More Than Just a Gathering Place: AMICUS Builds Community and Allyship
At South Texas College of Law Houston, student groups offer more than just a gathering place for law school members or a bullet point on a resume. They also offer a greater sense of purpose and a different way of thinking about how the law and legal practice affect the everyday lives of real people.
Now in its third decade at STCL Houston, AMICUS continues its mission of supporting the LGBTQ community as it “educates, advises and informs its members and the College community about issues and concerns, particularly in the practice of law, that affect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) people.”
As current AMICUS president Austin Stelter says, “AMICUS is an organization to support those in the LGBTQ community, so they know that everyone has a place in the legal profession.”
One important avenue of support is in the form of the AMICUS Endowment, a scholarship program for any student (in the LGBTQ community or an ally) focused on advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. Initiated in 2004, the fund made South Texas the fourth ever law school in the country to dedicate a scholarship to this very important mission.
Another way the group provides visibility and support is through mentorships, which continue to grow throughout the STCL Houston community. Opportunities to mentor are open to all, and mentors include student volunteers, STCL Houston alumni, and adjunct professors.
To Stelter, mentoring “is an excellent opportunity to learn from someone that has been there and done that, including the bar, with graduated lawyers and adjunct professors.” The relationships and time commitment for mentorships vary according to the needs of the mentor and mentee. As Stelter says, “It could just be sending emails asking questions, or it could be a study session every week.”
Over the last year and a half, with in-person gatherings limited during the pandemic, AMICUS members stayed connected through monthly online happy hours. In the spring semester, the group’s focus was the experience of being queer in the legal field. Spring virtual events featured queer lawyers who shared their experiences, including South Texas alumna, State Representative Ann Johnson ‘01.
According to Bella Cherry, AMICUS vice president, AMICUS’ goals for the next year include taking an active role in advocating for the trans community, “who’ve been especially impacted by both the pandemic and repeated attempts at harmful legislation in Texas and nationally.”
Importantly, participation in AMICUS is open to any interested student, regardless of sexual orientation or identification. Stelter notes that AMICUS is “for everyone who supports the queer community and students who want to learn and gain a new perspective from queer students. This perspective is something they can take with them to be better advocates in the future.”
The group will continue to play an important role both at South Texas and in the legal world after students have graduated. As Cherry says, “Groups like AMICUS that celebrate diversity are crucial to opening the legal field to new and diverse talent. It’s also important for the education and training of future lawyers to be exposed to and learn from all sorts of communities and people.”