It’s no secret the life of a mother is hectic with an endless list of things to do, throw in law school and that’s how a student-run organization at The University of New Mexico was founded called, Moms of Law.
Kateri West, Moms of Law treasurer, said when she was accepted into the UNM School of Law she connected with a fellow student and mom who was having a similar experience navigating through law school.
“We recognized there was a need to have a support group on campus because the challenges we were experiencing were very different from those of some of our peers,” West said. “It evolved from learning how to survive to ‘How do we thrive in law school?”
Moms of Law was created by students from the Class of 2021.
West said mothers studying within the law school felt the need to create a space for support, safety and sharing. The group started two years ago as an informal gathering for tea once a month, but quickly evolved into something more. Although titled “Moms of Law” the group is inclusive of all parents.
“We wanted to keep the group pretty informal and not impose any additional stresses, but as we learned, it’s difficult to plan events on campus without being a formal organization,” explained West.
Jessica Arreola, a UNM School of Law alumna, was essential in the move to formalize Moms of Law. She was involved with the student bar association, where she learned the mechanics of creating a student organization. She also worked with a graphic designer to create logos for the group.
Arreola was the first president of Moms of Law, and Katy Bastow was vice president. Bastow has since been elected president after Arreola graduated.
The group has had to greatly adjust its functions during the pandemic.
“Right now, it’s been nice to just go back to the basics of our club, of coming together, supporting each other and working on what we can do to help each other get through this difficult time,” Bastow said.
The group has learned to be resilient and able to adapt to arising situations. Members have learned to focus on the positive things in their lives while instilling a strong system of support between group members. One of the challenges lots of parents have struggled with is finding appropriate childcare.
“Jessica and I thought, ‘What if we could start a scholarship to provide resources for childcare for students?’ We went that route and met with Senior Director of Advancement Operations Melissa Lobato,” West said.
Although Arreola and West were informed that scholarship funds would not likely be available, with Lobato’s guidance they pushed forward and looked toward changing a Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) policy. The group said the CYFD policy did not provide any support, even for students who financially qualified for state-funded childcare, simply because they were graduate students.
Upon learning about the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department and the governor’s plans to expand resources for childcare throughout the state, “We pounced on that,” West said. “We were able to get the word out and they are now allowing graduate students who qualify the opportunity to get state-funded childcare.”
Moms of Law hopes to focus on bigger goals in the future. The group said it hopes to welcome new students each year and create a system of support and encouragement.
“You kind of feel like you’re the only mom on the planet, like, ‘Can I do this?’ Then you start to talk with other moms and you realize it’s possible,” Bastow said.
UNM School of Law Assistant Professor Sonia Gipson Rankin helped the group get its start. She hosted several informal gatherings over tea, which eventually evolved into the formal student organization it is today. These first gatherings consisted of mothers sharing tips and ideas with each other. Gipson Rankin helped members of Moms of Law study for exams and shared tips on getting into law review. She, too, became a mother while she was in law school.
Members of Moms of Law continue this system of support by listening to each other, helping each other prepare for finals, providing educational resources and even secure funding.
“We aren't the only people struggling in law school. School is hard for everybody, but there are such unique extra considerations and challenges that come with being in law school and being a mom,” Bastow said.
Newer members can depend on mentorship from not only more experienced students, but also alumni.
“There’s a broad spectrum of us out there who have a willingness to mentor,” West said.
West encourages those thinking about enrolling in law school, but unsure about possibilities due to having children, to take the leap. She reiterates how possible it is to maintain a family while studying.
Moms of Law hopes to return to normal practices soon while continuing to spread support and encouragement throughout the UNM campus.