PhD '04, Transnational Studies, Intercultural Studies and International Human Rights
“I know for a fact that I do this because Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave me a chance,” says Jodie Roure, PhD ’04, of her work as an educator and scholarly activist. “Justice Ginsburg inspired me to diversify the legal profession and to eradicate poverty. Eradicating poverty is a means to social justice.”
This is a story about taking a chance. It is a story about the power of education and mentorship. It is a story about a deep and unwavering commitment to human rights. It is a story about a woman who, in addition to being a wife and mother of 15-year-old twins, simultaneously and successfully manages multiple high-profile and demanding positions:
This is a story about taking action.
Growing up in New Jersey and living in rural Puerto Rico during the summers, as a child, her “earliest memories of life” had a profound impact on her. “I grew up in an atmosphere of civil rights, social justice and human rights. That was ingrained in me as a child,” she says.
For example, Roure’s father took her to meet with migrant workers, to see the deplorable conditions of where they lived and how poorly they were treated. He would sit her in the farm fields and ask her to translate the Workers Bill of Rights and other documents to the laborers, as few of them spoke English. During the summers in Puerto Rico, she grew up witnessing similar poor working conditions and low wages earned by sugar cane cutters, one of which was her great uncle.
Her parents always encouraged her to pursue higher education. “I’m a first-generation low-income college student. My parents knew that education was important, but they did not have the opportunity themselves, they didn’t understand the system of education.”
Roure successfully negotiated the difficult task of applying to and choosing a college and figuring out how to access financial aid and loans to pay for it. Even while pursuing an undergraduate degree in English with a Spanish minor at Douglass College-Rutgers University, Roure’s ultimate goal was to attend law school. “You have to fight for yourself,” she says. “Once you do, you can really fight for everyone else.”
Fighting for herself, Roure ended up with an internship with the Supreme Court of the United States.
As an undergraduate, Roure had the opportunity to participate in an internship program in Washington, D.C. “It was an enormous amount of money for me to participate in the program, but I took out a loan to pay for it because I knew it could change my life,” she explains.
Her experience in the internship program got off to a rocky start. Roure was the only person of color in in an all-woman program. She did not receive internship placement opportunities like those being offered to other women, and felt she was being treated differently. “I wanted to work in civil rights and human rights, and the internship that was suggested was not going to provide the exposure that I wanted and needed in those areas,” she says.
Frustrated, she called her father for advice. After their conversation, he got in his car and drove to D.C. Together, they visited the internship placement office the next morning.
“After a robust conversation, my father looked out the window, pointed to a building and said, ‘Do you see that? That is the Supreme Court of the United States, that is the highest court of this land. And that is where my daughter needs to be,’” recalls Roure. The internship coordinator responded that they did not have positions there.
Roure had to figure out how to turn her father’s vision into reality. Opportunely, the students were invited to attend oral arguments at the Supreme Court and meet with a justice afterwards. She recalls, “When I told my college counselor that I was going to ask for an internship at the Supreme Court, she said, ‘No, no, no, you can’t do that, that’s not what this is for.’ So, I said, ‘ok.’ But I wasn’t going to take no for an answer, this was my one chance.”
Addressing the students that day was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “I was so moved by her, inspired by her and excited by her, that after she presented to our small group, I raised my hand. I then made what I think is the best oral argument of my life and I asked Justice Ginsburg to give me an opportunity to dedicate six months of my life to her and the Court,” says Roure. Two days later Roure was interviewing for the position.
The work that Roure had done in her community around HIV Aids and social justice was an important and relevant part of her interview process. She demonstrated commitment to her community and the value of bringing a diverse perspective. In addition, Roure was fluent in Spanish, “There were constituents from all across the world who wrote in Spanish. When Spanish speaking individuals visited or called in to the court, I could translate. It was not why I was hired, but it was another thing I could offer. I tell all my students, learn another language.” Roure was the first Latinx person to intern at the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office and she went on to intern in the Office of the Clerk.
Roure describes the people who work at the Supreme Court as a big, supportive, loving family. In addition to Justice Ginsburg and Public Information Officer Toni House, she worked with and was mentored by Gary Kemp, Deputy Clerk for Administration, and William K. Suter, Clerk of the Supreme Court. “Their commitment to diversity was so important, and they continue to be supportive of me and my work,” she says.
Roure says that the people she met during her internship provided her with a true understanding of the power of mentorship and sponsorship, helping her to learn not only about law and the Court but also how to enact social change by sharing her knowledge with others. In addition, they were instrumental in helping her prepare for and apply to law school.
Michael Frisch, PhD, Professor and Senior Research Scholar Emeritus in the UB Department of History, became another powerful mentor for Roure, “a surrogate father for me.” Frisch encouraged her to pursue a PhD in American Studies, (later changed to Transnational Studies) with a concentration in International Human Rights at UB. In addition to having a mentor and champion, a key factor in Roure’s decision to attend UB was receiving financial support, “Receiving the Arturo Alfonso Schomberg Fellowship was the only way I was able to attend UB.”
“That’s one of the reasons I love UB, they helped support me financially, they supported my mental health, they supported my physical health, they did everything,” she says.
Globally, the legal services industry is expected to top a trillion (U.S.) dollars in 2021, and the U.S. accounts for almost half, making it by far the largest legal market in the world. However, diversity in the legal profession alarmingly and detrimentally scarce.
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), 85% of lawyers are white, compared to 77% of the U.S. population. Only 5% of lawyers are African American, 5% are Latinx, and 3% are Asian. Further, LGBTQ+, Disability and the racial categories of Pacific Islander and Native American/Indigenous, are largely missing from U.S. law firms and ABA or scholarly data on the subject, or underreported in firm demographics, hiring, promotions, attrition, and compensation.
None of these statistics regarding specific minority percentages have changed over the past decade, even though the overall minority populations in the U.S. have increased over that same time frame.
In UB’s PhD program, Roure focused her studies and research in the areas of human rights including violence against women, and she continues to be an international scholar, expert witness, and advocate in this area. But it was her work as a graduate assistant that cemented her commitment to diversifying the law profession. At UB, Roure worked with students helping them prepare for and apply to law schools and other graduate programs.
When she was completing her dissertation, Roure took a job at John Jay College of Criminal Justice-CUNY after having worked for the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts. “I was advising students and I realized, wow, the same structures that were missing when I wanted to go law school are still missing today,” Roure says.
One of her law professors, Leonard Baynes, now Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center, reached out to her in 2004. “He said, ‘I know you’re doing this diversity pipeline work on an ad hoc basis, why don’t we partner?’”
Together they created a diversity pipeline program where students would study under law professors and study for the LSAT in the summer at the law school. Throughout the academic year Roure would provide one-on-one intensive law school application support, experiential internship opportunities, structured mentoring programs, and work to bridge the gap between high school and college and college and law school through academic courses aimed to improve critical thinking, reading, and writing. They have been working together ever since evolving the program offerings.
Today, people from across the U.S. are increasingly coming together to create and support diversity pipeline programs championed by law schools at universities throughout the country, HMARIA and other organizations. Roure says emphatically, “We must continue to diversify the legal profession which in turn makes for a better global society. More diverse thinkers and more diverse perspectives in the law makes the law more inclusive of all human beings.”
“We want students to eradicate poverty in their lives and the lives of others and, in our experience, a law degree can do this for them, “says Roure. “A law degree uplifts our students from poverty circumstances, in turn they are able to uplift their communities, and ultimately aid in addressing the social injustices that plague their communities and our nation overall.”
Roure says that one of her goals is to encourage and facilitate collaborative partnerships. While at UB, Roure embarked on the ultimate partnership—she met her life partner and husband, Jonathan Beane, JD/MBA ’98, the National Football League’s first senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer (see Driving Diversity for the NFL).
“Going to an institution that really promoted values that we respect helped build our character,” she says. “It’s great to have a partner who was trained to think as out of the box as me. We talk to one another about the challenges that we face.”
Today, both remain active with the university. He is on the Dean's Advisory Council for the School of Law. She is on the College of Arts and Science's Dean’s Advisory Council and is co-chair of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Committee. The committee is charged with increasing engagement with diverse alumni and enhancing support and mentorship for diverse students.
In all her roles, Roure now spends a great deal of her time bringing together individuals, companies and nonprofits to support diversity and human rights efforts. “There is always a way for people to contribute,” she says, “We’re always looking for collaborators, mentors and sponsors.”
Roure sums up her dedication to diversifying the legal profession, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave me an opportunity, an opportunity that did not exist for her. I do this work in that spirit.”