The student chapter of the Black Law Students Association has been named the 2013-2014 “Chapter of the Year” among small chapters by the national organization, a recognition of its hard work to support students of color and increase diversity at the Law School.
The award recognizes BLSA’s commitment to community service, professional development, and academic and social support.
BLSA, officially named the Earl B. Dickerson Chapter of the Black Law Students Association, has recently taken its programming and advocacy “to a new level,” said Kevin Waklatsi, ’14, past president. “We’re really proud of this year’s board for that.”
Waklatsi, who is also chair of the 56-school Midwest region, was at the national convention in Milwaukee in March when the honor was announced. When current chapter President Jackie Newsome, ’15, heard the news, she was very proud, she said. “I think what we showed this year was a willingness to have courageous conversations consistently.”
“I’m so proud of BLSA, but not surprised that they earned this honor,” Dean of Students Amy Gardner said. “They are an active and crucial student organization that adds a lot of valuable programming and perspective to the Law School community.”
Chapters are judged on their activities in several categories, including sociopolitical awareness, community service, relationships with alumni and pre-law students, educational and career development, and social events. BLSA awards “chapter of the year” in three chapter sizes: small (under 20 dues-paying members), medium (20-40 dues-paying members), and large (40 dues-paying members or more).
Halimah Najieb-Locke, a student at George Washington University Law School, is national chair of BLSA.
"I got to see the (Chicago Law) chapter a couple of times in action," she said. "I saw members who really believed in the mission of the organization."
BLSA’s year (which, for award purposes, ran from March 2013 to February 2014) had many highlights. Members tutored at a local high school and brought high school students from minority and low-income neighborhoods into the Law School to talk to them about pursuing higher education. BLSA hosted networking events with attorneys of color and speakers who addressed race and legal issues, such as the Trayvon Martin case. They presented a panel of criminal defense attorneys who talked about what it was like to do that job as a black person, and they visited a juvenile detention center. The board helped expand diversity programming during Admitted Students Weekend, and they initiated important conversations with faculty and administrators about the importance of hiring more professors of color. BLSA also pointed out in their application that they’ve become a gathering place for all minority students, not just African-Americans.
Waklatsi said that at the national convention the organizers called the Law School “was the small chapter that most exemplified A.J. Cooper’s ideals.” Cooper was the founder of BLSA.
Waklatsi, who graduates in June, said he’s heartened to see the chapter in such good shape. It was strong when he was a 1L, but it just gets better each year, he said. “You can feel good about the future.”