Meet the Incoming Leaders of Law Council
Katherine Chen, 2L, and Victor Jimenez, 1L, the new president and VP, seek to improve the student experience, deepen support for BIPOC students
It’s been a challenging time for students at the University of Minnesota Law School. They have contended with the isolation of Covid-19, trauma from the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright at the hands of police, and the challenge of building and maintaining connections with other students when most everything is virtual.
Aiming to rejuvenate community for all students, Katherine Chen, 2L, and Victor Jimenez, 1L, stepped up to lead. Chen will be president and Jimenez vice president of the student Law Council in the 2021-2022 academic year. They both ran on a platform of improving the student experience and deepening support and communication for students who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
Chen will mark her third year on the Law Council, where she currently serves as treasurer. She wants to build on its current policy work and advocacy with the administration. It has been motivating for Chen to see student-championed policy changes improve the student experience at Minnesota Law.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, the Law Council effectively advocated for changing grading policies from A-F to pass/fail. It was an instructive experience for Chen. “We showed how BIPOC, first-generation students were disproportionately affected by the pandemic with the data we collected, and how pass/fail could help. It was exciting for us,” Chen says. “When that many students want something, we as a Law Council have to say, ‘How do we make this happen?’”
Originally from San Diego, Chen came to the University of Minnesota for her bachelor’s degree in genetics, cell biology, and development. Chen has served on the boards of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association and the Student Intellectual Property Law Association. She plans to work in intellectual property litigation.
Chen describes herself as introverted, so she is glad she pushed herself to pursue student leadership. It has helped her develop her ability to solve problems, get to know people with different perspectives, and become more empathetic—all pertinent skills for attorneys.
Jimenez was born in Ecuador but grew up in south Florida. He overcame the challenges of starting law school during the pandemic by getting involved with the Law Council as secretary and in the Latinx Law Student Association. To support first-generation and BIPOC students, Jimenez created an index for law school study guides. He counts himself lucky that his mother, a lawyer, gives him advice, and he seeks to level the playing field for others.
“I want to help people who need it most,” Jimenez says. “My priority is connecting with BIPOC students and getting their voices heard. That’s been difficult because many don’t think they are being listened to, or that other students feel like they can speak on their behalf.”
Jimenez and Chen are especially supportive of efforts to recruit diverse faculty and students, explore hiring an assistant dean for diversity, and expand efforts to elevate all students’ voices. They plan to continue work on an initiative to help professors teach about sexual violence issues with sensitivity and effectiveness by looking at efforts in other law schools. It’s also a priority to be transparent and responsive to other students, such as implementing a 48-hour response time for the Law Council, Chen says.
It’s important to Chen and Jimenez to revive Mondale Hall as a hub of student life and maintain the flexibility in funding for student organizations, which started during the pandemic. Jimenez also wants to ensure that his fellow 1Ls get acclimated to Minnesota Law once all their classes resume in person.
“It’s very important to get people to feel comfortable and build a more communal environment,” he says. “We need to build bonds early next semester so that we can jumpstart a lot of the things we may have lost.”
Suzy Frisch is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.
This is an on-line exclusive to the Spring 2021 edition of Minnesota Law magazine.