Meet the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council

Established in 2015, the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council (DDLC) is KU Law’s student committee dedicated to promoting diversity and fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for all members of the KU Law community. 

The DDLC, composed of 11 students, collaborates with the Dean’s office and the Faculty and Staff Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEI) to provide educational programming and community-building events focused on diversity and inclusion matters. Members of both the DDLC and the DEI committees, in an effort to make our programming and events more tailored to the needs of the student body, welcome and encourage students to contact us with ideas, concerns, or general input. Scroll down to see a listing of the DDLC and DEI members, along with information about their involvement at KU Law and their emails for easy contact.

This year, the DDLC and the DEI are excited to host a new series of brown bag lunches which will be aimed at providing education and training for our entire KU Law community around the issues of diversity and inclusion. Assistant Dean for Academic & Student Affairs Leah Terranova said administration is excited about taking a more proactive role in creating an environment that promotes diversity and fosters inclusion.

“The brown bag lunches are a way of creating space for discussions that, while sometimes difficult, are important for us to have with one another,” Terranova said.

The first of these lunches was held on Sept. 11, and it was focused on creating community standards for communication and interactions during the brown bag discussions. Terranova said the goal of the initial lunch was to establish standards that will both benefit the brown bag lunches as well as help maintain a tolerant and compassionate environment throughout all of Green Hall. 

This semester’s remaining brown bag lunches are scheduled for Wednesday Oct. 9 and Nov. 13 over the lunch hour. Specific details will be posted in Dean Mai’s weekly newsletter closer to those dates. 

The DEI will also be hosting the KU Law Diversity Dash and Welcome BBQ on Sept. 19, with the dash starting at 4:45 p.m. in Room 104 and the BBQ at 5:15 p.m on the Green Hall Patio. This will provide students a fun way to learn about the diversity within Green Hall and connect the student body with KU Law’s diverse student organization leadership. 

Additionally, in an effort to make diversity and inclusion resources at KU more accessible to the student body, the DDLC has created a resource brochure that includes information about offices and organizations on KU’s campus that handle issues of diversity and inclusion. An online version of this brochure is available here. 

The DDLC and DEI committees are excited for the new initiatives being introduced this year, and eager to collaborate with the larger student body to provide truly valuable programming that’s both engaging and effective. Don’t hesitate to reach out to any committee member via their emails below, or to the DDLC as a whole at

DDLC Committee Members

Malika Baker

Malika Baker

  • Hometown: Lansing, KS
  • Undergrad: University of Kansas
  • Student Org Involvement: Black Law Students Association Vice President, Women in Law
  • Email:

Michael Bené

Michael Bené

  • Hometown: Prairie Village, KS 
  • Undergrad: University of Kansas (BA, currently enrolled in MA in Economics)
  • Student Org Involvement: Hispanic American Law Student Association, Graduate and International Programs Committee, Vice President of KU Flying Club
  • Email:

Terra Brockman

Terra Brockman

  • Hometown: Kansas City, KS
  • Undergrad: University of Kansas (Rock Chalk, baby!)
  • Student Org Involvement: Student Bar Association President, Student Ambassador, Mock Trial Counsel, Graduate Student Advisory Board
  • Email:

Claudia Chavarria

Claudia Chavarria

  • Hometown: El Paso, TX
  • Undergrad: University of Texas at El Paso 
  • Student Org Involvement: Hispanic American Law Students Association, International Law Society, First Generation Professionals, Women in Law
  • Email:

Denise Dantzler

Denise Dantzler

  • Hometown: Omaha, NE
  • Undergrad: MidAmerica Nazarene University
  • Student Org Involvement: Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy Editor-in-Chief, Lawyering Skills TA, Black Law Students Association
  • Email:

Aidan Graybill

Aidan Graybill

  • Hometown: Lincoln, NE
  • Undergrad: University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • Student Org Involvement: Native American Law Student Association, Women in Law, Mindfulness in Law, American Constitution Society, OUTLaws & Allies, Black Law Students Association
  • Email:

Delaney Hiegert

Delaney Hiegert

  • Hometown: Topeka, KS
  • Undergrad: Newman University
  • Student Org Involvement: OUTLaws & Allies President, Black Law Students Association 2L representative, ACLU of KU Sergeant-of-Arms
  • Email:

Saber Hossinei

Saber Hossinei

  • Hometown: Wichita, KS
  • Undergrad: Wichita State University
  • Student Org Involvement: Midwest Innocence Project Student Organization Co-Founder and President, Asian Law Students Association student representative, First Generation Professionals, Women in Law, Federal Bar Association
  • Email:

Joy Merklen

Joy Merklen

  • Hometown: Bali, Indonesia
  • Undergrad: University of California, Berkeley
  • Student Org Involvement: Kansas Law Review Editor-in-Chief, Lawyering Skills TA, Shook Scholar for Civil Procedure, Project for Innocence Student Intern
  • Email:

Bria Nelson

Bria Nelson

  • Hometown: Woodstock, IL
  • Undergrad: Iowa State University (Go Cyclones!)
  • Student Org Involvement: Black Law Students Association Treasurer, Student Ambassador, Equal Justice Works student representative, OUTLaws & Allies, Hispanic American Law Students Association, ACLU of KU
  • Email:

Abe Pfannenstiel

Abe Pfannenstiel

  • Hometown: WaKeeny, KS
  • Undergrad: Fort Hays State University
  • Student Org Involvement: St. Thomas Moore Legal Society, First Generation Professionals, Library Committee, Dole Institute Student Advisory Board
  • Email:

DEI Committee Members

Margaret Hair

Margaret Hair

  • Hometown: Greensboro, NC
  • Campus/Community Involvement: Volunteer with the Ballard Center
  • Position at KU Law: Director of External Affairs
  • Email:

Yolanda Huggins

Yolanda Huggins

  • Hometown: Topeka, KS
  • Campus/Community Involvement: Black Law Student Association, Hispanic American Law Student Association, Volunteer with the Girl Scouts
  • Position at KU Law: Faculty Support, Administrative Assistant
  • Email:

Stephen Mazza

Stephen Mazza

  • Hometown: Huntsville, AL
  • Campus/Community Involvement: Dean
  • Courses taught at KU Law: Federal Income Tax, Taxation of Business Enterprises
  • Email:

Jean Phillips

Jean Phillips

  • Hometown: Rapid City, SD
  • Campus/Community Involvement: Faculty Advisor for First Generation Professionals, Chair of Promotion and Tenure, Member of the Campus Equity Implementation Committee, Associate Scout Advisor for all-female Venture Crew
  • Courses taught at KU Law: Criminal Procedure, Criminal Practice in Kansas, Director of Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies
  • Email:

Betsy Six

Betsy Six

  • Hometown: Lawrence, KS
  • Campus/Community Involvement: Director of Academic Resources, Student Scholarship Committee Member, KU Academic Systems Steering Committee Member, Volunteer with Family Promise and LINK (Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen)
  • Courses taught at KU Law: Lawyering Skills I & II, Jurisdiction, Writing for Law Practice
  • Email:

Leah Terranova

Leah Terranova

  • Hometown: New York City, NY
  • Campus/Community Involvement: Faculty Advisor for OUTLaws & Allies, First Generation Professionals, Non-Traditionals in Law, Mindfulness in Law Society, Director of Diversity, KC LEGAL Board Member, KS Task Force for Lawyer Well-Being Member, Inn of Court Diversity Chair, AALS Section on Balance in Legal Education Executive Committee Member
  • Position at KU Law: Assistant Dean, Academic and Student Affairs
  • Email:

Kyle Velte

Kyle Velte

  • Hometown: Gaithersburg, MD
  • Campus/Community Involvement: OUTLaws & Allies Faculty Advisor, Committee Member of the KU Law Judicial Clerkship Committee, Appointments Committee, Faculty & Staff Council on Sexuality & Gender Diversity, AALS Section on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Executive Committee Member, Member of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, Colorado LGBT Bar Association, National LGBT Bar Association, Central States Law School Association Board of Directors
  • Courses taught at KU Law: Evidence, Torts, Employment Discrimination
  • Email:

Shawn Watts

Shawn Watts

  • Hometown: Catoosa, OK
  • Campus/Community Involvement: Native American Law Students Association
  • Courses taught at KU Law: Lawyering Skills I & II, Mediation Clinic, Tribal Law Clinic
  • Email:

Lua Yuille

Lua Yuille

  • Hometown: Monrovia, CA
  • Campus/Community Involvement: Volunteer with the Willow Domestic Violence Center, Member of Amnesty International, Association of Political Economy in the Law, LatCrit, ClassCrit, Journal of Law and Political Economy
  • Courses taught at KU Law: Business Organizations, Immigration, Asylum, Property
  • Email:

Ensuring justice through the Project for Innocence

3L Quentin Aker participated in KU Law’s Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence clinic. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

I firmly believe that every single law student at KU should participate in a clinic before they leave. My year as an intern in the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence improved my legal writing, lawyering and client-management skills, and appellate advocacy. Interns also receive a first-hand look at the criminal justice system and the post-conviction remedies available to wrongfully incarcerated individuals.

Every intern in the Project works with at least one other partner under the supervision of a licensed attorney. As a team, you are wholly responsible for your clients’ cases. It is simultaneously nerve-wracking and empowering. It is invaluable experience because interns are able to interview clients in prison, to visit federal and state correctional facilities, and to draft important legal documents.

Interns also work on their people skills, too. This was by far my favorite part. As an intern, I got to directly communicate with court clerks, other attorneys, correctional-facility staff, a diverse range of expert witnesses, family members of the client, and law enforcement officers. You just can’t get that kind of experience in any other class!

—  3L Quentin Aker

New director aims to grow M.S. in Homeland Security: Law and Policy program

Donovan Diaz is the new director of KU’s M.S. in Homeland Security: Law and Policy program. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

A former JAG Corps attorney and counsel to the U.S. Department of Justice has joined KU Law. Donovan Diaz started in July as director of KU’s Master of Science in Homeland Security: Law and Policy program.

As director, Diaz recruits students, coordinates instructors and pursues partnerships to support growth. This spring, he’ll teach a course focused on military law and national security issues.    

Making sure the program’s curriculum is in line with the current state of the law is key, Diaz said.

“The homeland security and national security world is a moving target. It is not a steady-state form of law,” Diaz said. “We want to train our students to be ready for the current threat environment.”

Now in its third year, the M.S. in Homeland Security program is based in Leavenworth and draws students from the military, federal government and civilian positions. Some students come to the program directly out of undergrad with the hope of pursuing a career in homeland/national security, Diaz said.

Students complete core courses in homeland security law and select electives from topics including crisis communication, information security and environmental security. A practicum course culminates in a multi-day, real-time simulated response to a national disaster. The simulation was created by Michael Hoeflich, the John H. & John M. Kane Distinguished Professor of Law at KU. It’s a hallmark of the program, Diaz said.

“The students get practice behind the theory. That’s what makes the program really stand out,” Diaz said.

Diaz comes to the program with broad experience in national security and homeland security, including military and civilian service in domestic and international settings. 

After completing an undergraduate degree in art history at the University of Kansas, Diaz earned his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law. Shortly before Diaz graduated law school in December 2001, the events of September 11, 2001 spurred him toward military service. He was commissioned in May 2002, joining the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG).

His first duty assignment was in North Dakota, followed by four years at Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Missouri. Diaz’s time with the JAG included a six-month deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, where he coordinated civil affairs matters including hospital upgrades, humanitarian relief and security planning.

Diaz then joined the U.S. Marshals Service with the Department of Justice as associate general counsel. From 2009 to 2014, he was based at Camp Foster in Okinawa, Japan, serving as Counsel to Marine Corps Community Services through the Office of the General Counsel to the Department of the Navy.

For the past five years, Diaz has run his family farm in Weston, Missouri. In addition to a 200-acre farming operation, the Weston Red Barn Farm hosts a wedding venue, a fall festival and a seasonal pumpkin patch and apple orchard.

Diaz said he’s eager to use his experience in military service, law enforcement and growing a business to expand the homeland security program.

“I’m looking forward to working with students and setting them on a career path, and growing the program,” Diaz said.

— By Margaret Hair

Student Spotlight: Liz Thompson pursues justice for clients that ‘feel like they are voiceless’

3L Liz Thompson is pictured at Jackson Square in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo courtesy of Liz Thompson.

Liz Thompson is passionate about public defense. Thompson, a third-year law student from Salina, spent her summer in New Orleans as a law clerk at Orleans Public Defenders (OPD).

OPD is an organization that provides legal assistance and representation for individuals that are unable to afford an attorney. According to the OPD website, the organization represents nearly 20,000 people each year.

“I see a lot of problems with our criminal justice system that unfairly impact individuals. These problems with our criminal justice system are particularly prevalent in New Orleans,” Thompson said. “I saw this internship as the best way to receive exceptional training on how to represent and be a voice for individuals who are most impacted.”

As a law clerk, Thompson went to court with supervising attorneys; visited clients in jail; conducted legal research; wrote memos, motions and writs; and watched footage from body cams.

“It is a great feeling knowing that I am working so hard to give people a voice in a system that makes them feel like they are voiceless,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the work was tough, but she was able to find reward in the opportunity to help others.

“Knowing that problems exist is one thing, but seeing these problems firsthand and seeing how so many people are impacted is another. It’s hard to see,” Thompson said.

Through her position at OPD, Thompson is motivated to keep fighting for justice.

“I’m working with attorneys who are passionate about public defense and other law students from across the country who are passionate about public interest work,” Thompson said. “It has been great to be with people fighting the same good fight.”

During her 2L year of law school, Thompson interned at the Disability Rights Center of Kansas in Topeka. An attorney Thompson worked with at the Disability Rights Center recommended that Thompson apply for the law clerk position at OPD.

Thompson is a second-generation Jayhawk. Her dad, the Hon. Patrick Thompson, graduated from KU Law in 1980.

“My dad is a KU Law grad. I really look up to all of his accomplishments throughout his career and being able to follow in his footsteps here at KU Law has been an amazing experience for me,” she said. 

Thompson is a member of Women in Law, a student organization at KU Law that promotes leadership and active involvement through community service and social engagement. Before coming to KU, Thompson earned an undergraduate degree in business administration at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska.

After finishing law school, Thompson plans to become a public defender. She’s also interested in doing criminal justice reform work at some point in her legal career.

— By Ashley Golledge

This post is the ninth in a series highlighting the diverse internships and jobs KU Law students and recent graduates are engaged in over the summer of 2019 and early in their careers. Check out earlier posts from this series about David BiegelSamantha Natera, Mohammad HameedEllen BertelsDelaney HiegertJackson ElyClaudia Chavarria and Aidan Graybill.

Quinton Lucas, KU Law lecturer, sworn in as Mayor of Kansas City

Quinton Lucas is sworn in as Mayor of Kansas City
Quinton Lucas is sworn in as Mayor of Kansas City on August 1, 2019. Photo courtesy of Rivas Photography.

Quinton Lucas, a KU Law lecturer, took office as mayor of Kansas City, Missouri at the start of August.

A Kansas City native, Lucas joined the KU Law faculty in 2012, teaching courses in contracts, securities regulation and federal administrative law. He earned a J.D. from Cornell University and an A.B. from Washington University. In 2015, he was elected to Kansas City’s city council.

Lucas plans to stay connected to KU Law as he takes on his new role. This spring, he will teach a seminar on state and local government law. He also plans to remain a member of the law school’s judicial clerkship committee.

At 35, Lucas is the youngest Kansas City mayor in more than a century.

“We’re incredibly proud of what Quinton has accomplished so early in his career,” said Stephen Mazza, dean and professor of law. “KU Law has a strong connection with the Kansas City community and Quinton’s leadership position helps strengthen that connection.”

Given the Kansas City metro area’s location on the border between Kansas and Missouri, KU Law provides a bridge for any conversation, Lucas said.

“One cannot miss the impact of KU Law on Kansas City and its surrounding communities,” Lucas said.

Quinton Lucas
Quinton Lucas

“Whether its alumni leading businesses, serving as judges, public servants or community leaders, KU Law’s impact is felt each day in Kansas City’s civic and cultural life,” he said.

Lucas shared his thoughts on the connection between KU Law and Kansas City, how he’ll stay involved with the school, and how his experience as a law professor relates to his new role.

Q: How do you plan to stay connected to KU Law?

A: Since I first came to the school as a visiting professor in the summer of 2012, KU Law has been an essential part of my life and professional development as a public servant. I am grateful the law school will allow me to continue my love of teaching by offering a spring seminar on state and local government law.

With the help of Dean Mazza and Assistant Dean for Career Services Arturo Thompson, I also have been part of our outreach efforts to our friends in the Wichita legal and business communities. I plan to take any opportunity I can to visit with members of our KU Law community in Wichita, including an annual CLE presentation, and to continue working to send talented students to an area I know and love. As a former resident of Hutchinson, I still plan to make it back to the Kansas State Fair this year as well!  

Closer to home, I will remain a member of the law school’s judicial clerkship committee, which has excelled in placing our top students with leading jurists in Kansas, Western Missouri and beyond. Fine placement opportunities don’t just begin after school. I’ll continue to work with Pamela Keller and Jennifer Schmidt to see to it that our current students have strong opportunities with judges and in public service in our region, including welcoming KU Law students as student fellows in the mayor’s office.

Given Kansas City’s location on the state line, our shared resources over two states and a region of more than 2 million people, KU Law is also a great bridge for any conversation. When recently negotiating details of an economic border war truce between Missouri and Kansas, it wasn’t unnoticed by Gov. Laura Kelly’s office that the Mayor of Missouri’s largest city is a “KU guy.”

Quinton Lucas speaks at the mayoral swearing-in ceremony. Photo courtesy of Rivas Photography.

Q: How do you think KU Law serves Kansas City?

A: One cannot miss the impact of KU Law on Kansas City and its surrounding communities. That was summed up by a recent visit I had with Sen. Jerry Moran, L’82, in his office in Washington in which we discussed our love for the region and our love for KU Law. 

The School of Law has been a thought leader in defendants’ rights, has cultivated the preeminent trial advocacy program for students in our region, and through our accessible and relatable faculty and clinics, is a resource for practitioners and leaders in Kansas City, Topeka and our country. I am proud to be affiliated with the KU Law brand. 

Q: How do you think your experience as a lawyer and law professor will serve you in your new role?

A: Unlike many of our peer institutions, KU Law has never lost sight of its key role as an institution that serves the State of Kansas and the surrounding region. Because of that, our faculty reflects the finest values of public service.

I have grown as a faculty member in that tradition of some outstanding mentors. Like generations of KU Law students, having the opportunity to learn from senior scholars like Martin Dickinson and Webb Hecker was the chance of a lifetime. Working alongside brilliant scholars and practitioners like U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister, Raj Bhala and Lumen Mulligan taught me the impact we can have as scholars and public servants. And, reviewing the work of our next generation of faculty stars like Uma Outka and Corey Rayburn Yung shows the ongoing impact that our scholarship has on how we build our cities and our country for the future.

A law professor knows patience, humility (perhaps, surprisingly), and how best to explain complex topics. Those are skills I use each hour as mayor. A law professor also knows where and how to find help to those vexing challenges society faces each day.

Finally, any teacher knows the classroom provides you more ideas and solutions than one could ever conjure up on his own. I just consider my new classroom to be a bit larger than my 8 a.m. Contracts class last fall!

— By Margaret Hair

KU Law announces changes in leadership

The start of the 2019–20 academic year brings several administrative and staff changes at the University of Kansas School of Law.

“KU Law is fortunate to have such talented and experienced leaders,” said Stephen Mazza, dean and professor of law. “I am confident these individuals will advance the goals and initiatives of the law school.”


Uma Outka

Uma Outka was named as associate dean for faculty. Outka joined the KU Law faculty in 2011. She is a William R. Scott Research Professor and an affiliate faculty member of KU’s environmental studies program. Outka teaches courses on energy law and environmental law.

In this position, Outka will oversee course scheduling; chair the faculty hiring committee; organize faculty workshops and training; and aid in research and scholarship production.

Leah Terranova

Leah Terranova recently began the role of assistant dean for academic and student affairs. Terranova previously served as the law school’s director of career and student counseling services for seven years.

As an assistant dean, Terranova will oversee student life at the law school and serve as the primary contact with enrolled students. Terranova will create and implement programs and services designed to positively impact the satisfaction and retention of students. She will also coordinate the law school’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.


Donovan Diaz

Donovan Diaz was hired to serve as the director of KU’s Master of Science in Homeland Security: Law and Policy program. Diaz will oversee and provide strategic direction for the program.

Previously, Diaz served as Counsel to Marine Corps Community Services, Marine Corps Installation Pacific – which is based in Okinawa, Japan. He also served as associate general counsel to the U.S. Marshal Service in Arlington, Virginia and as a member of the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

Shawn Watts

Shawn Watts will serve as the school’s new director for the Tribal Law and Government Center. He joined the KU Law faculty in 2018 as a clinical associate professor. Watts teaches courses on lawyering skills and Native American peacemaking, and directs KU Law’s Tribal Judicial Support Clinic. Watts is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Watts succeeds Elizabeth Kronk Warner, who recently began a deanship at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.

Stacey Blakeman

Stacey Blakeman recently started work as the school’s director of career services. As director, Blakeman will work with students on all aspects of career development, including recruitment programs and employment tracking.

Prior to this role, Blakeman was an immigration attorney at Treviño Law Office LC in Lawrence for 10 years. Blakeman graduated from KU Law in 2009.

Bryanna Hanschu

Bryanna Hanschu will fill the role of Assistant Director for Admissions. Hanschu will start in this position in early September. As assistant director, Hanschu will collaborate with the assistant dean in managing the law school admissions process; market and promote the law school by traveling extensively to local, regional and national recruiting events; and work with undergraduate prelaw advisors. 

Previously, Hanschu was an assistant county attorney for the Leavenworth County Attorney’s Office. Hanschu graduated from KU Law in 2015.


David Simon

David Simon has joined the KU Law faculty as a visiting assistant professor, teaching Torts, Criminal Law and Patent Law.

David recently completed a Ph.D. in law from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Cambridge International Scholar, and holds an LL.M. from Harvard Law School and a J.D. from Chicago-Kent. His research focuses on intellectual property, public health and the law, and empirical legal studies.

Teaching, research awards

Ten faculty were selected to receive teaching and research awards for the 2019–20 academic year. Two faculty were elevated to the role of University Distinguished Professor, four faculty were awarded research professorships and four faculty were selected to receive teaching awards or fellowships.

The selections were made by the law school’s teaching award committee and the University Committee on Distinguished Professorships.

“The faculty selected for recognition based on their research enhance the school’s national reputation for scholarly productivity,” Mazza said. “I am equally proud of our faculty and their commitment to our students and the learning environment at KU Law.”

Distinguished Professors of Law

Research professorships

Teaching awards and fellowships

— By Ashley Golledge

Alumna joins KU Law as director of career services

Photo by Ashley Golledge

A 2009 KU Law graduate and former immigration attorney has joined KU Law’s Career Services Office as director of career services.

Stacey L. Blakeman started her new role in mid-August. As director, Blakeman will work with students on all aspects of career development, including recruitment programs and employment tracking.

Previously, Blakeman was an immigration attorney at Treviño Law Office LC in Lawrence for 10 years. Her practice focused on immigrant rights, advocacy, and education. She represented families and individuals on immigration matters including adjustment of status, family-based visas, waivers, naturalization, U-visas (relief for victims of crimes), deferred action for childhood arrivals, and relief from deportation.

Blakeman grew up in the Kansas City area. She attended Iowa State University and obtained bachelor’s degrees in English and Spanish before attending KU Law and earning her J.D. in 2009.

“As a KU Law student, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my J.D. I managed to find a niche in the legal profession that was the perfect fit for me, and I loved my clients and the work I did,” Blakeman said. “I am excited to work with students and help them build careers that are fulfilling and help them reach their professional goals.”

She has been a Lawrence resident since 2006 and lives with her husband and two young children.

— By Ashley Golledge

Taking the lead: Meet KU Law’s student publication editors

Denise Dantzler, left, editor-in-chief of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy, and Joy Merklen, editor-in-chief of the Kansas Law Review.

Third-year law students Denise Dantzler and Joy Merklen are embracing their roles as editor-in-chief for each of the law school’s two student-edited publications. Merklen leads the Kansas Law Review, and Dantzler heads up the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy.

Dantzler and Merklen learned about their selections this spring, and have been at work setting goals, reviewing write-on submissions and selecting staff editors for the 2019-20 academic year.

“I was elated to hear that the executive board selected me for the role, and I feel truly honored to lead this talented group,” Dantzler said.

Dantzler and Merklen spent their 2L years as staff editors on for their respective publications. They helped shape articles for publication and, as Merklen put it, became “intimately familiar with the world of the Bluebook.”

Goals for the year

Joy Merklen portrait
Joy Merklen

In their roles as editor-in-chief, both women said they want to build on the publications’ missions of advancing scholarship, while also pursuing new goals.

At the Law Review, Merklen wants to use digital tools to serve the publication’s mission of contributing to legal scholarship and providing an intellectual community for student members. That means expanding on the Kansas Law Review Blog, which was launched in August 2018. In addition to being the digital home for the Kansas Criminal Procedure Survey, the blog will provide timely content exploring other areas of the law, Merklen said.

The Journal will expand its own digital presence with the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy Online. Dantzler and her team are setting up a blog to house Journal articles and additional content. Like the Kansas Law Review Blog, it will complement the print publication.

Maintaining an inclusive culture at the Journal is also on Dantzler’s list of goals.

Denise Dantzler portrait
Denise Dantzler

“I want to create a positive community. Being on a publication is not easy. The work is tedious and frustrating. Knowing this, I am going to do my best this year to make sure the members of Volume 29 (of the Journal) have an overall positive experience,” Dantzler said.

Merklen also aims to make the Law Review office a positive place to be.

“The previous board had a very welcoming and inclusive culture that made the Law Review feel like home. That is something we are dedicated to maintaining and strengthening,” Merklen said.

Women in leadership

Both publications being led by women is an accomplishment for KU Law, Dantzler said, and it’s one she is grateful to be part of. Dantzler is the first woman of color to hold the top leadership position at the Journal since the publication’s founding in 1990.

“Joy Merklen is an intelligent, hardworking leader, and I know she will do an amazing job as editor in chief of the Kansas Law Review,” Dantzler said. “I also think it is wonderful that KU Law’s Student Bar Association President, Terra Brockman, is also a woman.”

Dantzler and Merklen are part of the KU Law Class of 2020, the first female-majority class in the school’s history. The Class of 2021 is also composed of a majority of female students. 

“I’m thrilled that both EICs for KU Law’s publications this year are women, and even more so that one of us is a woman of color. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, ‘women belong in all places where decisions are being made’,” Merklen said.

“A diverse editorial board is important not only for the editorial process itself but also for the trajectory of the legal profession.”

Denise Dantzler: Editor-in-chief of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy

Denise Dantzler, editor-in-chief of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy
Denise Dantzler attends the 2019 Diversity in Law Banquet. Photo by Earl Richardson.

Before coming to KU Law, Dantzler studied chemistry as an undergraduate at MidAmerica Nazarene University. She played on the school’s soccer team and ran track. She also tutored her peers in chemistry and writing, and has continued as an academic counselor for the MidAmerica Nazarene soccer team as a law student.

At the law school, Dantzler is a member of the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council and the Black Law Students Association, and works as a teaching assistant for lawyering skills classes. In the 2019-20 academic year, she will extern with the Hon. Julie Robinson, L’81, Chief Judge of the United States District Court of Kansas, through the school’s Judicial Field Placement Program.

This summer, Dantzler is working as a summer associate at Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Kansas City, Missouri. She plans to practice as a patent attorney after graduating.

Joy Merklen: Editor-in-chief of the Kansas Law Review

Merklen is French and grew up in Bali, Indonesia. She came to Kansas by way of California, where she studied sociology as an undergraduate at University of California Berkeley. When she and her husband decided to start a family, that meant moving to his home state of Kansas – Merklen’s parents were across the world. Merklen and her husband live in Lawrence with their 2-year-old daughter, Sylvia.

Merklen works as a teaching assistant for the lawyering program and as a research assistant to Professor Richard Levy. In the coming year, she’ll serve on the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council and as a Shook, Hardy & Bacon Scholar for civil procedure. She also plans to participate in the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies.

This summer, she is also a summer associate at Shook, Hardy & Bacon. After graduating, Merklen plans to clerk for the Hon. Julie Robinson for two years, then return to Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

— By Margaret Hair

Student Spotlight: Aidan Graybill bolsters values of tribal community through internship

Aidan Graybill and Judge Charles H. Tripp

Second-year law student Aidan Graybill plans to utilize her legal education to practice tribal law. Graybill is a member of the Wyandot Nation of Kansas, which is based in Kansas City, Kansas.

This summer, Graybill is an intern for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s tribal prosecutor in Mayetta, Kansas. The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation is one of four federally recognized Indian tribes in Kansas, along with the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska; the Kickapoo Tribe of Indians in Kansas; and the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska.

“There is no greater privilege than being able to interact with and work for the interests of a tribe, as it’s important to learn the values and objectives of the community directly from them to best represent them as a sovereign nation,” Graybill said.

Graybill is earning academic credit for her internship through the school’s Criminal Prosecution Field Placement Program.

“I think that working in a field placement is absolutely indispensable experience, especially when working with tribal communities,” Graybill said.

As a summer intern, Graybill helps the tribal prosecutor by researching legal matters, observing court cases, taking notes at hearings and drafting journal entries about court cases. Her favorite part of the internship is the opportunity to interact with the judge, court administration and attorneys in the courtroom.

“Everyone is always so kind. The Nation, with few extreme exceptions in criminal matters, always has the individual’s best interest at heart,” Graybill said. “They are always viewed as integral members of the community that have something to contribute to the Nation despite the hardships that landed them in the courtroom.”

Graybill said that working with a tribal government has given her a unique courtroom experience that she would not have gotten otherwise.  

“In order to work for a tribal nation as a prosecutor, but really in any capacity, you have to understand, respect, and be invested in what is most important to the community,” Graybill said. “If you don’t do that, you simply won’t be able to represent the community in the appropriate manner of furthering tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”

Graybill — who is originally from Scottsdale, Arizona — is a third-generation Jayhawk. Her grandfather, Harry Owen Ogg, graduated from KU in 1957. Her mother, Jolie Ogg Graybill, graduated in 1987.

After studying anthropology, biology and political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for her undergraduate studies, Graybill was drawn to KU Law for many reasons. She elected to pursue a legal degree in the sunflower state because of her familial ties to KU, the proximity to her Kansas City-based tribe and the law school’s Tribal Law and Government program.

At KU, Graybill is enrolled in a joint-degree program. In May 2021, Graybill will graduate with a J.D. from the University of Kansas School of Law and a M.A. in Indigenous studies from KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She also plans to earn the Tribal Law Certificate before she graduates.

 “KU offers an awesome program that allows you to earn both degrees in three years, so I figured I may as well do it!” Graybill said.

She is the president of the Mindfulness in Law Society, vice president of the Native American Law Students Association and treasurer for Women in Law. During her first year of law school, she also attended meetings for the American Constitution Society, Black Law Students Association, and OUTlaws and Allies.

Graybill will also serve on the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council during the upcoming academic year.

“This is an opportunity which I am really grateful for,” Graybill said. “I hope we will make positive changes in student experiences within the law school and be able provide opportunities for prospective students as well.”

For the remainder of her time at Green Hall, Graybill looks forward to being involved with multiple student organizations, becoming more confident in her research and writing skills and gaining more legal experience through summer internships.

— By Ashley Golledge

This post is the eighth in a series highlighting the diverse internships and jobs KU Law students and recent graduates are engaged in over the summer of 2019 and early in their careers. Check out earlier posts from this series about David BiegelSamantha Natera, Mohammad Hameed, Ellen Bertels, Delaney Hiegert, Jackson Ely and Claudia Chavarria.

I want you for public service

Recent graduate encourages law students to consider a legal career in public service

We go to law school, and, when we think about jobs, we think about law firms. Most of the OCIs are law firms. The 1L mixers are hosted by law firms. Law firms play a prominent role in our law school experience. Through three years of law school, and my first post-graduate job, I have worked exactly zero minutes for a law firm. Why? Because I felt another calling: public service. After 1L year, I interned with the U.S. District Court in Kansas. Next year found me with the Solicitor’s Division at the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. Now, I am a Research Attorney on the Kansas Court of Appeals. I love public service because it gives me unique opportunities that a private law firm could not provide.

Working in public service gives you, quite obviously, the chance to serve the public. For me, that truly is a calling. So few people have the chance to attend law school. People helped me get to where I am, so I relish the opportunity to give back. We have been blessed with an amazing opportunity. Everyone should take the chance to serve to the people around them. Law firms do important work serving their clients’ interests, but public service often focuses on the bigger picture. Private law firms must focus on what their clients need now. In public service, there is always a similar immediate goal, but it is in the service of a bigger goal. 

Public service also offers a personal benefit, too. Law firms frequently have their summer associates work on projects that might play a small piece in the overall puzzle.  Public service cannot afford that. If you work in public service, you are going to work in public service. My jobs immediately threw me in to working on substantive matters where my work product was actually used. There was no time to waste, as work needed done. I can remember several of my friends talking about how a line from their memo ended up in their firm’s brief. I never got to say that. Instead, I could point at the brief itself and say, “That was my work.” That is rare for a law student. Because of these jobs, I graduated from KU with real world experience working as an attorney. That experience is priceless. I start my first “adult job” with a good idea of my skill-set and experience doing the work.

My time in public service was my favorite part of law school (except Law Review). It was more than a job. It was a calling. Public service gives you the chance to work for others and the opportunity to get a real taste of what a working attorney does. Can the pay, if there is any, compete with a private firm? Not even close. But the opportunities it provides are priceless. If you are looking for the best hands-on experience, public service is your route.

— Ryan Ott, L’19