Student awarded scholarship for diversity efforts

Published: September 2nd, 2014

Category: News

ChessmanBy Laura Hogan

First-year UF Law student Christian Chessman was recently awarded the Michigan Auto Law Diversity Scholarship for his undergraduate work promoting diversity.

“I am deeply honored by Michigan Auto Law’s generous contribution to my legal future,” Chessman said. “The award personally validates the work that I have done to make the University of Florida an increasingly racially inclusive campus.”

He said he also sees the $2,000 award as an institutional recognition of the importance of equal racial representation.

“Christian’s undergrad work with minority women at the Levin College of Law’s Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Clinic really set him apart as he encouraged greater racial diversity at the University of Florida,” said Steven M. Gursten, an attorney and managing partner at Michigan Auto Law.

As an undergraduate, Chessman worked with IPVAC to help provide “translation services for immigrant victims of domestic violence who were doubly silenced by violence and a language barrier,” he said.

Teresa Drake, the director of IPVAC, said that the multidisciplinary approach of the program, which includes a licensed social worker and a domestic violence attorney, emphasizes that every person working in the clinic can bring their valuable skills and experiences and teach each other. In addition to a lawyer and social worker, IPVAC also hosts a victim advocate.

Drake said the program did more than just show Chessman how to empower those without a voice.

“We allowed him a voice,” Drake said.

Chessman said he plans to return to the program as a Certified Legal Intern, likely in his second semester of his 2L year.

Additionally, Chessman joined the Black Law Students Association, where he plans to work toward restoring civil rights to nonviolent felons. He is also working with sexual assault and domestic violence victim advocacy groups, including the UF’s Sexual Trauma/Interpersonal Violence Education (STRIVE) program and the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center.

“Both organizations provide resources and support for victims in a way that is conscious of race, gender and socioeconomic status,” he said.

Chessman said his fight for equal racial representation in the legal field is more than a goal.

“It is a calling I intend to pursue with the advocacy skills I have developed and will continue to develop as a law student,” he said. “Representation – both as an officer of the court and an advocate for racial justice – is the path I gladly choose for my life.”

Michigan Auto Law is based in Farmington Hills, Mich., and awards an annual diversity scholarship to law students. The group also offers a scholarship for anyone attending a U.S. college who was injured in an auto accident. Additional information about these scholarships can be found at www.michiganautolaw.com.