Two Minnesota Law Students Receive President’s Student Leadership and Service Award

Shantal Pai, 3L, and Heather Chang, 2L. are among the 2021 recipients of the President’s Student Leadership and Service Award announced by President Joan T.A. Gabel today.

The awards honor outstanding students for their invaluable leadership and service to the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities and the community.

Pai founded the Race-Informed Study Experience program, or RISE, an initiative that was designed to provide students of color an opportunity to discuss their experiences pursuing law. Sessions are centered around the classes that 1Ls are required to take during their second semester: property and criminal law. Pai explained to the Minnesota Daily that, “There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s just a chance for [students] to engage with the material, learn from each other and honestly practice talking about law in a slightly different way than we do in class.” The RISE program is supported by the Structured Study Group Program (SSG), the Law School’s academic support program for first-year students. The SSG program allows 1Ls to gain mentorship and academic support from 2Ls and 3Ls.

“Shantal created RISE to give BIPOC law students an important opportunity to explore shared values, discuss and advocate for BIPOC perspectives, and develop a strong community within the law school,” Professor Carol Chomsky said. “It provides a critical foundation for them to face the challenges and opportunities they will encounter as future lawyer-leaders.”

Chang, who is the incoming editor-in-chief of the Journal of Law and Inequality, co-president of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, and a board member of the Latinx Law Student Association, spent her time this year focusing on ways to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for students within the Law School. This included joining other student leaders to host well-attended diversity-related events, working with Law School administration to draft, address, and/or change policies, where possible, with the aim of providing students of color with a more inclusive and representative environment, and writing solidarity statements and creating safe spaces for those who needed support after several well-publicized and tragic current events.

Through her role on the Journal of Law and Inequality, Chang also worked to make the petition process more equitable by changing policies to be mindful of those traditionally overlooked and expanded the diversity of authors included in publication. For students of color, who may be deeply affected by current events, Chang says that she hopes that feeling heard by student leaders and Law School administration has helped to alleviate some of the strain this year.

—By Monica Wittstock, associate director of communications