MAURICE PERET: We still have about six minutes before we get started, and we're still awaiting a couple of our presenters. Thank you for joining us, those of you who are here.
Captioning is available for this meeting, and this meeting will be recorded once we get started. It's paused at the moment.
I should also mention that we have ASL interpretation that's available. Thank you for being with us. Let me know if you need anything. My name is Maurice, and I'm your host.
To our facilitators, should we wait for Katherine and Michael to begin?
MATTHEW YANEZ: I think we should. I know they're starting the presentation off. I know Angelica had said she had been in contact with Katherine. She should be joining soon.
ANGELICA VEGA: I texted her a couple of minutes ago. She's joining on the line.
MAURICE PERET: Okay. Very good.
This session is scheduled to go until 3:50. I'll give you a 10 minutes heads up at that point.
Good afternoon, everybody. Should we wait for Katherine to get started, then?
MICHAEL WATERSTONE: I believe so. She just texted me that she will be on, so let's give it a minute or so. Thank you.
MAURICE PERET: No worries. Thank you.
I believe we have Ms. Perez. I'm assuming "Katherine's iPhone" is the facilitator. And we can get started whenever you are ready. I'll begin the recording, if everybody is ready to do that.
MICHAEL WATERSTONE: So let me just double check. Katherine, is that you at Katherine's iPhone? Oh, here we go.
MAURICE PERET: Okay. Got it.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Hi, everyone.
ANGELICA VEGA: Hello, professor.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Thanks for being here. Should we give it a few more minutes or should we start? Until 11:30, right? So maybe we'll just give it a couple more minutes?
FE: I was like, I don't know if I should talk but I wanted to say hi.
KATHERINE PEREZ: I haven't talked to new so long.
FE LOPEZ GAETKE: I know! It's so good to see you!
KATHERINE PEREZ: I'll text you after.
FE LOPEZ GAETKE: Please do.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Okay. Bye.
Actually, I see a lot of names here that I know. Great to see some of you.
MAURICE PERET: Are we all set?
KATHERINE PEREZ: Yeah, we can get started.
MAURICE PERET: Okay.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Hi, everyone. My name is Katherine Perez, and I am a queer Latina woman, cisgender woman, with long wavy brown hair, and I wear black glasses, wearing an orange top with a beige thing over it.
In the background is my messy room. Kind of actually like my dog's room. It's my second room in my home. So you might see dogs jumping in and off of this couch occasionally. My apologies. I have my own two beagles and my girlfriend's dog who is very active.
I am the director of the Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy, and Innovation. It's at Loyola Law School. Our mission is to collaborate with the disability community, to cultivate leadership and advocate innovative approaches to advance the lives of people with disabilities. We were founded in 2018 by the Honorable Anthony Tony Coelho and our distinguished dean who is also on the panel, Dean Michael Waterstone. For those of you who don't know, Tony Coelho was a six-term congressman who was original sponsor on the House side of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He's retired now. He's going to turn 80 in a month. But he's still very active. For those of you who know Tony, he never slowed down. He's been an advocate for people with disabilities his entire adult life and is continuing to do so now. So he created this center at Loyola because, well, I'm sure for several reasons, but just for a couple I'll share, he went to undergrad at Loyola Marymount University, our larger university. And I think another important reason was that we had Dean Waterstone there who will introduce himself but who is also a national expert on disability rights law. So he was a champion for the center.
We work on a number of issues but I think what's most near and dear to all of our hearts and the one that both Tony and Michael had coming in when they hired me on was they wanted to work on the pipeline of strengthening, getting students with disabilities through law school to then go on to take the bar and be on the bench. Representation is really important. Well, in all spaces, but particularly in the legal sphere. Tony knew that, as a congressman with disabilities, with epilepsy. And when I took the job, I couldn't be more excited about this vision that Tony and Dean Waterstone had because I myself identify as disabled. I have psychiatric disabilities. And I went to law school a long time ago now it seems. I graduated in 2013, which I suppose isn't that long ago except, as we'll talk more about, the Coelho Law Fellowship program, it seems long ago because it seems like within just about 10 years there already have been such great advances in law schools across the nation of it being a warm and welcoming climate for students with disabilities.
When I went to law school, in the years that I could take electives, they never offered a disability rights law course. I as a student with psychiatric disabilities never would have dreamed of asking for an accommodation, or at least through the official channels. I definitely got them unofficially through professors that I felt very close with. We didn't have a disability law society at that time, and I banded together with some other disabled students and we started the disability law society at UCLA Law. Actually that was the first time I met Michael Waterstone because we brought him on for a conference that we held, and he was our keynote speaker.
So that's a little introduction to get us toward when I started on as the director of the Coelho Center and I had this challenge before me of what we could do at the Coelho Center, which was working on the pipeline, the first thing that I thought of was, I wanted to create a law fellowship program, a pipeline program. I have done several internships and fellowships myself, and I knew how important they are to connect people, to getting people into spaces where they traditionally haven't been or there's been barriers. I was a congressional Hispanic caucus institute fellow in Washington, D.C., when I graduated college, and that was a program where they brought in Latinx graduates and paired them up with graduates. I really credit that one year I did in D.C. as a fellow for my -- for inspiring me to go on to law school and do law and policy. So experiences like that led me to believe that I really wanted to start this law fellowship program as director of the Coelho Center.
Oh, and also, at UCLA I wasn't part of their UCLA membership program or their pipeline program, but when I went there, I was a mentor to participants in that program. So for folks who know the UCLA pipeline program, I think it's called the UCLA Law Fellows program. So experiences like that made me think we needed one specifically for disabled graduates who needed to go through programming to help feed them into law school programs. So this is where we started.
So I will shut up now and let the really exciting folks who we brought here to talk about the program, and they can introduce themselves. Michael Waterstone has a few words, and then we have two actual Coelho law fellows, one alumni and one student who is currently going through the program and is just about to graduate through our program. Matt was in our first cohort of fellows, and Angelica is now in our third. You can take it away, Michael.
MICHAEL WATERSTONE: Great. Thank you, Kat. My name is Michael Waterstone. I am a middle-aged Caucasian male with glasses on, short hair, white shirt, suit jacket, and a virtual background of Loyola Law School behind me.
It is really an honor to be here with all of you today. I'm only going to speak for a few minutes because I think what I have to say is definitely the least interesting and important of the folks who I'm honored to share and be on a panel with. I just want to say what a delight it is to be back and part of the tenBroek conference. I'm old enough that I remember when this started, and it really is a unique vehicle to bring together lawyers, policymakers, increasingly law students, and it's always been a particular delight of mine as a professor to be able to bring my students and share this with them and see the connections and the mentorship and the friendships that they build out of it. This conference has always been really special in that regard. And I miss being together in person at NFB and look forward to being able to do that again. I think it is wonderful when we're able to be together, and many of us, NFB would host us to actually stay there. Really a terrific experience. And this is good, but it will be even better to convene again in person.
And part of my early academic work was interviewing what we called disability cause lawyers, lawyers who were bringing cases on behalf of disability rights organizations or individual clients, and interviewing them and talking to them about how their work was the same or different than other causes, what motivated them, what they were responsive to, did they view themselves as just lawyers for the movement or part of the movement themselves. And just some of the most rewarding conversations and learning I've ever gotten to do. And so much of that was a result of relationships that were built as part of this community, and I'm seeing Scott LaBarre and some other folks who I've had the honor and privilege of getting to know through this.
So as my friend and colleague Kat mentioned, I am the dean at Loyola Law School. We are the law school for Loyola Marymount University. I'm in my sixth year in this position. I'm just going to say a few words. One, Kat mentioned the kind of the creation of the Coelho Center, which was an exciting moment and opportunity for me in the institution. There are many, many, many deans of ABA law schools, and we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. But I was always aware that one thing that I brought to the position was initially being kind of the first person who had written a lot and cared a lot about disability law and policy. And it was not lost on me that oftentimes when people in legal education think about disability, it's not necessarily for the right reasons and they are concerned about accommodations and other things. And often view disability as a kind of problem to be on a list of problems as opposed to something to be celebrated and an opportunity. And I've always looked for opportunities to bring colleagues along and educate them.
In terms of the pipeline problem, and part of the reason we were so excited to create both the Coelho Center and the Coelho fellows program, so there are lots of established and I believe terrific pipeline programs that serve as a bridge at the high school level, at the college level, to get people to think about going to law school. And I think this is an issue that is just important to all of us. Law is a service profession, although lawyers hold positions of power and privilege in society, at the end of the day, we serve society. And if the makeup of the legal profession does not mirror the society that we serve, it creates all kinds of stability and representation problems. So I think it is incumbent on all of us to care deeply about the legal profession to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make the population of lawyers best serve and mirror the overall population. And although there are a number of established and in some cases well-funded pipeline programs, it was not lost on me and others that there was nothing really specific for disability. And part of the challenge was many existing pipeline programs did not include disability at all. It wasn't part of how they were constructing a program intended to improve the diversity of American law schools and the American legal profession.
So we knew that was something that we wanted to work on. We had a hunch that we could create a program that both could work on that problem directly but also I think our end goal was always to create something that was scalable and replicable and we would give the blueprint to every law school that asked. And I'm happy to talk about the mechanics and funding and how we were able to line up those pieces. But I think without a doubt, the visionary and the secret sauce for our fellows program was my colleague, Katherine Perez. She is someone that brought an unbelievable skill set in terms of organizing and connecting with grassroots and her talent for mentorship. It was her that put this program together that devised the mechanics of it, that has spent untold hours mentoring and building the program, and on my end it's just a joy to be able to support and facilitate that. But I think what we all take pride in the fact that we're creating is a cohort of individuals who has a ability -- an enhanced ability to attend law school should they choose to. And I think one of the things we can talk about and Kat can answer questions, some fellows enter this thinking they may want to enter law school and learn more about it and decide not to. And that's fine too. A part of what we need to do is build people's capacity to make the best decisions they can for themselves and their families. But ideally we want to grow the representation of lawyers with disabilities, but not stop there but put them in positions of power in the legal profession.
So thank you all again for allowing me to be here and be part of this conversation. It's great to be back at this conference.
And now I am going to turn things over to one of our fellows, someone who I have had the pleasure to get to know, Matt. Matthew Yanez.
Matt, to you.
MATTHEW YANEZ: Thank you so much, Dean.
And good afternoon or good morning, everyone, wherever you may be. My name is Matthew Yanez. I am part of the inaugural fellowship class of 2019. I am 24 years old. I am a male Latino wearing gold glasses, short brownish/black hair, a gray turtleneck, and a virtual background with a brick building behind me and a couple plants on the bottom there.
I was born with single-sided deafness, and that was a part of my identity that I had never really grappled with until I had met and engaged with the amazing folks at the Coelho Law Center. And my goal today is to explain why I believe the Coelho Center has successfully transformed the legal education from an institutional barrier to a pipeline of success for the disability community. And I'm going to be doing that today by sharing three main points as to why I believe the success of the Coelho Center should be replicated by other programs.
First I would like to share the inaugural fellowship perspective, the strengths from the pandemic, and how the Coelho Center helped me achieve my own dreams in my individual capacity.
All the way back in the before times in 2019, I had just graduated from Cal State Northridge and I was working at a law firm as a law clerk. I had been there for about 2 years. And it was a defense firm and it was great experience and I appreciate that but I knew that wasn't the right spot for me. As I was pursuing different avenues for law school, I was lucky enough to find the Coelho Center doing some Google searches and had some great conversations with Professor Perez and I was lucky enough to be accepted to join the inaugural fellowship class. That was a monumental period in my life that I look back very fondly on because the center was able to help me provide me with a sense of disability pride and confidence in myself that I had never been confident enough or brave enough I should say to take on. I grew up with an immigrant background who were not aware of what the ADA was or that I could obtain hearing aids and accommodations for school and what have you. In fact, I didn't get my true first pair of hearing aids until I was 21 years old, and that was also part of the Coelho Center helping me find the resources for that. Until that point, being hearing impaired was more of a hidden factor of my identity. It was something that I buried deep down and had not embraced. And as a fellow learning from some fascinating folks, including Judy Heumann, former congressman Tony Coelho, and other folks, I learned how much of an asset it was and I was able to find a sense of community that I knew I had been longing for. My younger brother is also hearing impaired and for so long it felt like us against the world and it wasn't until the Coelho Center that I first fell in love with a community that I now devote everything that I do towards.
Part of the fellowship program consisted of a week-long intensive course in person in Los Angeles, where we were able to, the 13 of us fellows were able to interact with one another. Professor Perez had put together some field trips for us to go to as well as set up almost kind of like a press conference where we were able to talk with representatives both at the federal level and also at the local level as well. And that was my first time ever advocating and asking the tough questions about, you know, why isn't disability mentioned here, what is your disability thoughts on disability and how are you including us into the conversation. And that was a really monumental driving force into where I am today. The Coelho Center had such a powerful effect on me that I quit my job at the law firm and I moved to D.C., where I was an intern with the Arc of the United States and NAD. And I would not have done that had it not have been for the advocacy skills and the confidence that the Coelho Center gave me.
But I also would not have been able to do that had it not been for the Coelho Center's really great transition into the pandemic, because after the first week of being in person, we transitioned still in 2019, before we knew what COVID was, we transitioned into an online format that was more accessible to all the fellows, which came from all walks of life, some from around the world. And it was really easy for me to take on those opportunities while still also attending the fellowship webinars and what have you. Although the program entirely went virtual, it seemed like a seamless transition. I think that was also kept us hitting the ground running, as the world was trying to figure out what is Zoom and how to we work in this online format, the Coelho Center already knew what that was about and we just kept on pushing through. We had great speakers come and talk to us that Kat had already lined up, and I think that speaks to her preparation and the connections that the Coelho Center brought and the values that it instilled in us fellows.
Since then, since my graduation of the fellowship cohort back in 2020, I am now a 2L law student at Syracuse University College of Law where I'm also pursuing a master's in public administration. I would not have chosen this school had it not been for the Coelho Center showing me that it's important to go where you are valued. And that was something that I did not really think about. I thought of myself as someone who just was a kid who wanted to go to law school. But the Coelho Center showed me that I have some certain traits that I bring to the table that should be valued at law schools, and Syracuse is definitely a place that was willing to cherish and nurture the advocacy and disability interests that I have. And moving into the success that I've had based off of this fellowship, you know, I was pondering yesterday, I don't know where my life would be right now had it not been for this fellowship program. I since then, as I mentioned, I worked for the Arc of the United States and a short internship with the NAD. I've also worked at a U.S. attorney's office working on disability rights issues as well as currently I am interning with the Department of Justice's disability rights section, working with some of the great legal minds of legal enforcement there. I've also gotten some really great advocacy opportunities, including being part, a closing speaker in the first disability vote summit hosted by AAPD during the 2020 presidential election. And this past summer in 2021 I was invited to the White House to speak with Vice President Kamala Harris and advocate for stronger voting rights laws. And I just every step of the way thought of what the Coelho Center had instilled in me, and I am just eternally grateful for the great team over there. I've also just became the President of the disability law society here at Syracuse, and I tried to, as I said earlier, instill and bring the skills that I learned to as many students and mentees that I have met along the way.
So for anyone here that is within the law school space, I strongly urge you to reach out and to replicate this program at your own school, because I believe that I'm a testament to how it can not only change an individual's life, but it can bring positive change towards the community.
With that said, that was the experience that an inaugural fellow had back in 2019, and I would now like to turn it over to a current fellow, Angelica.
ANGELICA VEGA: Thank you so much, Matt.
Image description, I am a disabled Afro Latina. I have curly hair wearing black glasses. I am wearing a blue shirt with floral design, and my Zoom background is like a flowery background with a bright blue sky. Right now I'm based in New Jersey and right now it's very cloudy.
But yes, good morning. Good afternoon, everybody. So yes, my name is Angelica Vega. I'm a recent graduate from American University in Washington, D.C. I major in philosophy and minor in publish health. Currently I'm working as a corporate analyst at JPMorgan, in their consumer backing space. What Matt mentioned, I am a current student in the law fellowship program, and while he had the experience of transitioning into mostly online, I was entirely online based. At least for the first three-fourths of it.
So to tell you like my perspective and my story, to start from the beginning, I always had an interest in the law. And if I do decide to pursue law, I didn't know where to start because as being an immigrant family, it's really hard to seek guidance or know the right step. Everyone around me at the time was saying, oh, go look into LSAT courses, go to different in-person fellowship programs, etc. I understand the meaning, but in the context of the pandemic, I was already a working professional. At the time I was the sole income provider for my household since my dad lost his job in the midst of the pandemic. The travel and hospitality industry really were hit hard. And on top of that, in the middle of the pandemic, my father developed cancer and we just recently lost our health coverage. So I didn't have a lot of time to think about my academic career, even though I really, really like school.
So I believe it was in 2021, a good friend of mine who was also a part of the inaugural class, recommended me to check out the Coelho Law Fellowship program. I first was like, I read the description a couple years ago, like oh, I know there is an in-person component which is like one week taking a law course in L.A. And I was thinking to myself, I cannot take a whole week off from my work. But when I checked the website again, one week in person, it was now two weeks online. And based on the time difference, that means I after work, which usually ends around 5:00 p.m., I can just get my books, study, and attend class. And it's like, oh, this is perfect.
And I'm really glad that I took that leap of faith because this has been one of the best decisions of my early professional and academic career, because it gave me so much resources and so much understanding about what law school is and isn't and how to find ways to advocate for myself as a disabled student.
So to talk to some of the pros, especially in the context of doing this program mostly online, is that what I mentioned is that it was a really good simulation of how law classes operates. And I know that a couple fellows are thinking about going to law school or not, but even so, a lot of people think if we don't go to law school, maybe we want to pursue a master's program. So able to have that simulation of going to class, doing the Socratic method, understanding how to read cases, that was such a valuable experience. And also personally for me I just really miss going to school, and that really helped me make my next 5-year plan much more clear and said, okay, if I have to go to class at night, I can do it since I already have an inside perspective.
That was the first part. In the second part, what I also really liked was the webinar-type of classes. It was really such an amazing experience meeting legal and policy professionals around various stages in the field. And I just want to give a quick shoutout to Matt because I believe you were in one of our first webinars, and I'm really happy that I reached out to you to learn more about your law school experience. And you allowed me to like think about oh, I should consider which location, research which schools have disability either clinics or classes, and really making where I want to go really, really precise. So thank you. If I haven't said thank you before, thank you!
And also, we get to see and talk to amazing people. One of the highlights for the program for sure is talking and hearing from Judy Heumann to talk about her experience and how/why the next generation of disabled leaders is so, so important, especially when we're emphasizing inclusion.
And also what I appreciate is that I believe this is a new requirement for this year, but towards like the end of the year, we are tasked to do a project, either a 10-page policy paper or a panel, doing a panel route. While I didn't execute my panel yet, this already gave me so much experience to research a topic, interacting with legal and disability activists in the field. My particular panel is talking about the state of employment during COVID, and it talks of such things as working from home, how employers are accommodating people who develop long COVID. And really helped me to reform because I know as a working professional there's not a lot of time in the day to work on something personal, something academic, so this was a really, really great experience. And I am hoping that some of you will come out and see the panel when it's going to air. It's going to be sometime in May.
But while I do really enjoy this experience and there's so much pros, I think the biggest pros would also be some of the biggest improvements to the program. Since I love personally doing the fellowship program online, it does sometimes cut into some of the corresponding activities to build up a robust fellowship community. In particular there's like a lot of topics that we've discussed that is personal and sensitive because we live through some of the experiences. So sometimes it takes a really longer time online platform to foster communication. And that's why it is really important to even in a program that focused on what law school is and how to navigate, also I'll call it two boxes. We also have to emphasize the teaching of dialogue facilitation through the lens of intersectionality. For example, there was an incident back in November in the group chat that resulted in a Black woman being kicked out of the space. The breakdown in the communication was felt across the whole group. As a Black woman myself, it made me at the time feel scared to speak up about my own experience. And it kind of reinforced like even though we share a common identity, it does not mean we share the same experience. As future advocates and future attorneys, we need to make a conscious effort to make the spaces we occupy filled with inclusiveness and belonging. But I'm really happy we have a director, Professor Perez, who is on top of stuff. I know that after that incident happened, she incorporated different types of exercises and methods such as one of the methods which is the thinking both and, which really helped reframe how we go about dialogue, especially when we engage in difficult conversations.
And I'm also really glad that she is still with us today and providing education materials that address race, class, and privilege. I really like how one article she shared talked about positivity and why we have to have tough conversations.
But yes, despite that, I think this is a really unique program. I'm only the third class, but yet the fellows now and the alumnis have such a big input on how we want the program to go. And Professor Perez is honestly such an inspirational woman and she works hard, tirelessly, to make sure that the program itself will be robust and enhanced. I know some of the stuff for the next class and I know the application is live right now, is that she's including more trainings or more material that explores and reflects our identities. We're going to continue with the community guidelines exercise for every fellowship group. And this is an idea for now, but we're also planning to create a D and I alumni group to talk about how to make the fellowship program better.
And overall, I really, like I mentioned, appreciate joining the Coelho Law Fellowship program. I get to meet amazing fellows like Matt, and also I know that Dean Waterstone helped me make a connection to the University of Leeds because I became a semifinalist for Fulbright to pursue their post-graduate studies. And while they don't have a disability studies program anymore, working with their center of disability studies. So already I see how this program impact my life, and I know this is early to say, but I hope someday I will be like Matt because even though he's like honestly on top of the world, he's still giving back to the community and showing ways how we can foster the next generation of leaders and attorneys. And thank you so much for hearing me out and learning about my experience as a current fellow.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Thanks, Angelica. Thanks, Matt.
Aren't they incredible? Man, this is the reason why I do what I do. And I'm sure Dean Waterstone feels the same way.
Well, I wanted to now talk, I know we might be a little behind on time. We have 22 minutes and then we can open it up for questions. But I did want to explain in a little bit more depth the mechanics of the program. This is probably the more boring part. Matt and Angelica (dog barking) -- oh, my goodness! Just a second!
I'm sorry. Michael, can you talk for a second while I separate these dogs? My sincere apologies.
MICHAEL WATERSTONE: No problem. Hi, everybody. I guess I'll just cover while Kat is doing what she's doing, in my experience as a law school administrator, it's all fun and games until you get into resources. Part of what made this doable was philanthropy that we had through Tony, but for any school or program thinking about this, I think the biggest investment is the time of in this case Kat Perez, but someone who is qualified to and energetic about working on these issues.
I think lower hanging fruit, to the extent that there are already pipeline programs that your particular law school is associated with, they should be inclusive of disability, and it's worthwhile if they're not raising someone to make that point.
Kat, why don't I turn it back over to you.
KATHERINE PEREZ: My apologies.
So I wanted to talk a little bit more about the mechanics of the program, and hopefully that will help us workshop a little with all of your great ideas. I'm sure that you're already thinking about many.
One thing I wanted to talk about was recruitment. One thing, when I came in as the director, when I was interviewing for the directorship of the Coelho Law Center, it was very important to me to come in with these guiding principles that I had. Some of you may know that before I came on as the director, I was the founder and board director of the National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities. So I had had some activist grassroots experience working with leaders across the nation, disabled Latinx leaders across the nation, and filling a gap, one we knew about but one that was just completely reaffirmed once we set up as a national coalition on the need to do intersectional justice work. So it was hard for me to leave that group and take on the directorship because I loved my time with that coalition so much. But when I interviewed, a big part of my interview was I do intersectional justice. This is what I want to bring to the Coelho Center. And it was very well received and everyone was on board. So I mean I think we even have it like on our mission page that intersectionality is a big part for me. And for the Coelho Center.
Also I have two other guiding principles there which is nothing about us without us, of course. And then leadership by disabled people of color.
So of course when I was thinking about this law fellowship program, I specifically thought about how do we attract students with multiple marginalized identities with different lived experiences and attracting students who are disproportionately underrepresented in the law school space. So one of the ways that I tried to do that -- well, part of it was intersectional piece. Part of it was a budget thing. When I first came on, I had a very modest budget to start the first class. I think I even like when I presented it, I think I said, I think I have enough money to take on five fellows. I think I went to the dean with that and that was the proposal we had approved and we put our applications out. So part of it was the intersectional piece, part of it was budget.
We knew it would be a national program, but I really focused my recruitment on community colleges within the L.A. area. So I blasted my application out to community colleges because I thought that was where we were going to cultivate the kind of applicants that I really wanted to reach out to. Of course every year I get these fantastic applications from students who are already like incredible leaders on their campus and have like started the disability program at their university and have championed the way, already know the Judy Heumanns and the Tony Coelhos and are so well connected. And I want those students too and of course I read their applications and I want them. But I also wanted to attract students who maybe weren't connected to the disability community yet, who had stories like Matt was saying that I experienced a lot in my time with the national coalition for Latinx with disabilities. A lot of people don't know about disability rights. That was part of our program. We wanted to bring those students in.
And every year my methodology of trying to get folks from community colleges, to reach out to -- I mean, I admit, this is where I need your help. I have not gotten the breadth of applicants that I have hoped for.
Again, I think a lot of it, I think -- well, Matt did like a Google search. I think Angelica said she heard about it from someone from the first fellowship class and I think that's how most of the fellows hear about it, is just word of mouth. So it tends to be people already engaged in the disability rights community. So that's the first thing that I always think about, like how do I attract more people to apply to the program.
Anyway, we ended up not taking five students the first program. We got I think we had like 22 applicants or something, and I loved all of them of course. I wanted to bring all of them. But I really championed for 15. I said, I went to the dean and to Tony and I said, we have to come up with the money to take these 15 students. And so we did. We made it happen. Dean Waterstone made it work. And we brought in 15 fellows for the first class. We had 15 for the second class. And then for this last class, we had 25, which was a big boost. And we were able to do that in part because we got some board foundation funding which was really exciting.
So yeah, so every year we have seen a growth in the applicants. So this is the second point I wanted to make. And I realize I need to go faster here. We see growth in applicants. What is my point here? I forgot. But anyway, so we see a growth in applicants. And we hope to continue with that trend.
As Angelica said, the new applications are out now. So my fingers are crossed. I'm in the recruitment stage so of course I need all of your help and advice to make sure that we spread this even farther than we have in the past. Last year I think we had like 40 applicants and picked 25. I'm hoping every year that that continues to increase and that I'm getting the word out even farther.
Thanks. I'm getting messages already in the chat.
And so, okay, the components of the program I wanted to quickly talk about. I know both Matt and Angelica alluded to them. Initially, we've had to pivot because of COVID, but initially the program was designed to have this in-person component because we knew it would be a national class, we knew it would be primarily students who are in college currently. We also accept folks who are recent graduates. And so we knew there was going to be this webinar component throughout the academic year because it's a 9-month fellowship. But we wanted that in-person component because we wanted to have that community building.
So Matt's class, the first class, got that. We brought them all in in person and we did a lot of community building kind of stuff that Angelica said was missing from her class. And then I had to pivot the last two classes because of the pandemic. And really the second class, in my opinion, had the worst because theirs was completely online. We were hoping throughout the entire year last year that maybe we might be able to bring them in at one point when this pandemic was over and that was 2020-2021. That never happened. They were completely online. They had a graduation online.
And every year I've had like different -- I've tried to add different components to it. The first year we had the one week intensive program in person. And they were there all day. From like, you know, 9:00-5:00 and then we would go have dinner with each other for five days straight.
And then the last couple of programs, like Angelica said, we've spread it out because it's been virtual. We've only done like max 4 hours a day in the evenings. And then I talked a lot with Angelica and when I hear her story that she was able to do this program because it was in the evenings and because she had full-time employment, I can't imagine that had I had the way I originally had devised it, so just a happenstance of the pandemic, we were able to attract someone like Angelica who I can't imagine not having had her in our fellowship program. She is so incredible.
So these are some of the things that I think through structurally. So this next year we're planning for an in-person component again up top. Angelica talked about the issues that we had with this last class not having that rapport with one another, and then some fighting amongst the fellows. And so I do want to have that in-person component in the beginning. But I'm still trying to decide whether it's going to be the whole 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. versus evening hours for folks who have full-time employment. So Angelica has been a huge support. She didn't say this, but you know, she came up with the idea of having the DEIA task force, and she's going to head it. And we're going to recruit more folks. But so she's constantly giving me ideas about what we can do for the program. So we're thinking of having a hybrid, both like a full-time day and then an evening program for folks who just have to do the evening one.
We have the once a month webinars on the first Saturday of every month. And they're I think for the first class they were like 5 hours and we took like a half hour break. And then I got feedback and they were like, that's just too long on a Saturday, it's like your whole Saturday. So how we've gone down from like 5 to now it's 3 hours. So we do 9:00-12:00 Pacific. And I think that was a sweet spot for folks. And we typically have ice breakers in the beginning, like a catch up with all the fellows. Everyone updates on what's been going on in the last month. And then the next couple of hours typically I have guest speakers and I typically try to bring in either law students with disabilities, attorneys with disabilities, other policymakers, etc., to come talk about their experiences. Or we have some type of technical folk come in. Like I've had the Loyola Law School librarian come in to talk about research. We've had the admissions folks come in to talk about applying to a law program.
Oh, and backing up, that first in-person component also got changed. I know for the first class I did a lot of community building and we talked a lot about disability justice and I brought in a bunch of different speakers. And then I only had a couple of sessions where I did simulate a law course. I think I taught like criminal law. The students loved it. But then this past time, I decided to teach a truncated version of my disability rights law course that I teach at Loyola Law School, so that's what we did in that first week. And again, I'm trying to like morph like how do we do both. How do we do the community building section but also do the simulated class, because like as Angelica said, it went really well. I think students really appreciated learning like a really quick and dirty version of disability rights law. Especially before going in to the webinars throughout that year. They had the foundation of ADA and IDEA and what law school might be like.
So now I'm really going over on time, but let me see. What was one of the things I really wanted to say?
I don't have it up here. Okay. I will just close with this next year, so every year I'm trying to build something bigger about the program. Oh, Angelica also said I added a policy project component. So for the first couple of years, they didn't have to turn anything in. The program was just the in-person component, the webinars, every fellow has a $1,000 stipend, and then there's mentorship. The first couple of years I came one mentors formally and that didn't really go as planned. It was very difficult. I mean, I recruited the mentors easily because a lot of you were very willing to be mentors to these fellows, but then it was very hard to get all the fellows to meet with all of the mentors regularly. So in this last year, I didn't do the mentorship program. Part of it I just really pushed folks to reach out to our guest speakers if they speak to them individually, and find mentors that way. So a more organic approach to hooking people up with mentors.
On the topic of mentorship, I think Dean Waterstone mentioned, even though we only meet in person, face-to-face together in the intensive program and in the webinars and then our graduation and conference at the end, I have a very open office policy with my fellows. And so I'm constantly, you know, students are constantly scheduling meetings with me and I'm mentoring them throughout the entire experience. So a typical work week for me is having at least three fellows on my schedule to meet with, and I coach them through whatever experiences they're currently having or writing recommendation letters for their next step that they want to take. A lot of students throughout this program have come to me and said that they're having, that they're facing discrimination at their college or university level. So I've definitely coached a lot of students in how to advocate for themselves, typically for accommodations. And I have a ton of stories about how the students have been successful for that. I think Matt has a story about that. I know he's coming on. So he was one of the first ones who came to me. So those kind of things I didn't plan. Those happened organically, meeting with the students and having brought together all these awesome disabled college students across the nation.
I can go on and on. I think the last thing I'll end with, one component that we're adding this year is we're opening it up to international applicants. So I've already recruited two international folks, and so now we're having sort of a -- it will be like a cultural exchange component to it. So one of the students is from Saudi Arabia, a huge disability rights advocate there. She's interested in learning about U.S. law. She went to -- she's getting like her master's here in the U.S. too.
And so even though her goal is not to go to American law school, she will learn about U.S. law throughout the program and then there will be that cultural exchange where she'll be able to share about what disability rights in Saudi Arabia is like with her fellow fellows. And that's always been a big thing throughout this program that I always start with with the fellows, the best thing you'll get out of this is your connection with your fellow fellows, and that's been true every year.
And then the last thing I'll say that I really want to pivot to is I would really like for there to be a connection with disability rights law firms or organizations, or maybe not even necessarily disability law firms, it could be any kind of law firm, where the students get paired with a program. So for example, Disability Rights California, I'm on their board of directors. Like one of my fellows can be paired with Disability Rights California and they have to do a project with them throughout the year. So I'm making that connection already and thinking about not only law school but pairing them to have an experience with a law firm that might make them think about and have that experience as to what being an attorney will be like, so just taking that extra step.
So Dean Waterstone and I are working on that component right now. We're looking for disability rights and other legal organizations that would like to take on law fellows throughout the year. It wouldn't be like a 40-hour work week type of fellowship. It would be more like 10-20 hours throughout the 9 months they have to do with their host organization.
Anyway, so those are the kind of things we're thinking about, just to continue to grow the program. And thank you all for being here today, and I really appreciate any advice, support, feedback, comments, anything like that.
And Michael, I think you might have had closing comments as well and I'm sorry I went over on time.
MICHAEL WATERSTONE: No, we're great. I think we have 20 more minutes if I have that right so let's just move straight into questions and discussion.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Wonderful. Nicholas, I see your hand up. Do you want to speak?
NICHOLAS LAWSON: Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for your talk. I'm a commissioner on the ABA commission on disability rights and this is sort of the thrust of what it is that excites and interests me. One of the things that I'm curious to hear is, in my view, my impression is that disability representation among faculty at Georgetown law is 1.2. UCLA it's 2.8. UC Berkeley is 1.8 or something like that. I'm very interested in increasing representation. And the disability is going to be added to the ABA annual questionnaire, which is very exciting. I'm curious if you would guess that Loyola and Syracuse, when we get the numbers, are going to have the highest percentage of faculty being out as people with disabilities. And I would predict that that might be the case, in part because I think that programs like yours do an important job of signaling that disability is valued and that disability identity is valued. So I'm curious. I have another question but I'll stop there and see what you think.
MICHAEL WATERSTONE: I'm happy to go first on that and allow others to chime in. Thank you, Nicholas.
I desperately hope that's the case but I'm not at all confident. I'll speak to Loyola, not to Syracuse. The challenge is -- and I'm grateful that the ABA started to include that. The challenge is going to be as in any time you start including that self-identification, we know that the California bar did a study, this is now maybe a decade now that lawyers with disabilities may have been like less than 1%. It was super small. Even when you start asking, I wonder if they've been brought along in terms of their disability and I suspect that will be a problem. But also I think the reality of hiring for law school faculty positions, there are so few of them and it's such a stylized process that rewards a certain set of criteria that are in and of themselves fairly exclusionary that I'm saddened but not surprised at the numbers you gave.
Now, I think there are things that we could do and one of the things that Katherine and I are working on and hopefully cooking up, and if you're a funder out there, please listen. There are in the same way that there were other pipeline programs that did not address disability, many law schools have fellowship programs designed to -- and they're called different things, visiting assistant professors, fellowships, designed to provide a transition for folks from groups that have been previously excluded to move into law teaching positions. Surprise surprise, there's not really one specific to disability. Katherine and I have talked about creating one, and I would love for Loyola to host the first one. And we're working on funding for it.
Anyway, I hope that's helpful or at least responsive if not overly encouraging. And I'm happy to let Kat or others chime in also.
KATHERINE PEREZ: I don't really have anything to add. You've touched upon everything I was thinking of saying. So thank you for bringing up this issue.
Were you going to say something else, Nicholas?
NICHOLAS LAWSON: There's this other issue. This is what Nicole Porter calls the $20 million question. When we're talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, how do you get people away from thinking that there's a fixed amount of a pie. So there is this ABA standard, this diversity, equity, inclusion standard, which, so the way that it's structured is it creates a tiered system with race, ethnicity as number one, and then this second tier of women, LGBTQ people and disability people. And I guess I don't have -- one of the biggest problems is that it exempts law schools or diversity data that reveal underinclusion of people with disabilities, women, LGBTQ people, and it only holds law schools or primarily only holds them responsible for diversity and inclusion of race. The concern has been that including these other groups will cause dilution of diversity inclusion energy towards more traditionally underrepresented categories. And it's a continuing problem. This is a huge question. Huge problem, keeping the members of the progressive coalition together and getting people to look out for getting members of different underrepresented groups to look out for each other and be enthusiastic about including each other. I don't know how to do that and I don't know that others do either. If you have feedback, or maybe we can talk later, but yeah, big challenge.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Yeah, I agree, Nicholas. I think one thing is we need to stop thinking about these groups as isolated groups and realize that, you know, people have intersectional identities. I'm a queer disabled Latina woman second generation immigrant from Mexico. So I fit several boxes. So again, we can't think of it as pitting one group against the other. And again, we can't assume that people with disabilities are white people with disabilities. We need to do a better job of thinking about intersectionality, period.
It's really great to see so many hands up so I'm just going to move on.
MAURICE PERET: We do have two hands up: Marc and Steven.
MARC ROSEN: I'm thinking from the perspective of a current law student. Have you considered implementing something like the Coelho Center to encourage current law students who are disabled and to channel further interest in disabled attorney representation and retention, given that our representation is less than 1%.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Go ahead, Michael.
MICHAEL WATERSTONE: I was going to say you have as much background as anyone I know on this exact issue. So would be great to hear your thoughts.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Yes, but just understanding the question is encouraging current law students and specifically law students with disabilities to work within the disability rights space?
MARC ROSEN: Within the legal profession as a whole as well as within the disability rights space. Impacts and direct service both. Especially direct service since that's severely neglected.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Yeah, right, absolutely.
So yeah, so today's panel was a focus on this pipeline program, but the Coelho Center certainly is focused on working through the entire pipeline. So another thing that we do that we didn't talk about was we have an access working group, and Fe who has her hand up as well is part of it. So we have LSAC as part of it. We worked with the ABA commission on disability rights and we worked with the national disabled law students association. If you don't know about them, look them up.
MARC ROSEN: We already have our own disabled law student as a member organization.
KATHERINE PEREZ: So we have been collaborating with several groups including National Disabled Law Student Association, NDLSA and we do think about topics like this. But one thing I'll quickly comment on is, in terms of the law fellowship program that we currently have going, I try not to -- we definitely talk about disability rights law and I bring in a lot of speakers that represent disability rights advocacy, but I try not to pigeonhole my students to just go into disability rights work because we definitely need representation in all areas. And a lot of times I will bring in folks who work in tangential areas, so for example, I always bring in folks who work in the immigration advocacy, and we talk about the intersection between immigration and disability. That's something that I almost am very interested in and have been doing a lot of work in.
So yeah. We can do better with reaching out to current law students, but again, I would just plug NDLSA for the great work that they're doing.
We have a workshop every year, the access working group that I mentioned, and we work with, we invite law schools across the nation to come together and we work on creating training folks through this workshop on creating a better law school environment for students with disabilities. So I will also plug that too. But thank you for your comment.
MICHAEL WATERSTONE: Can I just piggyback on one thread and say something that may not be universally popular but is important, when you talk about pigeonholing. I've taught disability rights or disability law at multiple law schools for longer than I care to remember at this point. And tend to attract a certain number of students with disabilities into that course, which is wonderful and amazing.
I try to be thoughtful about saying, if you want to get into disability rights advocacy and you want that to be your focus, that's wonderful and it's a terrific career, there's a lot to do, here are the people you can connect to. But I never want to presume that that's for everybody. And some folks should go to law firms and make a lot of money. And I think that can be important too. One of my mentors and dear friends was someone named Charles Seagull, a partner at the law firm I was an associate at, and he had a very significant disability and I saw what he was able to do for the community from the platform that he had, both financial but also in terms of resources and connections and networks. And I never want to let that be unsaid either. And I say that with humility as someone who is an ally to the community.
So anyway, wanted to chime in. Thanks, Kat.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Thank you.
Steven, were you next?
STEVEN GORDON: Yes, I was. First of all, Matthew interned last summer in my office, and it was an incredible experience having Matthew there. So I just want to kind of shout out what a great program you guys are doing. And I initially met Matthew when he was interning at the National Association of the Deaf and I did a presentation there, and Matthew reached out to me. So you guys are doing a great job if Matthew is any indication of it.
I also do a lot of ADA enforcement, and I have a lot of stakeholders in higher ed that are disability service coordinators, ADA coordinators for public universities, colleges. And they often are building coalitions on their university campus with people with disabilities, and it may be a good source for your program. And I told Katherine that in the chat.
I also have a disability as well. I have dyslexia. And one of the things Michael that I would like to say is that I find a lot of people in law are very exclusive when it comes to perfect written English. And I think that that can exclude people who are brilliant lawyers. David Boise is another. But their proofreading skills because of their disability is not great. And when I was earlier in my law career, I would have been afraid to stand up and say this because I wouldn't want the spotlight to be on me as someone who can't spell very well, drops words here and there. But it is one of the issues that I have with our profession. On a spectrum between empathy over here and judgment over here, a lot of lawyers come over here to judgment, particularly when it comes to the issue of how people write and getting the perfect sort of prose in there.
So I just wanted to throw that out there. I was thinking about that as you were talking about eligibility criteria in academia that tend to discriminate against people with disabilities. I think a lot of people with disabilities are also late bloomers, and a lot of very successful lawyers are people who academically achieve very early in life and some of the late bloomers don't get in on some of the wonderful things that others can have. I look at our current Supreme Court nomination. Wonderful. I'm very happy and hoping she's going to get confirmed shortly. But she clearly excelled very quickly and took that very quick path to Supreme Court clerkship and onwards and upwards.
So anyway, just for what it's worth, I have a place where I can talk about that so I figured I would.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Thanks. I think that's so important.
MAURICE PERET: I'm sorry. Just to let everyone know, I know this discussion can and should take place for another hour, but we really need to wrap up in about 5 minutes and we do have one hand up still and I just want to make sure everyone has that opportunity.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Can I just really quickly say, Steven, because your comment so resonates with me and I didn't say this about our program, but I mean if you look at our website and how I advertise the law fellowship program and I'm sure my law fellows can attest, I say if you're coming in to our law fellowship program, we're not just trying to mold you to be the perfect law student to go into law schools as they currently exist. I consider every one of my law fellows a leader in training if they're not already leaders. And like I said, a lot of them already come in and they're like leaders on their campuses by necessity, by survival, right. And so I think a lot of our program is about talking about the barriers in law school and training these folks about how do we as the next leaders, as you guys as the next leaders, go in and disrupt that and change that. So again, this law fellowship program is about training these students to get into law schools, but this program has also inspired me, again, as I said, just learning about all my law fellows and seeing the barriers that they're going through. It's giving me a lot of data to how to approach law schools and say, hey, I have these students like you were just talking about, Steven, great candidates for law school and here's their stories and how can you make sure they succeed in the program. We only have had three classes so I don't have too much data but I can already see how that's having an impact. That's another thing I'm excited about. These are future leaders who are going in like Matt and disrupting and changing how we think about law school.
FE LOPEZ GAETKE: Hi, thank you. This has been an incredible learning experience. I do work for LSAC. My name is Fe Lopez Gaetke, Chicana straight cisgender woman with a blurred background.
I think it is important and incumbent to ensure that those of us who are in organizations and institutions be inclusive and let folks lead where they need to lead and use our power and resources in order to do that.
I also want to note that there's a lot to learn and a lot to do. And LSAC is really learning. We did a lot of changes as related to accommodations, we want to do a lot more in disability rights, and I'm putting in our new chief diversity officer, Angela Winfield, very amazing. Katherine was on the committee who helped choose her. And I wanted to note the piece, Katherine, that I talked about related to recruitment, to these incredible programs. And I think this is shared particularly with programs that minoritize communities. One is intersectionality. And I have always appreciated Katherine that the Coelho Center always thinks about intersectionality. You're not a woman today Latina on Wednesday mother tomorrow and lawyer on Friday, right? Like those things happen all at the same time and we have to consider the compounding impacts of those things. And one thing that I want to note that New York did as related to visibility of pipeline programs is they actually surveyed, they specifically did a survey of Black and brown students in New York to think about pipeline programs and why they weren't coming in to them, it's a really cool report because it is very centered and focused, and one of the things was visibility. The language we use to identify these programs is in and of itself a barrier. Because we use key terminology like "pipeline," like these things that folks don't even know about. So I'm thinking about how do we use terminology to recruit, to not be an added barrier. Most of these students in the survey are using the internet on their phones, and how do we engage in a more open process that is more accessible. And when we think of accessibility, it means a lot of different things, right, to folks.
So I just wanted to flag that recruitment for this type of program is so crucial and not just for law. It can be impactful in so many other areas. It's how do we think about programs as ability and how are we using that type of terminology or anything else related to that.
And I think one other thing to address is the financial issue. Folks may not even consider or be aware because it's way too expensive for me. So definitely wanting to couple and partner on various issues related to this, we're really into that.
So thank you, Katherine, thank you, Coelho Center, thank you all for doing that work. I wanted to flag those critical issues and we look forward to continuing that work.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Thank you, Fe. You've been an incredible partner. I look forward to reconnecting.
MAURICE PERET: Thank you, to our facilitators and participants. Very rich presentation. Chockful of inspiration. I appreciate you all. And I hope you enjoy the rest of the symposium. And I thank you very much for all of your presentations.
KATHERINE PEREZ: Thank you.
Matt, Angelica, you guys are the best. Thank you so much. We appreciate you.
Take care, everyone. Bye bye.
MICHAEL WATERSTONE: Have a great day, everyone.