Nina Gurak: 'Being a Successful Lawyer Means Taking Responsibility for Healing Some of the Legal Trauma People Experience.'

If/When/How’s Quick Question series highlights the work of our Reproductive Justice Fellows, introducing our network to the incredible advocates who are dedicating their lives to the movement to lawyer for reproductive justice. We’re so proud of the work they’re doing at placement organizations across the country to ensure that everyone has the ability to safely decide if, when, and how to create and sustain their families, and to actualize sexual and reproductive wellbeing on their own terms. But we can’t support them without you: Please donate $10 to help us give aspiring and new lawyers the resources they need to thrive. And if you can’t give — share!

Nina Gurak

Nina Gurak (Drexel University School of Law ’19) is an organizer, educator, and law student working at the intersections of disability justice and reproductive justice. While in law school, Nina has spent her summers interning for the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women and has held Dean’s Scholar positions in both Contracts and Criminal Law. She served as President of Drexel Law’s If/When/How and served on the executive board of Drexel Law’s National Lawyers Guild. As a member of Drexel’s International Human Rights Clinic, Nina represented the New York City Bar Association as their human rights legal observer during the Military Commission proceedings at Guantanamo Bay. Nina is a proud volunteer with Project Safe, a women-, trans-, and gender nonconforming-focused harm reduction organization working with street-based sex workers and substance.

Nina earned her B.A. from Wesleyan University with dual majors in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and in Government. There, Nina was a founding member of the University’s Title IX Committee, taught sex education at local high schools and volunteered as a clinic escort. When she isn’t studying, Nina can be found riding around Philadelphia on her bike or getting frustrated with a jigsaw puzzle.

We asked Nina to tell us a little about herself as she prepares to begin her Reproductive Justice Fellowship year at Healthy and Free Tennessee in Nashville this fall.

If/When/How: Who are you, and where are you from?

Nina Gurak: My name is Nina Gurak. I use she/her/hers pronouns. I am a community educator and organizer, perpetual student, and critical pop culture enthusiast. I’m from Valley Forge, PA.

If/When/How: Where are you going? (You can treat this question literally or existentially.)

NG: As I’m writing this, I’m going to a clinic escorting shift. I started clinic escorting my first year of college and continued throughout law school. We’re in a tough time where protestors have increased outside my local clinic, and I’m making some time to run down in between classes. I really appreciate the opportunity to provide a kind smile and distraction from the loud and offensive anti-choice rhetoric outside the clinic, and in many ways it’s really nice to feel like you’re making a real and tangible impact in someone’s daily life.

If/When/How: What drew you to reproductive justice work?

NG: I initially became interested in reproductive justice work through conversations with the women in my life: my mother and my grandmother. Both shared a strong commitment to reproductive autonomy, and instilled in me that same commitment. When I got to college and started learning more about the reproductive justice framework, it seemed like the perfect way to combine my interest in disability justice and reproductive justice issues.

If/When/How: What does reproductive justice mean to you?

NG: Reproductive justice for me has always required centering racial and economic justice work. That means more than just applying a “race lens” to the work, but it requires actively centering women and people of color in leadership and in practice. Reproductive justice is also about autonomy. I think disability justice has a lot to add to reproductive justice’s bodily autonomy analysis, and I’m excited to explore this more in practice.

If/When/How: What do you want to change (or what are you changing) about what it means to be a lawyer?

NG: I want to change everything about what it means to be a lawyer. I believe that legal education is fundamentally flawed and does not provide students the tools they need to be holistically successful in life or in law. I’m reminded of T.L. Lewis, a phenomenal disability justice attorney, who once told an audience of lawyers and law students, “Lawyers ain’t shit.” Lawyers are almost never the most important people in the room, and I think it’s important to work from that mindset. There are certain things that lawyers can do that others cannot, not by virtue of a non-lawyer’s inability to learn, but because of the way the system is currently set up. Part of what it means to be a successful lawyer for me is to take responsibility for healing some of the legal trauma people experience: trauma relating to the criminal-legal system, the court system, and the various ways the law has ensnared and made folks feel powerless. A lawyer should deconstruct the legal system in such a way that works to repair this harm.

If/When/How: What are you most excited about going into the RJFP?

NG: I absolutely cannot wait to learn from and with my fellow Fellows and to have the opportunity to learn from and work beside incredible reproductive justice organizers in Tennessee at Healthy and Free Tennessee.

If you’re as excited as we are to see Nina succeed, donate $10 to help If/When/How support new lawyers like her.