Ruby Garrett, '16
Hometown: Clarksville, Tennessee
Undergrad: Stanford University
College major: Psychology - Mind, Culture, & Society Specialization
Law School activities/organizations: Legal Forum staff member, President of the Black Law Students Association , Police Accountability Clinic, Dean of Students Advisory Board, Student Admissions Committee, Students Advisory Committee for Faculty Hiring, BARBRI Representative, Law School Musical, Intramural Football
Ruby Garrett decided that she wanted to be a lawyer when she was in sixth grade and her first-grade crush, a smart boy who’d always been the class clown, was sent to a juvenile detention center.
“I’d started to notice that a lot of my black male peers were going back and forth between the juvenile justice and the education systems like unclaimed pieces of luggage on the airport carousel,” Ruby said. “They never seemed to receive any effective intervention.”
That was true for the boy, who is now serving a life sentence for murder.
By her freshman year in high school, Ruby’s determination to understand crime and recidivism had deepened, and she started visiting the Tennessee State Penitentiary to talk with inmates as part of an independent study project.
“I really wanted to know why a lot of the people who are locked up happen to be minorities,” she said. “Is it something inherent within them, or is there something happening in the system—some type of bias?”
At Stanford University, Ruby majored in psychology, with a specialization in mind, culture, and society. She studied race and bias, and worked to understand as much as she could about how people think. When it came time to pick a law school, Ruby chose UChicago in large part because of the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic, which was founded by Professor Craig Futterman.
“I actually spoke to Professor Futterman before I came here because I wanted to get a sense for how much the students were able to do in the clinic, how hands-on it was,” she said. “And he was completely honest. He said the Police Accountability Clinic is a lot of work, but you get a lot out of it.”
Now a part of the clinic, Ruby has found that hands-on work is what most inspires her.
“I think the classroom environment is great, and it’s beneficial to bounce ideas off of each other, but what I’m most excited about this quarter is the clinical experience and the chance to apply what I’ve learned,” she said. “Professor Futterman has students who are doing depositions and who are appearing in court. And he really gives his students credit for the work that they do, which is amazing.”
Ruby is also the president of the Black Law Students Association, an experience that has taught her to delegate responsibility and trust her board.
“I realized pretty early on that I couldn’t do everything myself,” she said. “I’ve had to depend on the rest of the board to plan events and to make connections so I can focus more on the relationships we have with the administration, faculty, sponsors, and leaders in the community and really be the voice and face of BLSA. I’m learning that I don’t need to be involved with the nitty-gritty, such as ‘Where is the food coming from?’ “
She loves the Law School’s small size, and the ease with which students are able to make connections with each other and the faculty.
“I like not just being a face in the crowd,” Ruby said. “I’ve actually had professors approach me about not saying hi in the hallway. One stopped me and said, ‘You passed me two times and you didn’t say hello.’ Just knowing that they recognize my face in the hallways is amazing.”
She also appreciates the ways in which Lior Strahilevitz, Sidley Austin Professor of Law, and Professor Aziz Huq, a Marjorie Fried Teaching Scholar, approach tough discussions about race.
“They don’t shy away from issues that have to do with race, and they address them spot-on,” she said. “It’s difficult to not feel uncomfortable in a lot of these touchy classes where race is a huge component. In their classes, I feel as though there is a safe space.”
Advice for 1Ls:
“Don’t be afraid to speak up! There are going to be moments in class when you feel very strongly about something and your heart is pounding, and if you don’t speak up, you will regret it. I just shoot my hand in the air and, by that point, it’s too late to take it back—my hand is in the air, and I’m going to get called on. I’ve loved those experiences where I’m forced to speak up.”