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Recent U-M Law grad is driven to improve her community

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Emma Ellman-Golan has been driven throughout her life by a passion and a sense of obligation to better her community and the lives of others. This past May, this former Teach for America teacher graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and was recognized with the Irving Stenn Award by her peers and the faculty for her commitment to improving the lives of those around her.

“The Michigan Law community enabled me to fully engage with my academic, political, and extracurricular passions and I’m so grateful to my classmates for nominating me,” she says.

For three years during high school, Ellman-Golan interned for a councilwoman representing the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood with lots of public and subsidized housing, as well as rapid gentrification.

“The experience of interacting with her constituents and engaging in research on housing policy opened my eyes to high rates of inequality in my hometown,” she says. “I was struck by the profound unfairness of this system, and of the power of government at all levels to alleviate or further entrench inequality.”

Since then, she has been drawn to politics at all levels. As a University of Pennsylvania undergrad majoring in political science, Ellman-Golan worked on a number of political campaigns in Philadelphia and the surrounding area, and organized efforts to promote the passage of the Affordable Care Act. 

As an undergrad, Ellman-Golan was a family violence and sexual assault intern at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, and a governance studies intern at the Brookings Institution during the summer of the 2011 government shut down, when she conducted research on hyper-partisanship and on the role of religion in politics.

“Unfortunately, it looks like hyper-partisanship has only gotten worse since then,” she says.

Between undergrad and law school, she taught middle school science for two years through Teach for America in Philadelphia, where she was the recipient of the 2014 Innovation in Teaching Award for using Instagram to engage her students in and outside of the classroom.

“Most of my students had no computer or Internet access at home, but they all had smartphones, so I developed ways to bring content to their smartphones, and to incorporate computer skills into my regular classroom instruction,” she says.

In addition to teaching, she served as the director of the high school application process, helping eighth-graders apply to public, private, and charter high schools in Philadelphia.

“I was struck by the systemic obstacles my students and their families faced, and by the stark differences between the resources available to my students and those available to me when I was a child,” she says. 

In 2014, she headed to U-M Law in Ann Arbor, where she enjoyed the camaraderie of the student community.

“There’s something really special about the student body at MLaw—students are genuinely supportive of each other and proud of each other’s accomplishments.” she says.

As co-president of the Women Law Students Association, she organized an event on encountering “uncomfortable moments” in the workplace, asking prospective attendees to submit anonymous experiences in advance and inviting a legal practice professor to facilitate a conversation on responding to those experiences.

“I was struck by how many women, myself included, had encountered insulting, invalidating, or even harassing comments on account of gender in only a few years in the workforce,” she says.

This experience drew her to classes like Employment Discrimination, one of her favorite classes of law school.

Being a member of WLSA provided her with female mentors who encouraged her to try out for Law Review, to write a Note, and to apply for clerkships. She served as book review editor of the Michigan Law Review and wrote a Note calling for continued enforcement of Title IX under the Trump administration, which will be published in the fall.

She is particularly proud of two interfaith dinners she organized as part of the Jewish Law Students Association. She attended Shabbat dinner at the U-M Hillel most Friday nights during law school and occasionally the group would organize dinners for members at the law school. During her 2L year, she organized an interfaith dinner with the Muslim Law Students Association during which attendees shared their respective traditions and explored similarities and differences between the religions.

In her 3L year she organized a second interfaith dinner the week the Muslim ban was announced which drew close to 100 students and a few professors. She and members of other religious groups at MLaw gathered passages from the Jewish Bible, the New Testament, the Quran, and the Jewish Mishnah that relate to refugees and obligations to strangers and those less fortunate, and she placed quarter sheets with different passages at each seat, along with conversation starters at each table.

“That was a week when I think MLaw students were desperately looking for ways to channel their feelings and I’m proud of the way we were able to use a Shabbat dinner to encourage conversation on the similarities of our religious and moral traditions within the student body,” she says.

During her 2L and 3L years, Ellman-Golan served as a graduate student instructor for the Near Eastern Studies Department and for the Department of History, teaching undergraduate courses on the history of the land of Israel/Palestine and on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“While this was a lot of work and took up a lot of my time, I loved spending some time each week on non-law-school academic activities,” she says. “I really enjoy teaching and I’m so grateful to the University of Michigan for giving me the opportunity to teach throughout law school.”

Passionate about music, a highlight of law school was singing with the Michigan Law Headnotes a cappella group.

“Getting to relax and make music with some of my favorite people for four hours a week made my three years so much fun,” she says.

In the fall, Ellman-Golan will head back to her hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y., to clerk for Judge Madeline Cox Arleo in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Her future goals include working for the government in some capacity.

“I don’t know exactly what that means for me yet, but my drive to serve my community and work in public service has been going strong for over 10 years now, and I don’t see it dying down any time soon,” she says.

 

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