'Clean Slate': Hybel to work at Southern Coalition for Social Justice

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When she earned her undergrad degree in sociology from Pomona College in California, Gabriela Hybel was interested in understanding power dynamics. “I became passionate about community organizing and labor rights, and I used sociology to study the domestic worker rights movement in California,” she says. “It was inspiring to see how workers were able to use creative tactics to move the conversation and win worker protections.”

After graduation, she became communications director for a Texas worker center advocating for the rights of construction workers. She created the communications strategy, developed messaging for campaigns and political actions, coordinated with low-wage workers to share their experiences with media outlets, wrote and coordinated press releases, press statements, website updates, weekly newsletters, and social media posts, and was the point-of-contact for journalists.

“I worked with several lawyers, and I was impressed by their ability to use the law to help people win back stolen wages, ensure safer work environment, and avoid exploitation on the job,” she says. “I wanted to gain the tools necessary to do similar advocacy.”

She followed that job with 17 months teaching in Austin public schools, before heading to Ann Arbor, where she particularly enjoys the community of Michigan Law School.

“I’m so grateful for the passion and curiosity of my friends and classmates—they inspire me daily with everything they do to make the world better,” she says. “I also feel incredibly lucky to learn from such brilliant professors who bring their experiences into the classroom. I get to learn from people who have argued and won monumental cases fighting against systems of injustice.

“Since coming to law school, I’ve learned more about the ways our criminal justice system disproportionately harms communities of color, and I hope to pursue a career in criminal justice reform,” she adds. “I’m especially interested in working to improve prison conditions, particularly by fighting to bring about an end to the use of solitary confinement.”

 An associate editor on the Michigan Journal of Race and Law, and a competitor in last fall’s Campbell Moot Court competition, Hybel also serves on the board of the Law Students for Reproductive Rights and Justice, and as a student mentor for the Michigan Access Program, Outlaws, and the Organization of Public Interest Students.

A recipient of a 2018 Dean's Public Service Fellowship, Hybel will head to Durham, N.C., this summer to intern with the Clean Slate Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The project addresses the collateral consequences of a criminal record, including barriers to employment, housing, and occupational licenses; and provides direct legal services, advocacy, and policy work.

“SCSJ practices community lawyering by employing community organizers and ensuring its priorities are community-determined,” Hybel says. “With the Clean Slate Project, I’ll have the opportunity to provide direct legal services and to engage in broader advocacy work to address the needs of individuals with criminal records.” 

 Last summer, Hybel clerked for the Texas Civil Rights project in Austin, working on cases addressing voting rights, immigration, and prison conditions.

“I loved learning from such talented and experienced lawyers who had an unwavering devotion to public interest,” she says. “In particular, I appreciated the opportunity to watch a court trial that ultimately won an injunction requiring air conditioning for elderly and disabled individuals at a Texas prison.”

Her goal after graduation is to become a civil rights lawyer. “I’m interested in impact litigation, but I’m also passionate about community organizing,” she says. “I believe it’s important to ensure my future legal work is motivated and directed by the needs of the community.”

A native of Stonington, Conn., and the daughter of educators, Hybel currently makes her home Ann Arbor—but having lived and worked in Austin after undergrad, she has set her sights on returning to the Lone Star State. 

In her leisure time, she enjoys reading, hiking, traveling, and listening to podcasts—and also volunteers as a project manager for the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, a pro-bono project run out of the University of Michigan.

“This has been a great opportunity to help make civil rights cases more accessible to people in and outside of the legal community,” she says. “It’s also been incredibly helpful as a chance to read and learn more about a wide range of civil rights cases.”

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