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Eva Jefferson Paterson Fellows Program

The Eva Jefferson Paterson Fellows Program provides funding for undergraduate students working with the Deportation Research Clinic to document, analyze, and publicize government misconduct in deportation jails and proceedings.

The Deportation Research Clinic is proud to honor the legacy of Northwestern graduate, activist, and distinguished civil rights lawyer Eva Jefferson Paterson by training Northwestern students to procure evidence of U.S. citizenship for those with wrongful deportation orders. Students will also assist in research on systemic government misconduct in deportation proceedings. Much of the work will consist of filing and tracking document requests, as well as drafting complaints under the Freedom of Information Act if the government withholds responsive items. Clinic Fellows strive to follow Jefferson Paterson in creating a more intelligent and just global citizenry.

Eva Jefferson Paterson

Five Decades in the Pursuit of Justice

Eva Jefferson Paterson was just 20 years old when she first attracted national attention for her leadership during the Northwestern University student strike of 1970. In May of that year, just days into her term as the university's first African-American student body president, Jefferson Paterson mounted a stirring defense of nonviolent anti-war protest in a speech to some five thousand students gathered in Deering Meadow. While Jefferson Paterson validated students' outrage against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the recent shootings of thirteen unarmed Kent State University students by the Ohio National Guard, she also successfully discouraged a number of torch-wielding students from burning down the University's Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps offices in Lunt Hall. The student loyalty Jefferson Paterson wielded that day had been won over years of strategic political activism and good faith dialogue with students and administrators. Despite arriving to campus as a self-described patriotic conservative, Jefferson Paterson quickly came to oppose the Vietnam War after participating in teach-ins, conversing with her fellow students, and learning of Robert Kennedy's plan to end the war. In the spring of her freshman year, Jefferson Paterson also participated in the historically successful thirty-eight hour Black Student Sit-In of May, 1968, and just three months later, was teargassed during the Chicago Police Riot at the Democratic National Convention.

Jefferson Paterson was no mere overzealous convert. During her time at Northwestern, she showed a keen sense of political pragmatism that belied her age. As she told Jet author Theophilus Green in a July, 1970 cover profile, Jefferson Paterson worried that some political demonstrations could serve merely to relieve the collective guilt of white students. In contrast, she favored more strategic advocacy efforts that often extended outside the boundaries of campus, including promoting a program to provide childcare for poor families and fundraising for a student tour intended to counteract negative images of youth activism across the country. And though she wasn't afraid to adopt unpopular political positions (while running for president, she advocated for postponing Greek rush week), Jefferson Paterson made efforts to reach out to students who disagreed with her, even going as far as personally visiting every dormitory on campus during her presidential campaign.

Following the student strike in July of 1970, Jefferson Paterson became one of three students selected to debate then-Vice President Spiro Agnew on a September 26, 1970 broadcast of the David Frost Show. During the debate, Jefferson Paterson once again advocated for nonviolent means of resistance, yet she also offered an explanation for why recent political events might have convinced some young activists that progress could only be made through violence. Her measured yet forceful responses often provoked voluminous applause from the studio audience, surprising the underprepared Vice President.

After graduating from Northwestern with a B.A. in political science in 1971, Jefferson Paterson went on to earn her J.D. from the U.C. Berkeley School of Law. As a young lawyer and activist, she worked under the Alameda County Legal Aid Society and cofounded the Oakland battered women's shelter A Safe Place, which remains in operation today.

As Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, Jefferson Paterson went on to litigate a number of important class-action civil rights claims, including a successful suit against the San Francisco Fire Department for race and gender discrimination. She also helmed efforts to provide pro bono legal services for low-income individuals in the Bay Area.

Jefferson Paterson then served as cofounder and chair of the California Civil Rights Commission, where she helped lead statewide campaigns against the death penalty, juvenile incarceration, discrimination against gays and lesbians, and a number of anti-immigrant and -affirmative action ballot propositions.

She currently serves as the cofounding president of the Equal Justice Society, whose mission is to "transform the nation's consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts." In particular, they aim to broaden social and legal definitions of discrimination to include unconscious and structural forms of bias. Alongside these efforts, she has served as Vice President of the National Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union and as chair of the San Francisco Bar Association Foundation and the nonprofit women's rights organization Equal Rights Advocates.

In addition to writing a number of articles on pro bono legal services, affirmative action, and legal responses to domestic violence, Jefferson Paterson coauthored an amicus brief in the influential Supreme Court case, Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the University of Michigan's race-conscious admissions policy, and has served as co-counsel in many civil rights cases.