Student groups at Vermont Law School take an activist turn

VLS students Lauren Wustenberg, Lindsay De May, and Erika Gerstenberger at the Burlington climate strike in September. Photo provided.

By Forum Staff

Against a backdrop of climate catastrophe and political unrest, Vermont Law School’s student groups are increasingly taking an activist turn—with the school’s oldest student group, the Environmental Law Society, leading the way.

Last month, VLS students joined the millions of young people worldwide who took to the streets to demand climate action. ELS organized an outdoor “teach-in” with Prof. Pat Parenteau and bused students to Burlington to participate in the climate strike there.

“It was pretty amazing it came together as quickly as it did,” ELS secretary Erika Gerstenberger told The Forum. “We saw an opportunity and jumped on it.”

ELS is returning to its roots as an action-based advocacy organization, Gerstenberger said. The realignment began last year under then co-chairs Lewis Grove and Claire Valentine-Fossum, and has continued under current co-chairs Gillian Cowley and Frank Beal.

“Everybody can make a difference, and they should.”

“As a group in ELS, we got a little frustrated with discussing and presenting and talking about problems,” Grove said. “We decided that we were going to refocus our mission on putting those discussions into action.”

The club has held two legislative advocacy and civic engagement workshops aimed at empowering people to participate in the political process on the state and local levels.

Earlier this semester, Women’s Law Group rebranded to its original name, Women’s Law Society.

The club has partnered with the Vermont Bar Association’s Women’s Division to launch a mentorship program pairing participants with successful women in the legal profession.

“The kind of activism we’re engaging in is a gentle, understanding kind,” said Elyssa Willadsen, who chairs the group alongside Faith Bickner and Gerstenberger. “We are focusing on women being heard and seen within their legal roles, community roles, and beyond.”

“We want everybody here to realize their potential for involvement and actualize the change that they can make in the world,” Gerstenberger said. “Everybody can make a difference, and they should.”

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