Helping hand: Mom of three creates 'Parents in Law' student group

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As a teen-age victim in an aggravated stalking and assault case, Savanna Polimeni experienced victim blaming, insufficient knowledge of the legal process, and the emotional and logistical burdens of being subpoenaed for trials.

“The discomfort instilled a sense of duty to advocate for others,” she says.

She went on to earn an undergrad degree in criminal justice/law enforcement, and became a police cadet, following in the footsteps of her police officer father. While she realized this would not be her eventual career path, she found a lot of value in the experience.

“There’s a special honor that comes with wearing blue—it’s the color of a protector,” she says. “I learned how to rise to the challenge of effectively communicating with people on some of the worst days of their lives. I had to be objective in emotional situations. I had to be on my toes and constantly evaluating threats. It was an entirely new lens through which to view the community and humanity as a whole.”

A job as a social service specialist at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Center was an eye-opener.

“I had no experience with inner-city culture. I didn’t know what it felt like to be a minority. Everything about me was different from the residents and staff—my age, my race, my professional experience, and notably, my historical detachment from Detroit,” she says. “I was immersed in an environment that forced me to take on issues and hurdles I would have otherwise never encountered. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and into growth. I explored the cycle of violence, educational barriers, gang culture, and effective motivational communication skills.”

Although her family had often urged her to pursue law, the idea had long seemed unattainable. She birthed her first son as an undergrad sophomore and was pregnant with her second son at commencement.

“Law school seemed far-fetched at that point,” she says.

But after five years as a restaurant server, she rekindled that dream. She studied for the LSAT while holding down a full time job and a side gig mixing drinks for customers at a high-end furniture store, solving logic problems between mixing mimosas and mojitos.

Taking the LSAT at home, she was convinced she had failed.

“When my score came in above average, I was in utter disbelief—I’d really underestimated my ability,” she says.

Now in her 1L year at Detroit Mercy Law, Polimeni says she appreciates a culture of acceptance and support.

“Students with disabilities, those in the LGBTQIA community, veterans, parents, active professionals, and those from all cultures are welcome,” she says. “Our diversity makes us a force to be reckoned with. I’m not just making it here—I’m thriving. Having fortitude despite my challenges is met with applause rather than doubt.”

Her election as 1L class SBA president speaks to that culture of inclusivity, she says.

“I’m a tattooed single mother of three with a fierce spirit. I was also not quiet about my struggle with mental health, including Bipolar II Disorder,” she says. “I change diapers and fill sippy cups while I listen to law audiobooks on my AirPods. There have been days my medication has hit me sideways and I’ve had to sit out of class and rest, and notes have been passed on to me without having to ask. I get burnt out.
Sometimes I cry. Some days my motto has just been ‘don’t quit.’

“I didn’t want the position to make it look easy. I wanted it because my struggles are relatable, and I believe my open and honest humanity is comforting and refreshing. I struggle, and I’m still valued by my peers for my strengths. My peers voted for me, and that says, ‘If she can get through that, then she can definitely be president.’ COVID has taken some of our in-person experiences away, but I intend to make up for lost time by executing creative new ways to come together,” she adds. “Brilliant ideas from students will be met with a can-do attitude.”

Recipient of a Fellows Award, Polimeni serves as chair of the Fellows Board.

“After the strangest and most challenging academic year of our lives, all Fellows deserve a special year built around social connection, mental health, and building leadership skills,” she says. 

As part of her leadership role, Polimeni has founded “Parents in Law,” to offer innovative solutions for parents on the law school journey. Ideas include a pumping station and a special fridge for expressed milk, family friendly events, a student-run childcare cooperative program, help for moms with post-partum depression, and a helping hand for students struggling to balance studying and parenting time. The group also will welcome guest speakers in the legal field who are parents and who can share tips, tricks, and words of encouragement.

“We want this idea to spread to other law schools,” Polimeni says. “Traditionally, the law school environment has been viewed as cold. It’s our goal to help the law school culture constantly evolve to be welcoming, understanding, and inclusive.”

As a student leader, she offers support to peers, including mailing small tokens of support to struggling students, and phone calls to congratulate those making the Dean’s List, or securing summer placements.
She also has approached the administration about bringing emotional support dogs on campus next year.

Polimeni’s particular focus is criminal law, particularly prosecution, and she also is interested in mediation and dispute resolution. Her ambition is to work as a prosecutor in the Metro Detroit area and ultimately to become a judge. She would also like to work pro bono with the Haven shelter, offering legal expertise to those affected by domestic violence.

She admits that remote studies have been taxing, keeping her Troy home humming along and caring for her sons: Landon, 8; Liam 5; and Tony, 2. The boys are in childcare on weekdays; and she has found local coffee shops to be havens where she can focus on work.

Polimeni also appreciates the huge support from her significant other, professional photographer Joshua Hanford; as well as from her parents and three siblings.

In her leisure time, Polimeni creates lasting memories with her boys, including swimming classes, rock climbing, walks on nature trails, riding bikes, cooking together, and watching movies with popcorn.

“And sometimes, we break the rules and eat ice cream before dinner,” she says. “I try to be as lighthearted and adventurous as I can, because law school has a tendency to make things feel heavy.”

Polimeni uses her maternal skills for helping fellow students, serving as sounding board for problems and initiator for solutions.

“My plate indeed over-floweth,” she says. “Some balls get dropped, inevitably. This is a risk every go-getter and multi-tasker takes on. When a ball drops, I forgive myself and I cultivate self-evolution. I trip, but I never stay on the ground.

“Anyone with a mother figure in their life knows that quitting rarely shows itself as an option. When I don’t know an answer, I find it. When I feel incapable, I know when to reach for help. I’ve learned to grow from feedback and persist regardless of self-doubt, obstacles, and disappointment.”

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