Laurie Senat, JD ‘21 works toward racial justice in juvenile courts

UMass Law 3L is one of first interns at Juvenile Defenders Dismantling Racism

Laurie Senat, JD '21 standing with arms folded
As one of the first interns for Juvenile Defenders Dismantling Racism, Laurie Senat helped lawyers, social workers, and investigators develop an anti-racist platform for their work as youth defenders.

As racial tensions continue to erupt across the United States, UMass Law 3L Laurie Senat, JD ’21 worked behind the scenes this summer to help lawyers, social workers, and investigators better represent youth of color in the juvenile legal system.   

She was among the first group of racial justice legal interns with the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ (CPCS) Youth Advocacy Division’s racial justice committee, known as Juvenile Defenders Dismantling Racism (JDDR). The committee was created to help lawyers, social workers, and investigators develop an anti-racist platform for their work as youth defenders.

Senat worked with juvenile defenders, education law attorneys, and child and family law counsel. She and her team helped draft legal documents for use by juvenile defenders, conducted legal and policy research on racial and juvenile justice issues, and helped design and launch JDDR’s social media presence.

According to Robert McGovern, communications director for CPCS, youth of color comprise almost 70% of the detention and committed population in the Department of Youth Services, although they comprise only 33% of the population in the Commonwealth.

Senat worked with two other interns to draft an anti-racist mission statement for JDDR based on principles of transformative justice. She was also instrumental in launching the organization’s Twitter account. All of her work was done remotely.

“The goal of the Twitter account is to reach young people who are interested in social justice for youth of color,” said McGovern. “This was an important step in our goal to include and consider the voice of impacted youth in shaping our representation of youth of color in the juvenile legal system.”

Senat also focused on researching ways to eradicate the impact of gang stereotypes on Black and Brown youth in the juvenile justice system. She prepared materials on the subject for a future Racial Justice Toolkit for juvenile defenders in Massachusetts, according to McGovern. The toolkit provides lawyers with cases, motions, and tools which challenge the overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile system.

“Laurie and the other interns researched areas which were specific to Massachusetts. She researched challenges to the use of gang information by police departments and the devastating and far-reaching impact a gang label can have on a juvenile,” McGovern said.

Experience was rewarding professionally and personally

“My experience as a racial justice intern for JDDR was rewarding in ways I never would have imagined,” Senat said. “Through the guidance of my supervisors and the support of my colleagues, I was able to work towards JDDR's mission of promoting positive youth development and strive towards disrupting the systems of oppression that disproportionally impact youth of color.

“This internship has helped me develop a wealth of professional and personal skills that I will be able to utilize as a future attorney. I worked on a policy brief, a community outreach program, and helped design the JDDR website and logo. I also presented in front of directors, communicated with clients, and helped start a social media campaign. Most importantly I developed lasting relationships with my colleagues that I will always value. I am proud of the impact JDDR had this summer and I can't wait to see where it will lead to in the future.”

Senat, along with two other interns, provided a strong foundation for JDDR’s anti-racism work.

“Working with Laurie was a tremendous experience—especially during these challenging times with so many recent incidents of profound racial injustices,” said Melissa Ellis, Senat’s supervisor and trial panel oversight staff counsel at CPCS. “Through working with Laurie and the other two JDDR interns, I gained insights into issues of race, privilege, and biases that I could not have attained from any other source.

“As one of our first JDDR interns, Laurie understood that she had the unique opportunity to help establish the intern program and contribute to JDDR in a way that would serve as the foundation for its important work.”

Law school is “rewardingly challenging”

A native of Waltham, MA, Senat graduated from UMass Amherst in 2016 with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology and political science.

At UMass Law, she serves as chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, is past treasurer and an active member of the Black Law Students Association, and is a member of the Legal Association of Women. She is a recipient of the Charles J. Hoff Law Scholarship/Fellowship.

“Rewardingly challenging” is how Senat describes her law school experience. “I particularly value my time here at UMass Law because of the professional relationships that I have made with my colleagues and mentors. UMass Law understands the importance of fostering a community. Through programs, events, and other resources, this community has helped alleviate the unavoidable weight that comes with law school,” Senat said.

Her future plans include working in the public sector while mentoring youth of color. “I’ve always had a passion for public service and advocating for those who are underrepresented. Specifically, I love working with kids and families as well as pursuing social and racial justice. After graduation, I hope to become an attorney that specializes in family and juvenile law.

“But no matter where my career may lead me, I plan to be an active member of my community by participating in mentorship programs for youth students of color.”

Departments Law School, School of Law