MSU Law student earns annual honor for Excellence in Animal Law


MSU College of Law student Jessica Chapman (fourth from left), who was honored with the Wanda A. Nash Award from the State Bar of Michigan, is pictured with Animal Law Section members Tracy Sonneborn, Bee Friedlander, Ann Griffin, Allie Phillips, Donald Garlit, and Anna Scott.


by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Michigan State University College of Law student Jessica Chapman was honored March 10 with the Wanda A. Nash Award from the State Bar of Michigan Animal Law Section, for exceptional scholarship in animal welfare.

Named for the Animal Law  Section’s founder, the award is presented to the graduating law student in Michigan who has exhibited the most influential work in the field of animal law, based on nominations from animal law professors. Chapman was nominated by MSU Law Professors David Favre and Carney Anne Nasser. An MSU Law student has received the award every year since 2015. In 2016, it was shared by an MSU and a WMU-Cooley student.

“I’m honored and humbled, and through this award, I am part of a community of inspiring attorneys,” she says. “I’ll do everything I can to continue the mission and uphold the reputation Ms. Nash established with her work on behalf of animals.”

Chapman says she has many reasons to be passionate about animal law.

“Fighting for animals and their rights is the correct side of history,” she says. “Animals and their interests are equal to humans and humans’ interests, and to think otherwise perpetuates speciesism and unnecessary exploitation of beings who have the right to exist without humans using them. Non-human animals do not exist for the benefit of human animals.”

Chapman, whose companion animals are canine siblings Patch and Landa, is president of the school’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF).

“I’m trying to do everything I can to educate law students and the Lansing/East Lansing community to protect animals and their interests, to speak on behalf of animals, and to cultivate a thriving community of law students that will continue our efforts,” she says.

Chapman was drawn to study law “to stand up and fight on behalf of individuals who do not have voices, or for individuals who have voices, but whose voices the oppressive majority refuses to listen to,” she says.

At MSU Law, she has enjoyed the exposure to animal law and all the opportunities stemming from her related experiences: working at the Animal Welfare Clinic, “and being able to work with MSU Law’s incredible faculty and staff,” she says.

Chapman has been clerking for the Animal Legal Defense Fund since fall 2019, first as a volunteer then as law clerk. Since January, she has been an intern for the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Foundation; spent last summer clerking at the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland, Oregon; spent her 1L summer working at the Immigration Law Clinic of St. Vincent Catholic Charities and as an Access to Justice Tech Fellow with Michigan Legal Help, where she continued to work into the school year; and spent the fall 2019 semester interning for Judge Amy Ronayne Krause at the Michigan Court of Appeals.

“I feel honored by the opportunity of being able to work with so many different and equally incredible attorneys, individuals, and organizations,” she says. “Each organization and my work with these organizations has helped me develop in different ways that have contributed to me becoming a better future attorney.”

A graduate teaching assistant for Torts 1, a graduate research assistant for Professor Frank Ravitch, and for the Immigration Clinic, and a 1L peer mentor and tutor in the academic success program, Chapman also has served as a Notes Editor on the International Law Review (ILR).

“I enjoyed mentoring second year ILR members; learning from them and growing with them; being part of the ILR E-board; and belonging to a driven, compassionate team,” she says.

Chapman earned her undergraduate degree, with honors, from the University of California at Berkeley, with a double major in Slavic Languages and Literature; and Native American Studies.

“I did ballet for 20 years, and I had Russian family friends – I was drawn to Slavic cultures and languages. I love Slavic food, too,” she says.

In her second year of undergrad, UC Berkeley was looking at decreasing the Ethnic Studies department, which included the Native American Studies department.

“My professor knew I enrolled in almost all of her classes and she asked if I would be interested in majoring in Native American Studies to increase the department's major numbers—I said yes, anything I could do to help!”   

Her undergraduate studies included time at the International University of Moscow; while at MSU Law, she studied in Kyoto, Japan.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to exist in cultures that are different from my own,” she says. “I’ve traveled to quite a few different countries, on multiple trips, but I really appreciated being able to stay in Russia and Japan for longer than a month because I was able to experience daily life.”

A native of Oceanside in California, Chapman currently makes her home in East Lansing, where her hobbies include Bikram yoga and reading a wide variety of genres, including fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, classic literature, animal rights and philosophy.

“Anything that people recommend or seems interesting, or helps me grow and become a more knowledgeable, thoughtful human,” she says of her reading interests.


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