Passionate Advocate: Detroit Mercy Law alumna earns fellowship at LGBTQ Task Force

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– Photos courtesy of Sabrina Rewald


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In October, Sabrina Rewald started a 12-month fellowship at the National LGBTQ Task Force in Washington, D.C., where her work, through If/When/How (previously Law Students for Reproductive Justice) includes providing legal and policy research and taking part in advocacy to advance the equal rights and dignity of the LGBTQ community.

“I’m excited to be a part of the Task Force’s vital contributions to progressive policymaking and the expansion of its HIV/AIDS advocacy platform,” she says.

Passionate about her work in HIV/AIDS advocacy, Rewald views HIV as a complex virus – not only biomedically but also politically, socially, and psychologically.

The 2015 graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law recently completed 12 months as a Reproductive Justice Fellow at SisterLove, Inc., in Atlanta. This community based reproductive justice organization has provided HIV testing and advocated for women of color affected by HIV since being founded by Dazon Dixon Diallo in 1989.

Rewald’s role was to provide legal and policy expertise to SisterLove’s advocacy work, to provide an HIV perspective to reproductive justice advocacy in Atlanta and the south, and to provide a reproductive justice framework to local HIV advocacy initiatives, such as the Fulton County Strategy to End AIDS.

“It was an incredible introduction to the world of reproductive justice advocacy. I had opportunities to work with partners and community members on issues including HIV criminalization reform, access to healthcare and prevention methods like PrEP, and promoting comprehensive sex education with local youth advocates.” she says.

She also attended this year’s International AIDS Conference in South Africa, where she presented on the intersections of human rights and reproductive justice at the conference’s Global Village; and attended SisterLove’s pre-conference, Women NOW! 2016, a three-day symposium in Durban that centered pan-African women and girls and sexual and reproductive health and rights in discussion on a global strategy to end AIDS.

“It was an eye-opening experience and a chance to meet, learn from, and strategize with advocates from around the world doing similar work on local and international levels,” she says.

According to Rewald, the history of the epidemic and the stigma involved in the initial response – or lack thereof – has played a large role in misunderstanding HIV and its impacts today.

“Myths about how HIV is transmitted can be harmful, and the stigma surrounding the virus can discourage education and testing,” she says. “Tools and medications have been developed to prevent and treat HIV, but many people remain uninformed or unable to access them.”

Since HIV is a largely sexually transmitted virus, and is currently most prevalent among young people, comprehensive sex education is one necessary piece to a multi-faceted strategy to end the epidemic, she adds.

“Yet, it’s one of the most difficult to achieve because conversations about sex, sexuality and gender identity remain taboo in many spaces in the U.S. and around the world.”

Rewald’s entry-point into the field of reproductive rights, health and justice was largely because of the Dual J.D. program at Detroit Mercy Law and the University of Windsor Faculty of Law. In the summer after her 2L year, she interned for the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York City, researching legal precedent from commonwealth countries, including Canada. The experience changed the way she viewed the legal profession.

“I learned the importance of taking an intersectional approach to my work and recognized my duty as a legal professional to actively work against racism and other forms of systemic oppression,” she says.

Wanting to share her new knowledge and perspective with fellow students, she got the necessary tools from the national office of Law Students for Reproductive Justice (recently rebranded as If/When/How) to begin a chapter at UDM. The LSRJ chapter took on a cross-border focus when she met a first-year Canadian law student, Katie Wootton, with the same vision.

The UDM Chapter partnered with the LSRJ Chapter at the University of Michigan for its first endeavor, a letter-writing campaign to expand health insurance coverage for abortion in Michigan – and received an enthusiastic response from the student bodies on both sides of the border.

“I’m pleased to say the chapter is still going strong, thanks to Katie and a team of brilliant people who have carried on the torch,” she says.

Prior to “discovering” reproductive rights, health and justice as a career path, Rewald focused on environmental law – serving in her 2L year as president of the Environmental Law Society at Windsor Law, where successes included the installation of water fountains and greenery around the school.

“I remain passionate about the need for legal professionals to work at the intersection of environmental justice and human rights,” she says.

In 2013, she interned for a month at the Helsinki Foundation while visiting her parents in her native Poland.

“It was my first experience at a human rights organization and I loved the work,” she says. “I felt energized and inspired by the people and the environment, and it gave me a glimpse of what a career in international human rights advocacy could look like.”

That same summer, she conducted research on the constitutionality of Michigan’s emergency manager law and gained experience in labor law as an extern at the Sugar Law Center in Detroit.

“The attorneys gave me great insight into the history of civil rights in Detroit, and the experience solidified my commitment to a public interest career,” she says.

After gaining an affinity for political science and history while growing up in Poland, Rewald earned her undergrad degree in those topics from the University of Toronto.

“My family moved to Warsaw in 1991, and I was raised during the post-communist city’s political and economic resurgence,” she says. “I took an advanced history course in high school, and for my
undergraduate degree I wanted to take a deeper look at how history and its representations impact cultural and collective memory and shape contemporary politics.”

She then followed in the footsteps of her maternal grandfather, the late Roman Gribbs, a former Mayor of Detroit and a Michigan Court of Appeals judge; and her father, Roman Rewald, a lawyer in Poland; both Detroit Mercy Law alumni.

“The fact that both of my parents are lawyers definitely had a positive impact on my decision to attend law school, and my grandfather has always been an inspiration to my career path,” she says. “I loved listening to his stories growing up, and I knew I wanted to develop a professional skill set that would empower me to play a role in expanding access to justice. I also wanted to attend law school in Michigan to create a connection with my home state.”

The Dual J.D. program was a perfect fit for Rewald’s international interests and career aspirations.

“The fact my grandfather and my father had both attended UDM Law added a sense of legacy to my decision to attend the Dual J.D. program. It meant a lot to me that they were both present at my graduation last May,” she says.

Rewald notes the Dual J.D. offered twice the opportunities and a unique comparative legal education, providing an international perspective and a deeper appreciation for both countries’ history and culture of law making.

“I had access to fellowships, research projects, and community activities on both sides of the border, an expanded pool of job opportunities, and support from faculty and staff at either school,” she says. “I was also able to gain twice as much experience in moot court, which sparked my interest in litigation.”

In her 3L year, Rewald took part in the American Inns of Court program, where she and 10 other students joined local lawyers and judges to analyze the steps and ethics of litigating a simulated cross-border personal injury case.

The Dual J.D. program also fosters a uniquely supportive and close-knit culture, she adds.

“Duals face challenges that call for community and support – from making sure everyone in your carpool has their Nexus pass on them, to navigating class and exam schedules on either side of the border.

Duals also take more mandatory classes than single-J.D. students in order to satisfy the Canadian and American degree requirements, and that kind of time together over three years creates a family vibe and a lot of beautiful friendships.”

Rewald also appreciated the law school’s dedication to providing practical legal experience.

“It has a strong student, faculty and alumni community, particularly for a commuter school. The staff have been incredibly friendly and helpful to me while a student, and now as an alumna,” she says.

The majority of Rewald’s extended family members live in or near Detroit, while her nuclear family lives between Ann Arbor, and Warsaw, Poland, and her sister works at the International School of Belgrade, Serbia.

“We’re all used to keeping up long distance relationships, so I’m grateful for the moments I had throughout law school to spend time with my Michigan family,” she says.