Last week on February 10 and 11, the Berry Institute of Politics welcomed Jennifer L. Levi to campus for their first visit as an inaugural Berry IOP Fellow. Jennifer is a lawyer, a professor, and a nationally recognized expert on transgender legal issues who has dedicated their career to fighting for the rights of women; children; the poor; and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) clients. Currently, Jennifer serves as the Director of the Transgender Rights Project for the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and as Professor of Law at Western New England University. Throughout their career, Jennifer has led legal fights for transgender equality across a range of contexts including in the areas of family law, education, health care, incarceration, military service, and beyond.
During their visit to Salem State, Jennifer joined some academic classes to share their experiences with students as a lawyer and advocate for transgender equality. They attended Professor Greg Carroll’s Community Organizing course which aims to deepen students’ understanding of how power is used to provide, as well as deny, access to goods, services, and basic human rights. Jennifer also joined the Introduction to Women and Gender Studies course taught by Professor Kimberly Poitevin. This course is focused on research and scholarship, examining how gender impacts people’s lives, conditions, and contributions within historical, social, cultural, national, and transnational contexts.
The Berry IOP partnered with the Alliance and the Center for Justice & Liberation to host a Q&A about Transgender Advocacy which took place during the Alliance’s weekly meeting. Students shared their experiences at Salem State and Jennifer shared advice on navigating advocacy.
While on campus Jennifer also hosted a meal with a small group of students to discuss the Equality Act, pending federal legislation that will add clear and express protections against discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ community. During the event Jennifer shared protections currently in place for LGBTQ+ people in Massachusetts, but stressed the importance of having federal protections to prevent discrimination against queer people in the U.S. The meal also delved into the issues students currently face on campus such as the use of pronouns.
Jessie Wilson, an undergraduate Political Science student, who attended the meal shared that “we all went around the room and explained the role and importance of pronouns to us and Jennifer explained how there is a generational disconnect between the meaning of pronouns.”
In addition to group discussions, Jennifer hosted office hours where students signed up to meet one-on-one with them. These meetings are an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to talk with Jennifer about their experiences, career advice, assignments, and other topics they felt passionate about.
The Berry IOP is so grateful to have Jennifer come to our campus and can’t wait for them to come back!