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her current research centers on the sociology of law, punishment, and gender-based violence across race, gender, age, and sexuality. Drawing upon semi-structured interviews and documented legal grievances, Amber’s dissertation, “Hidden in Plain Sight: A Qualitative Look at Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Detention,” explores how formerly incarcerated young adults, youth justice advocates, and youth correctional personnel interpret and respond to sexual victimization in youth detention. Her project unearths how law and legal institutions may simultaneously produce and conceal violence within organizational contexts. Amber has also served as a sexual assault victim advocate and a graduate student collaborator for the University of Minnesota’s Committee of the President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct (PIPSM). She received her B.A. in Criminology and Law Studies at Marquette University and her M.A. in Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Amber is also a proud alumnus of TRIO and the McNair Scholars Program. She is a regular contributor to The Society Pages and has published work in Gender & Society and The New Handbook of Political Sociology.

Building a Civil Rights Agenda: The Democratic Party and the Origins of Racial Liberalism

My dissertation project investigates the construction of the mid-20th century legislative agenda on civil rights by northern Democratic Party politicians. I examine the broad scope of possibilities for what could have been included on this agenda, and identify which issues and proposals became central to the agenda and which remained marginal or excluded. I argue that liberals in the Democratic Party faced conflicting pressures on the "race problem" from constituents, interest groups, and social movements during the 1930s-60s, and strategically included or excluded issues in order to preserve their party coalition. Through this analysis, I aim to more accurately characterize the content of racial liberalism as it emerged among white Democratic Party elites. The omissions of this racial liberalism, in turn, help explain its ongoing limitations in redressing various forms of racial inequality. In this presentation, I provide an overview of my mixed-method research design and highlight some preliminary findings.

Kumar Ramanathan, ABF/Northwestern University Doctoral Fellow

Kumar Ramanathan is a docoral candidate in political science at Northwestern University. His dissertation, "Building a Civil Rights Agenda: The Democratic Party and the Origins of Racial Liberalism," investigates how liberal politicians in northern Democratic Party contested and constructed a civil rights legislative agenda during the 1930s-60s, and aims to explain the origins and limitations of racial liberalism as it emerged among these party elites. His secondary research agenda examines the impact of civil rights law and policy on the politics of social policy after the 1960s, including an extended case study on the development of family and medical leave policy. Besides these historical projects, Kumar is broadly interestted in how significant developments in law and public policy shape political behavior, which is reflected in collaborative research on immigrant political participation and urban politics. At Northwestern, Kumar is affiliated with the Comparative Historical Social Sciences Working Group, the Program in Legal Studies, and the Chicago Democracy Project. He received his B.A. in political science and philosophy from Tufts University. 

Papers on the Factors that Contribute to the Inequality in Higher Education 

My scholarship explores the intersection of critical race theory and access to higher education, generally, and legal education, specifically. More pointedly, my dissertation research explores the framework and incentive structures within higher education’s environments to identify factors that contribute to inequality in our nation’s colleges and universities. In paper 1 of my dissertation, I contend that the U.S. News & World Report plays an active role in perpetuating and preserving the status quo when it comes to the lack of diversity in the legal profession. My analysis focuses on factors omitted from the U.S. News and World Ranking. Using critical race theory, I reimagine law school rankings by presenting raw data and re-ranking all public law schools in the country for over eight years (2010-2018). Understanding this notion, having no diversity factors, within arguably the most popular law school ranking system, often contributes to people of color’s misapplication. This paper seeks to rank law schools on factors that go to minorities’ choice in law school

Christopher Mathis, ABF/AccessLex Institute Doctoral Fellow in Legal and Higher Education

Christopher Mathis is a doctoral candidate in higher education at the University of Virginia, where he is a Southern Region Education Board Pre-Doctoral Fellow and a Graduate Fellow in the Center for the Study of Race, Education and Law. His research is focused on the intersection of law and higher education, with a particular emphasis on utilizing social science methods in the study of legal education. His three-paper dissertation, "Papers on reimagining legal education," explores how legal education would look different by reimagining 1) the U.S. Supreme Court's discourse on affirmative action, 2) legal education focus on ethical and moral development, and 3) the ranking of law schools. Christopher's scholarship has been presented and published across several conferences and journals. Christopher received his B.S in Mathematics from Oakwood University in 2014 and his J.D. from the University of South Carolina in 2017. During his doctoral studies, Christopher worked with the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta, GA, where he helped design equity centered programs, policies, and efforts for colleges and universities to adopt. As a law student, Christopher was on the Editorial Board for the South Carolina's Journal of Law and Education and President of the Matthew J. Perry Black Law Students Association.

 Universal White Standing

Many civil rights lawyers believe that there is only one real rule of standing: universal white standing. The perception that universal white standing governs federal court’s standing decisions has been widespread for the past several decades, yet no one has sought to empirically verify or disprove this claim. This paper seeks to fill that gap. Using time series analysis, I will investigate the veracity of this claim. I will also explore the extent to which Federal Courts and Constitutional Law textbooks discuss the issue of universal white standing. I conclude by proposing pedagogical interventions.

Charquia Wright, ABF/AccessLex Institute Post-Doctoral Fellow in Legal and Higher Education

Charquia Wright holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and an L.L.M. from UCLA School of Law. Her research interrogates the ways in which racial hierarchies are produced, reproduced, and neutralized within law school classrooms. It further analyzes how the relationship between racial hierarchies and the legal classroom are negotiated by Supreme Court jurisprudence. Prior to completing her L.L.M, Charquia researched Brazilian police brutality as a Fulbright scholar and litigated voting rights issues across the U.S. Her work has appeared on UCLA Law Journal's Law Meets World forum and in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal. Prior to law school, she received a B.S.E. in Operations Research and Financial Engineering from Princeton University.

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