The Fordham chapter of the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) will hold its launch event this Friday, April 22 with a community cleanup in celebration of Earth Day.
The Earth Day event is an opportunity to raise visibility for the new chapter while beautifying the city, said Matthew Williams, Fordham NALSA president and co-founder. Founded this spring, Fordham NALSA seeks to serve as “a cultural and academic support system for both Native law students and students interested in Native Law and the Native community,” according to its mission statement.
Students do not need to be Native American to participate, Williams said, noting Vice President Andrew Cota and Secretary Chris Lisiewski are not. All three Fordham NALSA founders are 1Ls.
“We welcome whomever decides to come,” Williams said of the Earth Day cleanup, noting he is actively trying to dispel the misconception “you need to be part of this community in order to appreciate it.” In his first year at Fordham Law, Williams said he has met only one other Fordham Law student who identifies as Native American.
Williams, a Chippewa tribe member who grew up outside Detroit, received his initial inspiration to start a NALSA chapter at Fordham while attending an academic enrichment program during orientation. Williams’s meetings with other incoming students of color not only helped him recognize their common ground as minorities in the legal community but also the need for a Native American voice in that conversation.
Encountering students wearing Native American headdresses as costumes on a Halloween boat cruise in the fall further fueled Williams’ desire to start the chapter. Having a national organization behind him would provide more legitimacy when he expressed concerns about offensive costumes, he said.
In late January, Williams and his fellow founders received confirmation from the Office of Student Affairs that their bylaws and mission statement were accepted. Now, their focus is on administrative matters, such as being added to the Law School’s website, recruiting first-year students, and hosting more events in the coming year.
“We have to make ourselves visible to prospective students,” Williams said. “That’s the first step to keeping things going.”
Students interested in the Earth Day cleanup are invited to meet at 4:30 p.m. on Friday in the first floor lobby to receive gloves and trash bags. Anyone interested in joining NALSA should send an email to the Fordham chapter with their name and email address.