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Meet UB Law’s Own Trailblazing Women

Published March 12, 2021

Photo of Lindsay Gladney.

Lindsay Gladney is the Vice Dean for Admissions at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

There have been plenty of prominent women in the legal field that have made their mark on US history. Name likes Arabella Mansfield, Lyda Conley and Genevieve Rose Cline set the precedent and a foundation for future women in law to build upon. That foundation has grown in recent years and months, as the nation has seen Loretta Lynch become the first female African-American Attorney General, Kamala Harris become the first female vice president and Deborah Archer become the first female African-American president of the ACLU.

The University at Buffalo School of Law strives for gender equality in law, whether it’s through leadership, teaching or in our enrollment. The school currently has a woman dean, 57 percent of the full-time law faculty are women and 56 percent of the 2020 first-year class are women. To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’d like to shine the spotlight on the achievements of some of UB’s own law alumni and the impact they’re having on their communities and the field of law at large.

Catherine Cerulli '92

head shot of Catherine Cerulli, JD Class of 1992.

After founding the law school’s oldest legal clinic (when she was still a student at UB!), now called the Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic, Catherine Cerulli went on to focus her career on addressing, mitigating and healing violence between intimate partners. She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in criminal justice, knowing that she needed to have her hands in “research, practice and policy” to help affect greater change.

Devoted to teaching and educating, Cerulli is currently a professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester where she has also directed the Susan B. Anthony center for Women’s Leadership and the institution’s Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimization. She takes her expertise around the globe as well, giving talks and mentoring young scholars. This year, as part of a program from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Academy of Medicine, she was selected as one of six scholars to study in Washington, D.C. as a Health Policy Fellow, helping her increase her knowledge of federal policy so she can then return to Rochester to aid judges with decisions involving child custody, abuse and neglect cases.

Tanya Hughes '87

head shot of Tanya Hughes, JD Class of 1987.

For more than eight years, Tanya Hughes has been the executive director of Connecticut’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. As the nation’s oldest state civil rights agency, Hughes and her colleagues at the Commission help ensure that state agencies comply with affirmative action goals and contract provisions. They also enforce the state’s protections in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations, as well as keeping Connecticut’s citizens informed about their rights and responsibilities under the law.

“We try to be aggressive with our legislative proposals,” says Hughes. And since Connecticut is historically progressive on human rights, Hughes and her team have their hands full with monitoring and enforcing the civil rights of people from 27 protected classes, including on issues of sex, race and religion. More recently, she’s working on pushing to mandate anti-bias and anti-racism training.

Hughes is proud to be a UB Law alumni dedicated to public service. “You have a greater chance of being rewarded and compensated on an equitable basis for hard work…I’ve seen first hand the commitment of government lawyers.”

Barbra Kavanaugh '83

head shot of Barbra Kavanaugh, JD Class of 1983.

When she led the Employment Justice Center in Washington D.C. as executive director from 2010-15, Barbra Kavanaugh strived to put community organizers and lawyers “on an equal footing.” Serving primarily low-wage workers who faced injustice at work, the center also worked to address systemic issues.

She calls her collaborative work in bringing together organizers and lawyers “movement lawyering” and the idea saw gradual but significant improvements to worker protection laws: minimum wage was increased over time to $15/hour, tipped workers earned the right to paid sick leave, and the amount of unpaid wages that could be recovered in wage theft cases quadrupled. Since leaving the position, Kavanaugh continues to push forward her ideals of movement lawyering for all types of practices, leading to her current role as director of the Interim Executive Network.

Her work locally in Buffalo included time at Neighborhood Legal Services and a term on Buffalo’s Common Council. Alongside her partner Lynn Edelman, Kavanaugh raised two sons in Buffalo and they were the first same-sex couple in Erie County to gain a joint custody order for both children. Her face is featured in a local mural celebrating LGBTQ history but Kavanaugh says her work goes even deeper, and that “the so-called gay agenda is a social justice agenda.”

Elizabeth Kim '94

head shot of Elizabeth Kim, JD Class of 1994.

Born from a love of scuba diving that she learned during her time at UB, Elizabeth Kim is now a part of the U.S. Department of State as a diplomat and senior policy advisor for the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs.

After acquiring a doctorate degree in marine ecology at UB, Kim now uses her “bilingualism in science and law” to represent the US and UN working in international environmental law. Her current work involves negotiating a new global treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of high seas biodiversity. This will set up protected areas and regulate the use of exotic genes from high seas organisms so drugs created from such organisms can be shared with countries around the globe. “I am committed to public service and to making the world—especially its ocean—a better place.”

Some of her most passionate work is her annual involvement in the Our Ocean conference, founded by Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014. The conference involves governments, industries, philanthropists, scientists and other organizations coming together to announce big ideas for the future of ocean protection and has raised $91.4 billion for such ideas and projects to date.

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Talia Rodriguez '15

head shot of Talia Rodriguez, JD Class of 2015.

As a fifth-generation Buffalo West Sider, Talia Rodriguez now uses her J.D. and master’s degree in public policy to help inform her work running the West Side Promise Neighborhood initiative. “We’re trying to deliberately address the gap of experience our leaders might have,” she says. “We know there are brilliant leaders out there.”

Run out of SUNY Buffalo State College’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement, West Side Promise Neighborhood vies to connect stakeholders with resources and develop engagement and involvement in the community. At its core, the initiative focuses its endeavors on children. Having worked as an advocate for the foster care system, Rodriguez is aware that her knowledge in administrative and family law can help the initiative assist the area’s youngest citizens.

With a grandmother who emigrated from Puerto Rico and went on to march with Martin Luther King Jr., Rodriguez understands the roots of the work her grandmother laid and she plans to build on it by reaching out to the neighborhood’s Latinx population and other immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. “When people come together and share a positive vision, they think of the world they want for their kids. We seek to support families in creating that.”

Hon. Lisa Bloch Rodwin '85

head shot of the Honorable Lisa Bloch Rodwin, JD Class of 1985.

A pioneer for understanding and evolving how domestic violence cases are handled in Erie County, Lisa Bloch Rodwin’s work has spanned decades, including a dozen years leading the Erie County district attorney’s Domestic Violence Bureau.

Spurred by Buffalo’s refugee community, Rodwin’s election to the Family Court bench in 2008 led her to the realization that court reform was needed to service these groups with various languages, beliefs and customs. As a result, she helped implement the state’s first Muslim and Immigrant Family Court Collaborative, which works to improve communication with immigrant communities and make the court system more readily accessible to those in need. Growing to more than 250 members, the collaborative aspires to teach judges, lawyers, social workers and probation officers how to best serve minority communities; to teach those communities how they can take advantage of the Family Court’s services and benefits; and to ensure foster children are placed with foster parents in their same immigrant community.

“People really care about their neighbors in this community,” says Rodwin. “They’re willing to try something new to make that happen.”

The University at Buffalo School of Law is proud to have these women as alumni and look forward to discovering new generations of women trailblazers who will forge new paths in the legal field. These six impactful women are profiled at length in the most recent issue of the UB Law Forum magazine, which you can read here.

Photo of Lindsay Gladney, Vice Dean for Admissions.

Lindsay Gladney is the Vice Dean for Admissions at the University at Buffalo School of Law.


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