UVA Law Notches Milestones in Gender, Racial Diversity With Class of 2023

Christian Diaz-Ritz, Probese Leo, Lauren Murtagh, Samira Nematollahi and Brooke Schafer

Christian Diaz-Ritz, Probese Leo, Lauren Murtagh, Samira Nematollahi and Brooke Schafer are members of the Class of 2023. Photos by Julia Davis

August 27, 2020

The Class of 2023 is setting new records for gender and racial diversity at the University of Virginia School of Law. Women make up a majority of the first-year class for the first time in the school’s history, and the students are the most racially diverse in a decade.

Among the members of the class, who began coursework last week, 52% are women, 8% self-identify as LGBTQ, and 33% self-identify as people of color — an 8% gain over last year.

These achievements come as the Law School celebrates a number of milestones. This year marks 100 years of women studying at UVA Law, at the same time as the nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of a woman’s right to vote. In addition, the Law School is commemorating 70 years since Gregory Swanson became the first Black student at the University, and 50 years since Elaine Jones became the Law School’s first Black female graduate.

“It is extremely gratifying, especially as we celebrate these milestones, to welcome such a remarkable class in all ways. Much credit goes to our students, staff, faculty, and alumni for their commitment to championing this Law School and serving as ambassadors to applicants and admitted students. The diversity of this class is important not only for the Law School itself but for the legal profession,” said Dean Risa Goluboff. “Wherever their futures take them, the Class of 2023 has already made its mark.”

Members of the class comprise 299 students selected from a pool of 5,472 applicants. They earned a median undergraduate GPA of 3.90 and a median LSAT score of 170, and represent 144 undergraduate institutions. (Full Class of 2023 profile)

They come from 38 states and the District of Columbia, with the most common states being Virginia, California, Texas, New York, Maryland and Florida. J.D. candidates include citizens of Canada, Nigeria and the Bahamas.

“The Class of 2023 is academically exceptional and brings great diversity to the Law School,” said Ashley Merritt ’15, senior director of admissions. “Each member of the class is incredibly talented and accomplished — they are also all good, kind people dedicated to improving their communities through service, work and scholarship. We are so pleased to welcome them into the Virginia Law family.”

Meet 5 Students

Christian Diaz-Ritz

Retired Army Sgt. Christian Diaz-Ritz, of Buffalo, New York, graduated from James Madison University with a bachelor’s in political science, philosophy and religion.

Diaz-Ritz was a field artillery noncommissioned officer stationed with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade in Germany, the 4th Infantry Division in Colorado, and concluded his eight-year military career with the 82nd Airborne Division in North Carolina. During his time in service, he was deployed to Afghanistan with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade from 2011-12 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Diaz-Ritz said the distinguished faculty and clinics, such as Professor Daniel Ortiz and the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic he directs, drew him to UVA Law.

“The faculty here are legends, and I am very much looking forward to taking classes with them,” he said. “I am also interested in doing research work with scholars of constitutional and national security law, in particular with Professors Aditya Bamzai, Thomas Nachbar and Saikrishna Prakash.” 

Diaz-Ritz said he intends to work in both public and private sectors in the interest of national security and constitutional principles, then return to academia as a legal educator.

Diaz-Ritz is among 10 veterans and active-duty members in the class, representing the Army and Marine Corps.

Probese Leo

Probese Leo, born in Nassau, Bahamas, graduated with a bachelor’s in economics from Bucknell University, where he played on the men’s basketball team. He worked as a senior software analyst and agile scrum master at Geico before law school.

Leo said UVA Law’s ability to place graduates in the upper echelons of the legal profession, through clerkships or private practice, is evidence of the school’s reputation.

“UVA Law’s faculty is made up of some of the brightest legal minds in the country,” he said. “The faculty, coupled with a brilliant student body known for its collegiality and camaraderie, will provide me with the optimal atmosphere for studying the law.”

Leo said he wants to use his J.D. to help clients navigate the legal system, adding that capable legal representation is crucial to having a good outcome.

“My immigration journey in the U.S. taught me this lesson firsthand, as I was fortunate to have a lawyer help me through that process,” he said. “But I know of many others who were not so fortunate and struggled along the way.”

Lauren Murtagh

Andover, Massachusetts, native Lauren Murtagh graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s in English and public policy from the College of William & Mary. Before law school, she was a special markets sales support assistant for HarperCollins, and an English as a second language and citizenship instructor as an AmeriCorps volunteer.

Murtagh was first drawn to UVA Law by the idea of gaining hands-on experiences through clinics focused on working directly with clients. She also said she appreciates the school’s coursework and pro bono opportunities.

“I felt that studying at UVA Law would provide me with the opportunity to explore different types of public interest law,” she said.

Murtagh’s service with AmeriCorps sparked an interest in immigration law, and she hopes to use her J.D. to help others navigate the legal system and do pro bono work.

Samira Nematollahi

Samira Nematollahi, a first-generation college student from Simpsonville, South Carolina, graduated with a bachelor’s in political science from the University of South Carolina, where she worked her way up at the student-run radio station, from DJ to station manager.

“I chose UVA Law because I was impressed by its ability to provide students both an academically rigorous curriculum and an active student body with a strong sense of community,” she said. “This balance that the school has been able to achieve is unrivaled, and that is what made the school stand out to me.”

Nematollahi wants to use her J.D. to serve the public. She said she’ll build on her undergraduate research, which focused on the impact urban development has had on low-income and minority communities.

Brooke Schafer

Brooke Schafer of Chebanse, Illinois, earned a B.S. in agricultural economics and agronomy from Purdue University, where she was admitted to the Honors College and College of Agriculture’s Dean’s Scholar Program.

She said UVA Law’s wide array of focus areas and diversity of classes appealed to her.

“Most of all, I was drawn to the Law School because of its stellar reputation for providing a world-class legal education, while still maintaining an incredibly collegial environment,” Schafer said. “I knew that UVA was a place I could go to be prepared for my future career, while also having a wonderful law school experience.”

Schafer wants to use her J.D. to serve members of the agriculture community by working on policy and legal issues that are relevant to them.

Other members of the class include Fulbright Fellows, FBI analysts, community organizers, a sommelier from a Michelin star restaurant and a collections specialist from the National Building Museum.

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.

Media Contact

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mfox@law.virginia.edu / (434) 982-6832

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