To celebrate Women’s History Month, Fordham Law Women sponsored an event at the Law School on March 5 honoring women’s contributions from the suffrage movement until today. The featured speaker, New York State Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, ’04, was the first woman elected to the Assembly from the 36th District in Queens.
Kimathi Gordon-Somers, Fordham Law School’s new assistant dean of student affairs and diversity, introduced Simotas. Dean Gordon-Somers said he is “reminded every day that women in our society are leaders.” He remarked that the 2020 national Women’s History Month theme of honoring women who fought for women’s right to vote in the U.S., and noted the “often overlooked contributions that women have made in U.S. history.”
Simotas highlighted her work on the passage in 2019 of New York’s new sexual harassment law. According to Simotas, the law changed the standard for harassment from “the outdated severe or pervasive standard, which set an impossibly high bar for victims to meet” and prevented employers from using non-disclosure agreements to keep employees from making complaints to government agencies, among other measures.
Simotas said she is currently working on further legislation to help victims of sexual assault and harassment. One series of bills is named for sexual abuse survivor Marissa Hoechstetter, “who testified about her experience being sexually abused by former OBGYN Robert Hadden throughout her pregnancy.” Simotas noted that working with Hoechstetter “has made our legislation so much more thoughtful and useful to those who endure such trauma.”
Simotas told students in the audience to let their personal experiences inform their work. “As a woman and a first-generation professional, I understand how alienating the law school experience can be for people who come from less privileged backgrounds,” she said. “I encourage you to bring your whole, authentic self into your work, because doing so will make this school and the legal profession stronger.”
After the prepared remarks, Simotas took questions about her current legislative efforts from the audience, which included a mix of current students and alumni. Topics ranged from the passage near midnight the evening before of an emergency bill granting Governor Cuomo expanded executive powers and $40 million funding for prevention of the novel coronavirus, to a bill that would make it easier for youthful offenders to expunge their records.
Along with Fordham Law Women, the event was co-sponsored by the Black Law Students Association, Latin American Law Students Association, Asian-Pacific Law Students Association, Multicultural Law Students Association, Jewish Law Students Association, South Asian Law Students Association, OUTLaws, and Fordham First Generation Students.
Fordham Law Women provides mentoring, coaching, and guidance to students and seeks to raise awareness of issues facing women and society. Kristine Rose Itliong, ‘20, president of Fordham Law Women, noted, “Our hope is that such collaboration will raise awareness of intersectional issues and inspire women of various backgrounds to be leaders in the law.”