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TU Law student seeks to expand access to justice

As he gets ready to begin his final year at The University of Tulsa College of Law, Texas native Trevion Freeman (3L) is more convinced than ever that his contribution to the legal profession — and society at large — will be powerfully informed by a quest to expand access to justice for all.

man wearing a blue blazer and a green tie while smiling and standing indoors
Trevion Freeman

At TU Law, Freeman has prepared for practice through not only his formal coursework but also by getting involved in multiple student organizations. In addition, his commitment to understanding the cultural and political complexities of oppression and marginalization led him to develop an article that will soon appear in the Tulsa Law Review focused on righting historical wrongs for the descendants of Black slaves owned by Native Americans.

Community values and limitless possibilities

Despite his proud Lone Star roots, Freeman is anything but a lone outlaw cowboy. Instead, he credits community as a key to his personal ethics and academic success.

Freeman learned the power of proper support while growing up within a tight-knit family in East Waco, which was plagued by gun violence, drugs and poverty. “I come from a good home with two loving parents that care about my future,” he remarked. “Because of my family and mentors’ guidance, I overcame the crippling quicksand that overtakes much of the African American youth in my community.”

Freeman’s parents, both of whom are local educators and social workers, instilled the values of advocacy into him from an early age, placing him in several public speaking events and youth organizations that serve the community. Even then, Freeman envisioned himself as a voice for the unheard: “By becoming a lawyer, I intend to advocate for communities such as East Waco and show African American children that anything is possible.”

Leadership for the people

Freeman takes leadership seriously. Last year at TU Law, the student body elected him president of the Student Bar Association (SBA). A student-run organization, the SBA is the umbrella under which all 20 other law student organizations sit. Along with serving as the governing body for TU Law students, the group also coordinates student activities, organizations and their respective funding.

In any normal year, this would include events such as the Halloween Party, the Mental Health Fair and the annual Barristers’ Ball. But, of course, 2020 was a year of unpredictable change and challenge. Freeman, however, could foresee the effects that an abrupt-yet-necessary shift to virtual classes could have on students.

“Students struggled to focus and learn complex legal issues without physical interaction with professors or their peers,” commented Freeman. “As leaders within the law school community, my SBA colleagues and I spoke with faculty and administration about this issue, providing physical data given by students about their mental health.”

 

This hard work paid off. Because of the SBA’s efforts in conjunction with faculty and administration, students were granted a pass/fail option for their 2020-21 courses. “This gave many students who were severely struggling throughout this pandemic year a sense of ease,” Freeman said. “They knew that their grades would not suffer because of circumstances out of their control.”

In addition to serving on the SBA, Freeman is involved with the Black Law Student Association, Board of Advocates and the American Association of Justice Trial Team. “Being a part of these groups has truly shaped me into the legal advocate I am today,” said Freeman.

“The case that changed everything”

The idea of helping those with circumstances out of their control is a theme aligned with several of Freeman’s internships during his time at TU. During summer 2021, Freeman interned with two firms: Atkinson, Brittingham, Gladd, Fiasco, Edmonds & Annis, P.C., which is a litigation firm with practices centered around insurance defense, corporate defense and medical malpractice defense; and Johnson | Cephas Law Firm, a litigation firm with practice in areas such as civil rights law and family law. For the fall, Freeman is looking forward to his externship as a legal clerk for the Honorable Judge Jodi Jayne, U.S. magistrate judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma (NDOK).

According to Freeman, however, his most impactful experience was in the summer and fall of 2020, when he worked as a legal intern in the U.S. Attorney Office for the NDOK. It was there that Freeman came across “the case that changed everything” and that led to his upcoming TLR publication.

“I was sitting in the library in the U.S. Attorney’s office looking over the Tulsa skyline when another one of the legal interns came to me and sparked up a conversation about federal Indian law,” Freeman recalled. Buzzing throughout the office that week was the news of a recent Supreme Court decision involving the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the State of Oklahoma. The case, McGirt v. Oklahoma, revolved around Seminole Nation member Jimcy McGirt and his appeal of his state convictions resulting from three sexual offenses. Arguing that his crimes took place on Creek Reservation land and should be tried as such, McGirt’s case sparked a national conversation on Native American rights.

Back at the U.S. Attorney’s office, discussion of this case led Trevion to discover some disturbing history. His coworker asked him a question that came as a shock: “You know that the tribes owned slaves, right?”

An often-overlooked part of the tragic history of slavery in the U.S. is the ownership of Black slaves by Native Americans. As one of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation enslaved thousands of Africans, forcing them to migrate west to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears.

“I always saw the tribes as a disenfranchised people,” remarked Freeman. “I believed that, similar to African Americans, they had experienced the same plight of European colonization. The truth, however, was that the five major tribes of Oklahoma bought, sold and worked Black slaves.”

After the Civil War, African Slaves owned by the Creek Nation were, according to the Treaty of 1866, “set free and promised tribal citizenship and an equal stake in the tribe’s lands and fortunes.” These were the Creek Freedmen.

However, since that particular treaty, descendants of the Creek Freedmen have been removed, excluded, and withheld tribal rights by the Creek Nation. Today, the Creek Freedmen continue to fight for recognition as rightful tribal members.

“Here is a group of people that look like me but were enslaved by another group of people who themselves were mistreated and abused,” he explained. “Without my time interning at the NDOK, I would likely have never learned about the Creek Freedmen issue.”

Freeman’s internship kept him tightly in the loop, updating him when the Supreme Court ultimately affirmed McGirt’s plea, a decision that sent shockwaves across the State of Oklahoma. For Freeman, it raised eyebrows.

According to the court’s ruling, the Creek Freedmen possessed a newfound possibility of regaining the rights stripped of them years ago. Despite having never taken a class on federal Indian law, Freeman was inspired by the hope for change and the opportunity to help a community in need.

For the next several months, Freeman buried himself in investigating and writing. “I was so impressed with the level of research he did to familiarize himself with that area of law,” said Assistant Professor of Law Aila Hoss, an expert in federal Indian law and someone whom Freeman describes as key to his understanding of the nuances of the subject.

All this work and many sleepless nights led to his upcoming TLR article: “For Freedmen’s Sake: The Story of the Native Blacks of the Creek Nation and their Fight for Citizenship Post-McGirt.” According to Freeman, it is “a work dedicated to the fight for the underprivileged, marginalized and forgotten within Oklahoma history.”

In a similar vein, Freeman says that the “marathon” that is law school has prepared him well for life after graduation and passing the bar: a focused, relentless pursuit of justice “doing the thing I love for all my clients in the courtroom.”


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Governing bodies: The Student Bar Association and its new leadership team

“As a first-year law student, I saw the impact the Student Bar Association (SBA) could make and I knew I wanted to be part of it.” Those are the words of Brittainy Boyer, the newly elected president of the SBA. Along with JP Ray, the vice president, Boyer oversees The University of Tulsa College of Law’s organization that serves as its students’ governing body. The SBA also coordinates student activities and other student organizations, while acting as a liaison between students and the college’s administration and faculty.

“Law students can get involved with the SBA as early as their first semester,” Ray noted. “Then, after a year of involvement, they can stand for election or be appointed to a leadership position.” The SBA comprises elected class delegates, a judicial branch and an executive board. “I ran as a 1L delegate,” said Boyer, “and have been involved ever since.” Recently, as TU Law has welcomed increasing numbers of students who begin in the spring semester, a “1/2 L” delegate position has been created so that all classes have representation on this influential decision-making body.

“We have been extremely fortunate to have had dedicated and capable student leadership on our SBA over the years,” remarked Karen M. Grundy, TU Law’s associate dean of students. “The SBA’s mission is to be the voice for the students in the life of the College of Law, and it has been instrumental in putting on time-honored social events, such as Barrister’s Ball, and in establishing new initiatives, such as the Mental Health Fair held in the fall.”

Grundy also commented on how fortunate she has been over the years to work with talented students in the position of SBA president and vice president. “This year is no exception,” she noted. “Boyer and Ray will do an outstanding job representing the students at the College of Law and in helping us to enhance and support our community here at the law school. I look forward to working with both of them in the coming academic year.”

One of the strengths of TU Law, the SBA and the college’s many other student organizations is their ability to bring together people like Boyer and Ray – individuals from different backgrounds who wind up at law school by following a multitude of various paths, but who all thrive in the college’s tight-knit, supportive community and work hard to excel.

So, who are this year’s SBA leaders? Where did they come from? What makes them tick? Here, Boyer and Ray introduce themselves.

Brittainy Boyer’s “evolving” dream

Osiyo. I’m Brittainy Boyer. My friends call me BB.

Some of my classmates will tell you they have always known they wanted to be a lawyer. That was the not case for me. My dream was to be a teacher, like my mother, and to provide children with a solid foundation on which to build their lives. My dream evolved as I saw how often children were denied the opportunity to succeed because of early and frequent contact with the criminal justice system. I wanted the chance to join in with others whose goal it was to stop the school-to-prison pipeline, and so I applied to law school.

Student Bar Association President Brittainy Boyer smiling and wearing a white open-collar shirt and a black blazer
SBA President Brittainy Boyer

As a teenager, I was among the near 30% of students at my high school who did not graduate. I worked in the service industry for over 10 years, waiting tables and making lattes. During that time, I organized and participated in many volunteer events, most of which were to support public schools, the LGBTQI+ community and animals. Through leadership opportunities and volunteering activities, I realized that there was more that I wanted to do.

I enrolled at Tulsa Community College and, at the age of 30, I received my first diploma. Next, I went to Northeastern State University, where I majored in history and minored in theater. While I was finishing up my bachelor’s, my partner encouraged me to take the LSAT. At the time, law school seemed out of reach for someone like me: a person who had not finished high school and who had been working at Starbucks for the last nine years. Nevertheless, I gathered up my courage, took the LSAT, applied to TU Law and was accepted.

TU Law is a small, tight-knit school that prepares us to be hard-working, zealous advocates. The college also encourages volunteer work, which was of the utmost importance to me when I was considering where to apply. As I have progressed in my studies, I have experienced the ease of access to professors and their willingness to assist in a multitude of situations. I should mention, too, that I watched my partner go through law school at TU and I saw how prepared she was for the bar exam and for her career as an attorney.

Serving as SBA president alongside JP is a great honor. But the SBA is not the only organization that grabbed my heart. In my time here, I have served as an executive board member of the Board of Advocates, which hosts moot court competitions for the law school. I have also served on the executive board member of the Public Interest Board, which promotes pro bono and volunteer work within the law school.

I also had the privilege of serving on the board of the Women’s Law Caucus as the Women in Recovery Book Club coordinator. I also served as president of Paw Law, a student organization that promotes the safety and well-being of animals. I am, likewise, a member of many other student organizations, including the Native American Law Student Association, OutLaws (LGBTQI+) and ImmLaw (immigration rights), to name just a few. There are countless ways for TU Law students to be involved in the issues that matter to them.

JP Ray’s “powerful sense of community”

My name is JP Ray and I grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. After high school, I accepted an athletic scholarship at Central Christian College of Kansas. I graduated a year early with a bachelor of science in business management. With my family’s legacy of using education to create better opportunities for the next generation, I’ve always known I wanted to obtain some form of further education.

Student Bar Association Vice President JP Ray smiling and wearing a blue blazer and blue open-collar shirt
SBA Vice President JP Ray

Initially, I wanted to pursue a career in managerial leadership and use the analytical skills learned in law school to compliment my business management training. However, my desires changed when I arrived at TU Law. This school has a powerful sense of community, which has influenced me to follow a more impactful career in criminal justice and civil litigation. TU Law’s core values are centered around excellence in scholarship, dedication to free inquiry, integrity of character, professionalism and commitment to justice and humanity. One of my favorite things about this school is that it backs up its core values with a high bar passage rate, job placement and educational recognition throughout the country.

Another thing TU Law does well is promoting the importance of obtaining legal experience while in law school. Most schools require their students to get experience; however, not every law school has the remarkable Professional Development Office that TU Law has. I have obtained valuable hands-on experience at litigation firms, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office.

Like Brittainy, I have also gotten involved in several student organizations. There’s the SBA, as well as the Black Law Students Association, Federalist Society and Board of Advocates. For me, though, being an active member of the SBA is one of the best ways to experience the rigors and excitement of leadership and to work with diverse personalities.

As an African American with no lawyers in my family history, one of the hardest challenges I overcame as a student was learning the right way to study for classes. As a collegiate student-athlete, I graduated one year early with honors; yet, I found my first year of law school extremely difficult. I was challenged in ways I had never been challenged academically before. Nevertheless, I relied on my family’s encouragement to use education to create better opportunities, and I made the adjustments necessary to succeed and overcame my first-year struggles. Now, I use my story and experience as a first-generation minority law student to help others overcome the challenges they face.


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Student Bar Association elects new leadership

Lashandra Peoples-Johnson has been elected as the president of the Student Bar Association (SBA) at The University of Tulsa College of Law, and Pierre Robertson is the new vice president. The SBA, the governing body of students at the college, promotes interaction and professionalism among students, faculty and the administration.

“My goal as president is to work on diversity and inclusion,” said Peoples-Johnson. “I want to make sure everyone is embraced and feels included.” Her first act of business was to promote students from various student organizations to presidential appointment within the organization.

For the first time in TU Law’s history, the SBA will host a monthly event called Delegate Days in which students can express concerns and suggestions for the college. “My goal is to make the law school less stressful, be accessible to students and to act quickly,” said Robertson.

Learn more about the Student Bar Association and other student organizations here.

Peoples-Johnson, originally from Dallas, Texas, is a 3L at TU Law. She graduated from The University of Tulsa with a double major in business law management and information management systems. After graduation, she worked at ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66 as a computer programmer and lead information privacy analyst. During that time, she was married and had three children. As she approached 30, she decided it was time to time to follow her passion and attend law school.

At TU Law, Peoples-Johnson has participated in Community Advocacy Clinic work finding housing solutions for people with serious mental illnesses, served as a member of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) traveling moot trial team and received AAJ’s Richard Hailey Scholarship. She also interned at the firms of Smiling, Smiling and Burgess; and Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison and Lewis.

Her leadership roles in addition to serving as president of the SBA include vice president of the Public Interest Board and vice president of the Black Law Student Association.  “One of the most impactful moments of my law school journey was last year when I was able to volunteer at the Tulsa Expungement Expo. At this event, more than 1,000 people came from across Tulsa to get felonies and misdemeanors expunged.”

Robertson is a 2L who came to TU Law from Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from Ohio University with degrees in economics and political science, he came to Tulsa through the Teach for America program. Robertson taught third and fourth grade students and decided to take a break from teaching and enroll as a student in law school. In addition to serving as the vice president of the SBA, he is also a director of the Public Interest Board, associate editor of the Tulsa Law Review, a BARBRI student representative and a member of the Black Law Student Association.

While at TU Law, Robertson has interned with the Honorable Stephanie K. Bowman, a federal magistrate judge for the Southern District of Ohio. “As an intern, I analyzed parties’ motions and wrote recommendation memoranda on a variety of civil and criminal cases. Also, I observed status conferences and settlement conferences, detention, change of plea, and sentencing hearings.”