William & Mary

Students Form Muslim Law Students Association

by Cody Brandon J.D. '19

Students recently created a new organization that hopes to both highlight the Law School’s growing diversity and offer a common ground for students and professors of various backgrounds. The Muslim Law Students Association (MLSA) launched as an organization in March 2017, after receiving Student Bar Association approval.

MLSA's inaugural board included, from left,  Jesse Hudson J.D. '19, President; Michelle Weinbaum J.D. '17, Vice President and Treasurer; Darius Rohani-Shukla J.D. '17, Secretary; and Taylor Hall J.D. '17, J.D. Representative.Michelle Weinbaum J.D. ‘17, who helped found the organization during the spring semester of her 3L year, said the primary motivation for starting MLSA was to bring members of the community closer together and to send a strong message that everyone is welcome. Not only does MLSA provide an opportunity for Muslim J.D. and LL.M. students and faculty to meet each other, but it will also be a forum to introduce non-Muslim students to Islamic culture, foster networking among law students of different backgrounds, and conduct educational events, community service initiatives, and career-oriented activities. Its membership is open to all law students regardless of background, and faculty and members of the community are welcome at most events.

MLSA President Jesse Hudson J.D. ‘19 said he sees a big opportunity for MLSA to bridge the gap between LL.M. and J.D. students. “LL.M. students traveling from other parts of the world intend on having substantial interactions with J.D. students while here, yet that does not always happen,” he said. “There are few organic opportunities for these groups to converge, and students are missing an opportunity to tap into great learning resources in each other. MLSA can act as a way to bridge that divide.”

Weinbaum, a Jew and former active duty Army officer, has always been sensitive to the experience of minority groups. During her combat deployments, she trained Iraqi Police Officers and had many Afghan teammates–an experience in which she said many Muslims earned her trust and respect as she earned theirs. She received the nickname “umm al Tal’Afar” (the mother of Tal’Afar, a city in Iraq).

“I still feel that sense of responsibility to support a group of people who I know to be predominantly peaceful, loving, and dedicated to their communities," said Weinbaum.

Weinbaum was not without help in starting MLSA. Classmates Darius Rohani-Shukla J.D. ’17 and Taylor Hall J.D. ’17 came on board early in the process. The Jewish Law Students Association volunteered to cosponsor MLSA’s welcome meeting during the spring 2017 semester, and the International Law Society and the Immigration Law and Service Society cosponsored subsequent events. The Student Bar Association, Weinbaum said, also worked hard to make sure the approval process went efficiently. Before an organization can be approved at the Law School, it must demonstrate student support in the proposal, work with SBA to ensure the organization will further the mission of the Law School, draft governing documents, and draft a financing request. Professor Nate Oman serves as the faculty advisor to the group.

“I know that after graduation I will work with other attorneys and clients from many different backgrounds, including my fellow Muslim associates at the firm I am going to,” Weinbaum said, who will practice law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom in Washington, D.C.  “I hope that this organization can help me to be more aware of how I can be a good teammate to them.”

The organization hosted a panel discussion with local members of the Muslim community and an interest meeting in spring 2017 that attracted about 50 students. Hudson said the group also has plans to celebrate religious holidays with other faith-oriented groups at the Law School, foster interfaith dialogue, and host a mini-symposium in spring 2018.

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