“We’ve been systematically excluded from the legal landscape, the legal conversation, and we’re just now making some important inroads.”

The Harvard Law Review, an independent student-run law journal that is one of the most prestigious and cited of its kind, has just elected its first black woman president in its 130 year history.

 

Imeime (pronounced “ah-MAY-may”) Umana, a native Pennsylvanian of Nigerian descent, is a third-year law student at Harvard Law School. On January 29, Imeime was elected president by the review’s 92 editors.

 

The presidency is considered the highest-ranking student position at the fiercely competitive law school. The first woman, Susan Etrich, was elected to the position 41 years ago. History was made again in 1990, when Barack Obama became the review’s first black president. Half of the current Supreme Court justices have also served on the review–including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the review’s first female member–though none as its president.

 

During a time when racial tensions are particularly fraught, diverse representation in the legal system is that much more important. Black women are often overlooked in national conversations on policy brutality and racial profiling, though they suffer intersectional issues that neither race nor gender alone can fully address. In 2016, eleven black women were shot and killed by police, according to a Washington Post database. Movements like #SayHerName and #BlackGirlsMatter aim to highlight these narratives and the broader gender-specific racial discrimination in and beyond the justice system.

 

Thus, for a publication like the Harvard Law Review, with the largest circulation of any law journal in the world, to be led by a black woman is not insignificant. “I’m constantly reminded of people like Natasha McKenna and Tanisha Anderson and Sandra Bland, whose relationships with the law were just simply tragic,” said Imeime in a recent interview with the New York Times.

 

After interning at the public defender’s officer in the Bronx this past summer, Imeime aspires to be a public defender herself one day. “A lot of the clients I worked with that summer and since have looked a lot like me,” Imeime continued to the Times. “They are disproportionately represented on the unfortunate end of the legal system, so it struck a little closer to home.”

 

Imeime graduated from Harvard College in 2014 with degrees in African American Studies and Government. She is now a joint degree candidate with the Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (‘18).

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