The Skadden Foundation provides valuable opportunities for law students and recent graduates to pursue impactful legal projects that serve the public interest. This year, two members of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School community — Makayla Harrison C’18, L’23, GEd’23 and Bridget Lavender L’21, SPP’21 — are among this year’s cohort of Skadden Fellows.
“Makayla and Bridget are two extremely dedicated, skilled, and client-centered advocates for change, and we at the Law School are as eager for them to get started with their projects as I know they are,” said Neta Borshansky, Director of Public Sector Careers and Government Programs in the Office of Career Strategy. “They have worked hard to get to this point, and we are grateful to the Skadden Foundation for believing in them and investing in their future as public interest lawyers.”
With the support of their Skadden Fellowships, Harrison and Lavender will each spend two years working closely with a host organization to complete a project specifically designed to advance critical social needs in some of the most vulnerable communities in the country.
Makayla Harrison C’18, L’23, GEd’23
Education Law Center
Harrison will spend her fellowship working at the Education Law Center in Philadelphia, where she will provide direct legal representation to students in psychiatric facilities to enforce their education rights. Her initial focus will center on students in foster care.
“I chose to do this work because of my own experience facing adversity throughout my childhood,” Harrison said. “Education provided me stability and an opportunity to build a better life for myself, so I now look forward to using that opportunity to fight alongside youth like me.”
A Toll Scholar and Flom Youth Advocacy Scholar, Harrison has been advocating for youth throughout her time in law school. She has participated in the Custody and Support Assistance Clinic, the School Discipline Advocacy Service, the Christian Legal Clinic, and the Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic. Her pro bono work has served public interest organizations including the Education Law Center, the Youth Justice Project at Community Legal Services, and the Support Center for Child Advocates.
Prior to law school, Harrison taught 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As an undergraduate at Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences, Harrison was the first Black woman to serve as Class President at Penn. In that capacity, she advocated for underrepresented students by increasing funding for low-income students to access class-wide events, working alongside University administration, and leading initiatives with Active Minds Penn to promote mental wellness on campus.
“Makayla’s steadfast commitment to working alongside, and advocating for, students in Philadelphia shined throughout the process of preparing her fellowship application,” said Jamie Reisman, Associate Director for JD Counseling & Public Sector Careers. “I’m thrilled for her on this incredibly well-deserved accomplishment.”
Harrison expressed gratitude for the support she received during her fellowship application process from people across many departments of the Law School.
“It truly did take a village to get here. I wouldn’t have received this fellowship without the help of so many people at the Law School, including Kara R. Finck [Practice Professor of Law and Director of the Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic], Jamie Reisman and Neta Borshansky from the Office of Career Strategy, Felicia Lin L’08 [Dean of Students], Emily R. Sutcliffe [Executive Director of the Toll Public Interest Center], and Sarah Paoletti [Practice Professor of Law and Director of the Transnational Legal Clinic],” Harrison said. “I am so thankful for the support they all provided throughout the application process.”
Bridget Lavender L’21, SPP’21
ACLU National Legal Department
Lavender will work with the ACLU’s State Supreme Court Initiative to challenge laws that criminalize life-sustaining behavior of the unhoused, including sleeping in public and panhandling. Lavender plans to begin this work in five states that she has identified as being ripe for legal change: Hawai’i, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Utah.
“Homelessness is a real problem that has only gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s going to continue to get worse as eviction moratoriums stop, inflation rises, and climate change displaces people,” Lavender said. “Politicians tend to like to find quick, easy solutions, and often that is criminalization; but that really exacerbates the problem. The actual solution — housing — is a lot harder, but hopefully through advocacy, public education, and targeted litigation, we can push decisionmakers away from criminalization and towards housing-based solutions.”
During her fellowship, Lavender will track litigation that affects the rights of unhoused people and intervene at the appellate level to advance arguments for their protection. She also plans to engage in policy advocacy related to state and local governments’ treatment of the unhoused; one advocacy strategy is to support the passage of an “Unhoused Bill of Rights” by state or local governments.
As a law student, Lavender worked with the Homeless Advocacy Project, the Women’s Law Project, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the ACLU of Pennsylvania. She also served as a Research Assistant to Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, where she was able to delve deeply into the intersections between race, the criminal justice system, and homelessness.
After concluding a clerkship with Justice Deno Himonas on the Utah Supreme Court, Lavender is currently clerking in U.S. District Court in North Carolina. Looking ahead, she is eager to begin working toward solutions to homelessness.
“I’m really excited to start my public interest career through a Skadden Fellowship. I went to law school to become a public interest attorney, and I’ve gained so much experience and knowledge through my clerkships. Putting that to use as a fellow at the ACLU is literally a dream come true,” Lavender said. “I’m also excited to work with unhoused clients again and to connect with them to make sure that what we’re doing is the best use of our resources and has the best chance of improving their lives.”
In addition to supporting students as they pursue fellowships like the Skadden Foundation Fellowship, the Law School offers its own postgraduate fellowships to financially support graduates who pursue work at public interest organizations, government agencies, and NGOs.