November 22, 2011
Jasmine Pierce (’12) wins feminist jurisprudence essay contest
Jasmine Pierce (’12) was recently named the winner of the 2011 Alice Paul Feminist Jurisprudence Essay Contest, sponsored by the Women and the Law and Legal Rhetoric programs of American University Washington College of Law.
The competition, which was launched at the University of Notre Dame in 1994 and has been hosted at American University since 2006, is named after Alice Paul, a leading figure in the women’s rights movement. The goal of the competition is to “inspire the next generation of scholars, lawyers and activists to make daring and creative contributions to feminist jurisprudence,” according to the University’s Web site. This year’s competition had a record number of entries.
Pierce’s winning essay, titled “It’s Not Just a ‘Black Thing:’ Black Women in the Law and Issues of Double Identity and Discrimination,” was selected by a panel of scholars and attorneys. The essay explores the idea that black women occupy a unique position in American society where gender and race intersect, exposing them to “double discrimination.” The essay goes on to examine how this double discrimination shapes the experience of black female lawyers.
Pierce said that she was shocked to learn that her essay had won. “I entered the competition last semester and never heard back, so I assumed that I did not win,” she explained. “When the director called me [in early November], I was genuinely surprised.”
Pierce wrote the essay last spring for Professor Linda McClain’s Feminist Jurisprudence seminar. “Not only did Professor McClain guide me in the writing and revision of my essay,” Pierce said, “but she also encouraged me to enter the essay in the Alice Paul competition. Professor McClain’s guidance and criticism were truly invaluable and without her I would not have entered the competition, let alone win it.”
McClain, who pronounced herself “delighted” by Pierce’s win, said that the essay did an exemplary job of using the lenses of feminist legal theory and critical race theory to examine the historical experiences of black women in society, and in the legal profession in particular. At the same time, McClain added, “the paper is also constructive and forward-looking, in looking both at efforts by black women to advance in the legal profession and at efforts by the legal profession itself to recognize and address this double discrimination by finding solutions.”
Pierce has been invited to Washington College of Law next spring to present her winning paper at a reception in her honor. After she graduates from BU Law in May, she will join the litigation practice group at Foley & Lardner LLP, where she completed an internship last summer. “The work was intense and rewarding, but most importantly I had the opportunity to meet and work with some exceptional attorneys,” Pierce said.
Asked what she can do, as she begins her career, to educate people about the issues raised in the essay—the dual forms of discrimination faced by black women, and the need for greater support for black women in the legal field—Pierce said, “I think the most that I can do is be an example for others and continue to pay homage to black female lawyers—such as Charlotte E. Ray, Helen Elsie Austin, Jane Cleo Marshall and others who have paved the way—by continuing to create a space for black female lawyers.”
To read Pierce’s essay, visit the competition’s Web site.