UPDATED–The SALT Student Advisory Council: Getting Students Directly Involved In SALT

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By Madeleine Harnois and SSAC

The pilot year of SSAC, the SALT Student Advisory Council, is coming to a close. It has been an exciting learning process as its members learned the ins and outs of SALT’s operations and administration and helped to get SSAC off the ground. Law students Madeleine Harnois, Christina  Nguyen, Emma Douglas, Preston Brasch, Isabel Breit, and Tabias Olajuawon all worked as part of SSAC during its first year.

SSAC was originally conceived to assist SALT in advancing progressive legal education by connecting students to the dedicated professors who work to better the law school experience. SALT has long sought to increase the social justice aspects of law school curricula, and its board members wanted to open more direct lines of communication for student input and participation. SSAC was created with the knowledge that regular student involvement would lead to goals both tailored for and created by students themselves. This addition to SALT’s process will continue to benefit both the students in SSAC and the professors in SALT, and by extension students in law schools everywhere.

It has been a busy first year for SSAC, which began with six members from law schools all over the country, with each student sponsored and mentored by a particular SALT board member. SSAC members have involved themselves in SALT committees to provide work and input for committee projects, have given feedback on group structure and planning and created founding Council documents, and have worked with SALT board members to coordinate and plan different projects and help develop and shape SSAC. Several SSAC members have also been able to attend SALT board meetings in person in order to unite members and provide the best opportunities for connection and feedback.

A number of current SSAC members will be graduating soon, and are working on the process of memorializing the Council’s progress so far in order to help new members take the reins. Others have another year left, and are looking forward to continued leadership and involvement in SSAC. Each member has had a unique experience as a part of this group.

Madeleine Harnois, 3L at Seattle University School of Law:

I first became involved in SALT to help coordinate different projects with SALT Co-President Professor Sara Rankin as a student fellow. SALT’s social justice focus was in line with my priorities in school and in my career from the very beginning. Christina Nguyen and I worked on the first drafts of SSAC’s mission statement and discussed with the co-presidents how best to set up the group. Once SSAC kicked off, we were both excited to join the board so that we could continue to participate directly. Recently, I was lucky enough to attend a SALT board meeting and conference in San Francisco. I was able to meet different members of SALT from all over the country, sit down to talk with working groups, sit in on and ask questions at a board meeting, and get to know many of the people who work so hard to further social justice goals in our law schools. It was a lovely celebration of many committed, hard-working, and admirable people, and an inspiring note to end school and begin my own professional career on. I am happy knowing that in the future, SSAC will continue to facilitate a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas between SALT professors and students in law schools throughout the country.

Christina Nguyen, 3L at Seattle University School of Law:

My participation in SSAC stems from my original involvement as a SALT student fellow for Professor Sara Rankin, one of the SALT Co-Presidents. One of SALT’s interests in having student fellows was to more closely identify with the law students whose interests SALT aimed to protect. In looking for ways to create more student involvement, Madeleine Harnois and I, along with the SALT Co-Presidents Sara Rankin and Denise Roy, began crafting a mission statement for a SALT student committee. After various drafts and after presenting the proposal to the SALT Board Members, SSAC was approved and thus formed. Having been a part of the process in creating the committee initially, I was grateful to get to serve as a member of the committee itself. Working with this committee has allowed me to share experiences and collaborate with other social-justice minded law students throughout the country. Although our committee is small, we each bring our own unique perspectives about the current frame of law school education and what we hope it will be in the future. Being a part of SSAC has been a great experience in seeing law students and law professors’ commitment to shaping the future of legal education. I look forward to seeing how we can work together to advance legal education further.

Emma Douglas, 3L at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law:

After Davida Finger, a clinic professor at Loyola, told me about SSAC I was immediately interested in becoming a student representative.  The values of diversity and a social justice oriented law school experience made me want to participate in lifting up student voices to advance a more progressive legal education.  Meeting and working with law students across the country has been a highlight of my involvement in SSAC.  I am so grateful for the incredible opportunity to work with contemporaries on the promotion of justice through legal education.  I am excited to begin working with the Access to Justice Committee soon.

Preston Brasch, 2L at University of Tulsa College of Law:

I became involved in SSAC after Anna Carpenter, my clinic professor at the time, approached me about the committee last fall.  It immediately seemed like a good fit for my interests.  As a law student, I have worked to make the University of Tulsa a more inviting community for members of the LGBTQIA community.  This work has exposed me to the decision-making process and policies of the law school and provided me with a better context to help SALT push for more inclusive and diverse law school and ABA policies. I am humbled to be a part of an organization shaping America’s legal education system and ergo legal profession, and am excited to begin working with my committee soon!

Tabias Olajuawon, 3L at Howard University:

Like many of the students involved with SSAC, I had first heard about SALT long ago. Perhaps, unlike my colleagues, I was really impressed with the acronym. SALT, the flavor of the earth, a preserving mineral, something that exists within the earth and within most of its inhabits. SALT. That stood out to me and, like any good nerd, I had to understand just how SALT was operating in a world I was quickly becoming most familiar with that: that of that of the scholar-activist. I formally came into contact with SALT through the recommendation of Justin Hansford. We had only just met hours ago before he started telling me about the importance of SALT, but I was so amazed with his way of thinking, with his connection to people, to critical ideas, to humanity that he probably could’ve told me the sky was blue and I would’ve been awestruck. Meeting Sara, Mariela Olivares (of my own Howard Law) and Justin has been pivotal experience for my thinking about the type of work that is possible for legal scholars and practitioners. From these budding relationships though, I take more than inspiration, but solace and calm in knowing that the work I hope to do is not only necessary but sustainable. The members of SALT continue to demonstrate what it means to not only be involved with pedagogical excellence but also ethical pedagogy, transformative practice and community informed/led innovation…all while actually living. This is what I needed. SALT has gifted me with the ability to see myself doing the important work–love labor–without seeing my own health or happiness as a necessary casualty. I was salty before I knew this. But now I’m thankful for the new season that SALT has brought into my career path.