Center for Women in Law interns defend Linda Chanow

Disclaimer: This letter represents the views of the individuals who wrote it, and in no way represents the views of any organization or employer the individuals are affiliated with.

Dear Editor,

We are writing this letter in support of Linda Chanow, former executive director of the Center for Women in Law. We are current and former interns of the Center, and we are all women of color. We are gravely disappointed at the irresponsible and damaging reporting in The Daily Texan about Linda Chanow. We write to show our support and admiration for Linda, and to definitively state that we did not experience any racism while working at the Center.

Journalism is about reporting facts, not opinions. Reporters are taught to verify information to the greatest extent possible so as to avoid reporting falsities or publishing unsubstantiated accusations. But the articles about Linda Chanow were misguided at best and editorializing at worst. When a person’s reputation and career are at stake, it is not enough to reach out for comment and report that no response was received. You must look elsewhere for sources who might provide a different perspective or defend the character of the accused. In this case, a quick Google search or a stop by the Center’s office would have yielded at least a few sources who were willing and eager to defend Linda.

To refuse to reach out to us out of some misguided sense that to interview people who support Linda would somehow undermine the accuser’s story is to misunderstand the point of journalism. This stance represents a marked departure from the long-standing goal of objectivity, which is a key tenet of journalism. None of us would ever say that the experience of the accuser quoted in the articles is not valid, or somehow less valid, than our own. We are not here to attack her in any way. We are simply here to offer a different perspective — one that should have been included in the original articles — and have the opportunity to speak for ourselves instead of being spoken for.

Had the reporter reached out to us, she would have heard stories of a woman who supported, encouraged and inspired us, and who has become a beloved mentor and ally to each of us.

Several of us have gone to Linda on numerous occasions to discuss the issues and barriers we faced as women of color in law school and beyond. In our most discouraging moments, she spoke to us about resilience, and provided us with tools and resources to move forward. To the extent it was necessary, Linda became our voice in spaces where we did not otherwise have access. She often served as a liaison between students and the school administration, advocating for us behind the scenes. When one of us approached Linda about starting a group for female law students of color, Linda hired the student as an intern to ensure she had the support necessary to create the group. The intern worked closely with Linda, often discussing the unique obstacles women of color face at the junction of gender and racial discrimination. Linda was also willing to listen and learn. While the issues we raised were not always familiar to her, she always took them seriously and helped us work through them.

Linda’s advocacy for women of color is evident not just in the way she interacted with us individually, but also in her efforts that address women of color on a national level. After we voiced some of our concerns to Linda, she took the initiative to create a study, in conjunction with the National Association for Law Placement Foundation, to identify disparities between the experiences of women of color and those of their peers, and work on actionable solutions. The goal of this study is to ensure that more women of color not only enter the legal field, but also thrive in the profession.

Linda actively mentors students and has mentored each of us. She has shared her vast network with us, written letters of recommendation on our behalf, and pushed us to go beyond our perceived limits. She has scheduled periodic check-ins so that we can update her on anything from job searches to progress at school. Linda has gone above and beyond in her role as our manager. This support has continued beyond graduation. But Linda’s support does not stop with the students she knows personally. During a controversial race relations program at the law school, Linda was right there in the first row supporting us.

Behind the scenes she helped make sure the program could take place and that we could have the forum to discuss our concerns. The Center, with Linda’s approval, has offered financial support to different affinity groups on campus countless times that enabled many to travel to national conferences, bring important speakers to the University and provide important programming to the law school community. When the Women’s Law Caucus approached Linda seeking funding to send two members to a conference, Linda agreed and ensured the Center reached out to the rest of the affinity groups at the law school to offer funding for two female members from each group to attend the conference. Though other groups had not approached her, Linda wanted to ensure that diverse women had a chance to be part of the conversation. And that is who Linda is to us. She is someone who is always thinking about the people who are not in the room, and making sure she finds a way to get them into the room. Linda may have left the Center, but the impact of her work to advance women — all women — will continue to be felt by each of us and by many more women around the country.