Faculty Spotlight: Risa Goluboff

November 21, 2013

I am not in law school, but someday hope to be. If and when I get there, I hope to be lucky enough to study under someone such as UVA law and history professor, Risa Goluboff.

Professor Goluboff exemplifies outstanding female academic achievement at the University – a role model for aspiring female lawyers and women in other disciplines, alike. Her accomplishments in the field of 20th century American legal and constitutional history have landed her some of the highest honors in academia at the University. Titled both the John Allan Love Professor of Law and the Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law, she received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009 and the University of Virginia’s All-University Teaching Award in 2011. In addition to teaching constitutional law, civil rights litigation, and legal history, she is also a fellow at the Miller Center, the director of the University’s dual JD-MA program in History, and a faculty Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies.

Professor Goluboff grew up in the racially tense 1980s in New York City. Racially charged events such as the Howard Beach incident, the Crown Heights riots, and the trial of Tawana Brawley spurred Goluboff’s interest in issues of civil rights, race, and equality. Dinner table conversations with her parents about social and political issues of the time, and stories of her Grandmother’s experience with Communism and friendship with Ethel Rosenberg, “encouraged me to take action and to be aware of injustice and inequality”, said Goluboff.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Goluboff continued to study the history of racial and economic inequalities – and paired her studies with public service and social justice work. Riveted both by social justice and history, she decided to pursue graduate degrees both in law and in history. She subsequently received her Ph.D in History from Princeton University and her JD from Yale University.

Pairing her interest in both law and history, Goluboff decided to dedicate her career to academia. “Being a law professor who thinks and writes about and teaches history seems like the perfect combination of engagement with the world and the life of the mind,” she explained.

At UVA, she has been rigorously involved in both legal and historical work, leading efforts to strengthen ties between the history and legal departments here. She is currently focusing her work on the study of vagrancy laws and is in the process of finishing a manuscript entitled “People out of Place: the Sixties, the Supreme Court, and Vagrancy Laws.” “It is about how low-level laws that police had used for centuries to keep all kinds of dissidents, minorities, and nonconformists in place become unconstitutional over the course of the long 1960s. As social movements of the era challenge hierarchies of all kinds, vagrancy laws look increasingly illegitimate,” she said.

“As a student, I had experienced gender parity to a large extent. I was surprised that when I became a professor there were many fewer women. I have been surprised to find myself the only woman in the room sometimes. But I think even when that is the case, it's important to know that I am entitled to be there, to speak my mind, and to expect and know that I deserve the same respect as the men,” she added.

To learn more about Professor Goluboff, please see the University of Virginia’s School of Law webpage here.

By Anna Perina.

Image Credit: University of Virginia.

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