Faculty Spotlight: Rosalind Cabrhel
Each month we interview an A&S faculty member for our student newsletter. In April 2023, we spoke with Rosalind Cabrchel, Associate Professor of Legal Studies.
Meet Rosalind Cabrchel
Departments/Programs: Legal Studies, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Title: Associate Professor of Practice in Legal Sciences
Expertise: civil or human rights, discrimination, criminal law, constitutional law, judicial law
Tell me a little about your academic background and journey to Brandeis.
My academic path was unconventional, largely due to family priorities. I attended three different high schools, combined my senior year of high school with my freshman year of college, transferred to another college my freshman year, and changed majors my senior year. My family moved around a lot because of my dad’s job, and my mom had a terminal illness that required a lot of care, especially in college. I don’t have any siblings, so I made decisions in part to be close to home so I could help out. I took two years off after college to take care of my mom during her senior year and decide what to do with myself. I worked as a paralegal for a small law firm and a large international law firm and decided I was ready to practice law.
During law school in Washington, I had the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill for Senators John Glenn and John D. Rockefeller IV. I was part of a legal team investigating allegations of campaign finance violations during the Clinton administration. Being part of this team exposed me to complex litigation in a highly charged political environment. I continued to work in policy and investigative law during law school and in my first job as a new attorney working for the Massachusetts Senate Audit and Oversight Committee. During that time, I conducted investigations to identify legal loopholes that harmed our constituents, wrote policy briefs to outline the harms and propose solutions, and drafted legislation to address identified loopholes. I also drafted and delivered political speeches and helped create a Student Advisory Council where students were selected to participate in an educational program about the legislative process.
After a brief but formative stint in a law firm, I returned to government work in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, where I was an Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division. Again I was part of a team carrying out complex investigations in a political office; this time against the Archdiocese of Boston (investigating allegations of child sexual abuse) and negotiating consent decrees with large firms accused of discrimination. I also dealt with cases of individual victims of hate crime and discrimination. Through this work, I witnessed the harms caused by unjust policies and behavior and the limitations of the justice system in remedying those harms; especially for poor and vulnerable people.
One of my colleagues in the attorney general’s office was a Guberman Fellow in the Legal Studies Program at Brandeis, and she encouraged me to apply. I joined the program as a fellow in 2008 and knew right away that Brandeis would be my second home. Over the years, I developed several new courses related to my professional experience in civil rights and discrimination law, and I created the Brandeis Education Justice Initiative (BEJI) with John Plotz and David Sherman, my colleagues in the English department. I see teaching as an extension of my desire to improve the administration of justice in this country, and Brandeis is full of eager students who share that desire.
Was there a specific moment that led to your decision to pursue a career centered around civil rights work? How does your legal practice influence your teaching?
I wouldn’t say there was a specific moment, but my experience with movement as a child steered me in that direction. People like to label people they don’t know or understand; put them in boxes. I was always the new kid with the funny accent, so I lived through that. But I had also experienced many different ways of thinking and living. I grew up understanding that people are more complex than the boxes others put them in, and that that complexity is important to appreciate—it’s actually the best part of humanity.
When I entered law school, I thought I was interested in intelligence or federal law enforcement. Investigative work is really interesting. However, I had the opportunity to intern at a well-known investigative firm that employs several retired CIA and FBI agents. I heard them characterize people often as “bad guys” and “good guys.” There were those boxes again. It worried me. I have witnessed time and time again how reductive people can be and how the law often supports that thinking. I turned to civil rights law because it was an opportunity to work against people and structures that limit people from being who they want to be; who they are completely.
I have thought about this a lot as it relates to my work with people in prison. The vast majority of those I’ve interacted with are thoughtful, interesting people who will forever be defined by the worst moment in their lives. They live in a box they can never escape. I am motivated to change this reality and I want to inspire my students to do the same.
In my classes, I often tell students stories from my time as a practitioner. Tasks are often modeled after work I’ve done on actual cases. Community engagement is also an essential part of my work at Brandeis. I invite guest speakers to contribute to my lectures, especially to show students that people have different ideas about how the law works based on their relationship with it. For example, I bring social workers, psychologists, probation officers and politicians to my classes. I also bring in victims who want to share their first-hand stories. I require students to leave campus and sit in a courtroom or attend an event—anything that brings them into contact with people who are different from them—so that they can see the complexity of people and the problems that people face. trying to solve . BEJI is a continuation of this effort. There is nothing I could say or do in the classroom, no reading I could assign, that could compare to the experience of stepping into a prison and talking to the people inside.
The Brandeis Educational Equity Initiative (BEJI) is a wonderful expression of Brandeis’ commitments to social justice and democratic inclusion. BEJI’s website states that the initiative “opens educational pathways for those affected by the criminal justice system and advances carceral research at Brandeis.” Are there ways for students to get involved?
Of course! BEJI provides educational programs year-round for people at various stages of incarceration and re-entry. Students can help with these programs or they can help with BEJI administration and event planning. We also work with other organizations involved in carceral justice work, so there may be opportunities to work more directly with our partners.
Last March, you participated in a roundtable discussion with the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections regarding inmate re-entry initiatives. Can you give a brief summary of what was discussed?
The Boston Pre-Release Center, a minimum security correctional facility, has a re-entry school where we conduct our educational programs. It is a unique facility in that inmates must apply to be transferred there and be accepted. Admission is based on several factors, but commitment to academic advancement is a key criterion. We currently have a jurisprudence class taught at the facility by Professor Aaron Bray with a combined class of Brandeis students and pre-release students. This is an amazing opportunity for both groups of students to learn from and inspire each other.
The roundtable discussion was an opportunity to showcase the School of Reentry’s success in reducing recidivism rates and improving the employability and educational achievement of its students. Governor Healey has pledged an additional $10 million in state funding to support education programs of this kind, and Professor Bray’s amazing course was an opportunity for legislators, EOPS and DOC representatives to see this education in action. BEJI and Legal Studies plan to increase Pre-Release programming in the coming years.
What advice do you have for students who want to pursue civil rights law?
Use every opportunity to engage with vulnerable people whose voices are underrepresented in decision-making spaces. In my opinion, this experience is far more valuable to you as someone preparing to go to law school than filing with a fancy law firm. People’s stories will stay with you forever. Get involved in one (or more) of the many campus-sponsored community service opportunities. Work with BEJI or The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII) to gain hands-on experience that will complement your work in the classroom. Or take any class in the Legal Studies program. All of our faculty emphasize civil rights in one context or another.