Diverse law students, attorneys, legal professionals, and faculty recently gathered in the Alma Jennings Student Lounge for OUTLaw’s Diversity in Law Panel. The panel was a conversation about intersectionality and obstacles – especially those that legal professionals who belong to multiple minority groups face on their paths to success.
Panelists brought their own unique identities, with various intersections of race, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation. Moderated by OUTLaw advisor and Associate Dean Raquel Matas, the panel was composed of successful and diverse legal professionals, including Judge Darrin Gayles, the first openly gay black man to serve on the federal judiciary; Assistant U.S. Attorney Gera Peoples; Trelvis Randolph, partner at Cole, Scott & Kissane, and co-chairs of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Association; and solo practitioners, Nicole Alvarez and Jesika Diaz Munar.
During the discussion, panelists shared stories of past experiences and career obstacles related to their minority group identities. Diaz Munar recounted the story of when she was confronted with a potential client asking about her sexual orientation when he saw a rainbow flag in her office. Randolph spoke of a time when he went to court to advocate for his client and was mistaken for the court reporter.
First-year law student Maddie Seales, a member of the Black Law Students Association, explained how “each panelist’s story was heartfelt and personal yet gave such insight into the general issues surrounding being a double minority in the legal field.”
Many attorneys were also in the audience, including partners at large firms, in-house lawyers, and various solo practitioners. Attorney Brian Adler, B.A. '86, J.D '93, a land use partner at Bilzin Sumberg, shared his thoughts on what he looks for when hiring law students and new attorneys. He praised the event, calling it “a fantastic program with impressive panelists.”
Attorney Austen Caraker, J.D. ’15, and OUTLaw’s previous co-president from 2014 to 2015, shared a story of finding support at BankUnited and using his position and platform to support all minorities throughout the bank. Other attorneys explained their own intersections of multiple minority groups, including religion and visible or invisible disabilities.
Cynthia Henry Duval, Esq., Associate Director of Career Services at the University of Miami and Former President of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association, said that “the composition of the panel reminded me that our neat boxes and narrow labels are masterful traps that keeps us from realizing how connected we all are. All our struggles are the same. And the powers that be love when we separate ourselves instead of celebrating each other’s many different facets.”
Various law students also used the opportunity to ask the panelists pertinent questions about what to put on their resumes, interview tips, and how to find the right work environment. In the often traditional legal profession, law students who belong to multiple minority groups commonly have to determine how much they can be their true selves when going to a job interview or applying for a position at a large firm.
“It was truly inspiring to see how such a diverse group of talented individuals, with such varied backgrounds, came together and felt a sense of unity,” said 2L Sanjana Palla, outgoing President of the South Asian Law Students Association and incoming President of Miami Law Women. “Learning about the experiences of other people of color and members of the LGBTQ community helped me feel more connected with the other members of our diverse law school family.”
Incoming OUTLaw Vice President Ariana Aboulafia, a 2L, shared that “the event struck a really important balance between being inspiring and realistic; for once, I walked away from it with a sense of what real obstacles minorities face in the legal field, as well as a sense of how to tackle those obstacles to achieve success.”
Of the networking reception that followed the panel discussion, Aboulafia expressed how she “really enjoyed being able to network with such diverse professionals, coming from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as diverse sections of law and careers.”
The common theme of the night was to be your authentic self, whatever that specifically means to you. Diaz Munar said how important it is “for students to know that they are not alone in their struggles and to be able to relate to others who were or are in similar situations.”
Outgoing OUTLaw President, 3L Christina Robinson, expressed some final thoughts on the goals of this annual event. “The LGBTQ community at Miami Law is vibrant and nuanced, and we want all of our members—no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, gender, age, ability, or religion—to know that they are not only welcome within OUTLaw but embraced. Our Diversity-in-Law panel reminds us that we are more than our differences. We are one community.”
The event was organized by Miami Law’s student organization, OUTLaw, which is a group that seeks to support LGBTQ law students, their allies, and the larger LGBTQ community. This event was also co-sponsored by the Black Law Students Association, Hispanic Law Students Association, South Asian Law Students Association, Miami Law Women, and the Law Alumni Association.