Outside of Class, the Conversation Is Just Starting: Students Connect with Faculty During Dinner Series

Professors Andrew Hayashi and Ruth Mason hosted a recent informal dinner with students.

Professors Andrew Hayashi and Ruth Mason hosted a recent informal dinner with students.

November 12, 2014

A dinner series sponsored by several organizations at the University of Virginia School of Law this fall is helping students connect with faculty, staff and alumni over issues affecting women.

The 10-part series, sponsored by Feminist Legal Forum, Virginia Law Women and Women of Color, is designed to "forge relationships between female students and faculty outside of the classroom, and to provide an opportunity for discussion of topics that students may not necessarily feel comfortable discussing while on Grounds," said co-organizer and second-year law student Stephanie Newton, vice president of Virginia Law Women.

Women of Color founded the dinner series several years ago, but this is the first time the three organizations have united under one umbrella. Most of the dinners were held in the homes of professors, staff or alumni hosting the event, and discussion topics included the law school classroom experience, professionalism in law school and beyond, and women's suffrage, among other subjects. Newton said a dinner series is also being planned for the spring semester.

First-year law student Monica Trueba attended a dinner with Professors Andrew Hayashi and Ruth Mason, both tax law experts.

"They were incredibly friendly and approachable, and this has given me some confidence to reach out to other professors," said Trueba, who has since taken other professors out to lunch through a program funded by the Student Bar Association. "I also learned a lot about their experience and appreciated their advice and guidance."

Trueba said such events — and the ability to talk about life, and not just law — are critically important.

"I came from a university where I had very close relationships with professors," she said. "Because law school is structured around having so many lecture classes [in the first year], it can be difficult to build relationships with professors."

Hayashi said he also enjoyed connecting with students on a more personal level.

"Ruth and I did our best to create an atmosphere in which the students felt they could be candid, and I think mostly succeeded," he said. "There's a lot of advice I can give that applies to all future lawyers, but a lot of guidance and support needs to be tailored to the circumstances, personalities and beliefs of each person. I want to be able to offer that support, so I need to know the students. Plus it's fun. I became a professor in part because I want to know and help my students."

The final fall dinner, focusing on work-life balance, will be hosted by Director of Clerkships Ruth Payne '02 and Professors Kimberly Ferzan and Molly Shadel on Nov. 15.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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