Rukmini Vasupuram ’13

“I wanted to have a stronger impact.”

Rukmini VasupuramEver since Rukmini Vasupuram chose women’s studies and history for her undergraduate majors, gender issues have guided her path. “Even though we live in a time when women are ostensibly equal to men,” she says, “women face ingrained beliefs and structures that reinforce unequal gender dynamics.”

Vasupuram earned a master’s degree at the University of Michigan School of Social Work in Ann Arbor and created a therapy group for female HIV/AIDS patients at the University of Michigan Hospital. “I enjoyed connecting with people as a social worker and helping them deal with issues in their lives in a more effective way,” says Vasupuram, “but I wanted to have a stronger impact.” She came to realize that a law degree would give her the tools to achieve this goal.

At the University of Wisconsin Law School, Vasupuram’s work with the Neighborhood Law Clinic of the Economic Justice Institute influenced her to broaden her concerns to include human rights issues, while a class about domestic violence and her anti-human-trafficking volunteer work refocused her commitment to women’s rights. “My experiences have reinforced my conviction that violence against women, from minor incidents to extreme violence, is an all-too-common occurrence, even in places like Madison. That’s been the biggest eye opener,” she says. “Equal respect in all aspects of life is the least that women can ask for in this day and age.”

As editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender and Society, one of the oldest law and gender journals in the country, with a rich tradition of advocating for women’s rights, Vasupuram hopes to influence these and other issues of gender balance through the publication of scholarship in these areas. “One of the spring issues we will be publishing will be in honor of Jane Larson, a specialist in feminist legal theory who joined the Wisconsin faculty in 1996 and passed away in 2012,” she says. A subsequent fall journal issue, which Vasupuram has helped prepare, will focus on the work of Professor Marygold Melli, a family law specialist and one of the first women faculty members at the Law School.

“These special journal issues give us a chance to reach out to a larger audience. We are the smallest journal at the law school, but we have a strong voice, and we’d like to use that platform to honor the work and memory of these women at our law school who have done so much to enrich the world around them and to move us forward,” she says.

The journal sponsored a 2013 symposium titled “Transcending Gender Lines: Title IX and Transgender Rights.” Vasupuram has worked closely with the symposium editor to acquire cross-departmental support and attract nationally renowned speakers for this event. Title IX, which banned sex discrimination in schools and colleges, is best known for promoting women’s rights in high school and college athletics. Given the broader gender-issues focus of the journal, the event specifically addressed the implications of Title IX and recent legislation on transgender individuals, thus helping the journal stay true to its mission. When she graduates in May, Vasupuram hopes to work in an area such as health care, higher education administration, or criminal law, where both her law and social work skills will come into play. Regardless of where exactly this will be and what exactly it will involve, you can be sure that at least part of her analysis of the issues she deals with on a daily basis will be from a gender and women’s rights perspective.

Denise Thornton