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Law Students Join NBLSA National Leadership

by Ashley Matthews

From left: Kara Akins, Elisabeth Epps, Jeree Harris and Melinda Hightower

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A record five Virginia Law students will serve in elected and appointed positions on the National Black Law Students Association board during the 2010-11 school year. Second-year law student Melinda Hightower will serve as national chair, the organization’s highest position.

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to really further the mission of NBLSA,” said Hightower, who also served as president of the UVA Black Law Students Association this year. “Since 1968, we’ve strived to achieve balance throughout the legal system and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity not only to continue the tradition, but also to extend the reach of NBLSA and look at ways to expand.”

Several other second-year law students are also on the board: Jeree Harris will serve as national director of programming, Kara Akins will be national director of the Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition, Elisabeth Epps will serve as chief of staff and Chioma Chukwu will be the mock trial specialist.

Harris attributed Virginia’s strong presence on the NBLSA board to the strength of the Law School’s own Black Law Students Association chapter, which boasts 77 members.

“BLSA is dedicated to creating a really positive experience for first-year students in particular,” Harris said. “We do an incredible amount of programming. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re so successful. We are very dedicated and involved, and our programming is geared toward improving the academic experience and the service experience of its members.”

Over the past eight years, Virginia Law’s local BLSA chapter has been named national chapter of the year three times and regional chapter of the year five times. Over the past six years, BLSA won four regional mock trial championships, and this year won NBLSA’s national Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition. The organization was also named UVA’s Graduate Student Contracted Independent Organization of the Year for 2009-10.

“UVA has been amazingly generous and supportive, not only of BLSA locally but also of our involvement nationally. We have had national representation and regional representation as long as I can remember, uninterrupted,” Hightower said. “The support offered by the faculty, the administrators and the staff has been fantastic and we really cannot ask for a better experience. They have really allowed our chapter to shine.”

NBLSA aims to articulate and promote the needs and goals of black law students and facilitate change in the legal community. The organization consists of more than 200 chapters with 6,000 members, and is the largest student-run organization in the United States.