Here, we expect our graduates to go out and be agents of change.”
Professor of Law
Growing up in the 1970s, Cheryl Hanna was able to watch the women's movement unfolding, and she developed an early interest in women's issues. "My mom was single and working at a time when this wasn't the norm," she says. "We used to watch people on TV marching in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment, and we'd talk about how women weren't treated fairly. But my mother would tell me that marching in parades probably wouldn't change the world. Instead, she told me that if I wanted to make a difference, I should do well in school and find a good profession."
This was probably Hanna's first experience with empowerment. "There was never any question in my mother's mind—she was certain that my sister and I would both have meaningful careers. She believed in us. She would open our World Book Encyclopedia to the section about colleges and universities, and she would point to Harvard and tell me that's where I should go. I was maybe eight or nine years old when she first did this."
By the time she was studying at Kalamazoo College, Hanna was already debating whether she should pursue a PhD or a law degree. She realized during her junior year that what she wanted was to be a law professor.
"Some people say you have a calling," she explains, "and this is my calling. I always saw professors as activists—people who could really make a difference. My teachers were empowering, and they empowered me. I was drawn to the academic environment because I could see that good teachers made an effort to recognize the potential in their students and then help them figure out how to have a meaningful life. And I saw that lawyers play a special role in democracy. I was in high school when Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court. I remember thinking, 'wow, there is a woman with power!' I decided that if I really wanted to bring about change, a law degree was essential."
As her mother had hoped, Hanna went to law school at Harvard. After working as an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore, MD, she began her teaching career at Vermont Law School.
"I came here for many reasons," she says, "but two in particular stand out. First, I wanted to join a mission—driven law school, and VLS is one of the few schools that has a strong sense of mission. Most law schools are focused on helping law students learn how to conform to the profession. But here, we expect our graduates to go out and be agents of change. I have dozens of former students—in all sectors of the legal profession—who are doing interesting, innovative work to raise awareness of important issues and bring about the changes this world needs.
"The second key reason to be at VLS is Vermont itself. This is one of the most progressive states in the nation, and people here are actively working to better their communities and help others, sometimes locally, sometimes nationally or internationally. The law school gets involved with this. What we do here on a smaller scale often paves the way for change on a larger scale."
"I love working here," Hanna says, "because we envision a better world and we are dedicated to making it happen. As academics, we have the chance to think deeply about the issues—and at VLS, we also have the chance to take action. We encourage and empower our students, and they respond. One moment, one conversation, one lecture can be like a pebble dropped into a pond, triggering ripples of change that spread and grow through our students, ultimately having a positive effect on the lives of countless other people. The world needs change these days, and this is how it begins."