Chicago’s BLSA is motivated, committed to student supportBy Sabrina L. Miller
There are more than 50 student organizations at the University’s Law School, all designed with providing law students a structure of support formed around common issues and interests. Some never meet more than a couple of times of year or plan programs that are entirely social.
Right down to its name, the Law School’s Earl B. Dickerson Chapter of the Black Law Students Association has emerged as a purpose-driven leader among student organizations with substantive programming that has gained notice within the University community and beyond.
“The Law School’s BLSA chapter is known for being very active and organized. It is definitely one of the leaders among student organizations, and one of the best at working with staff and faculty to develop programs that are interesting and relevant to the entire student population,” said Michele Baker Richardson, Dean of Students at the Law School.
The University’s BLSA (commonly referred to as “ball-sa”) chapter is part of the National Black Law Students Association, which bills itself as the largest student-run organization in the country. It was founded in 1968 by a black student at New York University School of Law with the goal of providing a support system for black law students and also making the legal profession at large aware of issues facing the black community.
The group has more than 200 chapters representing 6,000 law students in 48 states and Puerto Rico. The national organization also has served as a model for black law students who have started their own organizations in Canada, England and South Africa.
At around 200 students, the University has the smallest BLSA enrollment of all top-tier law schools. With fewer black students, the Chicago BLSA chapter takes on greater meaning as a support system for law students and takes seriously its role of providing programming for the University community at large, said BLSA President Euler Bropleh, a second-year law student. The University’s chapter is named for famed attorney Earl B. Dickerson, the first black graduate of the Law School.
The Earl B. Dickerson chapter is thought to be the only one in the country with a yearlong series of programs commemorating the 40th anniversary of Thurgood Marshall’s historic appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Spearheaded by second-year students Veronica Root and Brittany Hamelers, the group also helped organize a gala in February at the Museum of Science and Industry. The group secured two of Chicago’s leading attorneys, James Montgomery of The Cochran Firm, and retired Cook County Circuit Judge R. Eugene Pincham as speakers commemorating Marshall and the advancements of African-Americans in the legal profession.
The group also recently sponsored numerous activities and speakers for Black History Month, and has taken a stand on global issues, including a recent panel discussion on the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.
“Our goal this year was to have a wide variety of programs that would draw attention to issues impacting the black community and would be of interest to members of the entire University community,” Bropleh said.
He said the strength of the chapter also has been effective in recruiting other top black students to the Law School. Its Web page (http://blsa.uchicago.edu/index.html) is among the most current of all BLSA chapters in the Chicago area. It includes a link with students giving testimonials about why they chose the University’s Law School and their experiences here.
“BLSA organizations throughout the country all contribute to their schools and community in unique ways. Here at the Law School, we use our programming to illustrate the strength of the black law student community and to recruit more talented minorities,” Bropleh said.
The group also has successfully leveraged relationships with local law firms to partner in sponsoring BLSA events; the Law School’s “Chicago Law Partners” program solicits sponsorship money for student organizations based on their programs. Richardson said law firms often are eager to sponsor BLSA events because of the relevance of the programming.
“They’ve done a better job than many of our student organizations in utilizing the Chicago Law Partners program as a resource for partnering in their events,” Richardson said. “The students really have been great. You just don’t find very many students who are as motivated and committed to the kind of work they’ve done.”