Taylor Elicegui ‘20
Donna Faye Imadi ‘22
On Thursday, September 12, Virginia Law Women (“VLW”) held its annual Wine and Cheese Student/Faculty Cocktail Party. The annual event, obviously featuring wine and cheese, aims to give both new and old students alike a chance to get to know their professors outside of the classroom. Past VLW Presidents confirm the event is long-running—Wine and Cheese was already an established tradition when Stephanie Bedard ’16 began in Fall 2013. Wine and Cheese also functions as a fun way to welcome new professors and students to the UVA Law community. Nikki Wolfrey ’21, VLW’s Events Co-Chair, took the lead on organizing the event with support from the rest of the VLW Executive Board.
VLW President Manal Cheema ’20 said, “The Faculty-Student Wine and Cheese Night is one of the flagship events for VLW. Nikki did a fantastic job organizing this event and working with the VLW board, Student Affairs, and facilities to put this on. It requires a great deal of attention to detail and planning and the VLW Board worked extremely hard to support her vision.” When asked what preparation was required for the event, Cheema told the Law Weekly, “Among other endeavors, VLW board members took the UVA Alcohol Risk Management training in advance to serve attendees, picked up decorations and food from Wegman’s, selected an assortment of wines from Trader Joe’s, wrangled the paper cutter at the Copy Center to create the drinking tickets, did an emergency run to Harris Teeter for crackers, and came early to set up and left late to clean up Caplin Pavilion.” Cheema, reflecting on the event, said she was “grateful that we were able to put on an elegant and well-attended event together and looking forward to the rest of this year’s VLW events.”
Several faculty members came to this year’s event, including Dean Goluboff and Professors Darryl Brown, George Cohen, Kevin Cope, Cale Jaffe, Kevin Kordana, Julia Mahoney, Dayna Matthew, Nelson Camilo Sanchez-Leon, Fredrick Schauer, Crystal Shin, and Rip Verkerke. Wolfrey worked with Kate Duvall to distribute the invitation to the entire faculty. She also advertised the event on popular listservs, chalked classrooms, and put up posters.
Roughly 100 students filtered through the event at different points in the evening. Most of the students were 1Ls, although a fair number of upperclassmen came as well, probably lured by the wine and cheese. Lauren Burns ’22 said, “I felt really welcomed as a 1L, and I had a great time. The cheese was GREEEAT.” I have to disagree slightly, because I learned from former VLW President Casey Trombley-Shapiro Jonas ’17 that baked brie used to be prominently featured at Wine and Cheese. Although the event would benefit from bringing back the traditional baked brie (really, what event wouldn’t?), the conversations and laughter made up for the lack of baked cheese delicacies.
The evening was a success, filled with conversation, laughs, and refreshments. And, in accordance with new University policy, VLW distributed drink tickets to students. This was my first event with drink tickets, and I was skeptical at first. But I didn’t really notice a difference at all, other than the slight inconvenience of having to keep track of the ticket.
Wolfrey said, “I think the event went well. It got pretty crowded and it seemed as if people were intermingling and meeting new professors.” Franny Skardon ’22 enjoyed the distribution between the male and female professors. “It was impressive to see the number of male professors, and nice to see the supportive community.”
The event encourages students to get to know their professors and hopefully feel more comfortable in class, encouraging participation by women and academic success. Wolfrey described her goal for the event as “establishing relationships in the Law School between primarily 1L female students and professors. This would ideally foster a stronger sense of community and belonging for female students, reminding them that they are valued and respected members of this community.” Bedard also identified encouraging students to go to office hours as an additional goal of the event. If students know their professors personally, it can make it easier to seek help to clear up any potential confusions.
The event also provided students with an opportunity to meet their peers. Wolfrey noted, “I enjoyed getting to meet some of the 1Ls that I haven’t had the opportunity to meet, and getting to see them enjoying an event that is largely intended to welcome them to the Law School.” Trombley-Shapiro Jonas confirmed the event has functioned similarly in years past: “I loved the event and loved that it was very early in the fall semester and open to all. It was a great way to show that VLW is a powerhouse organization at the school, and as a 1L I know I really appreciated getting a chance so early on to meet my professors in a more casual setting. It was definitely one of the very first chances to do so. Each year after that was just a fun opportunity to hang out with VLW, friends, and professors I liked. It was also a great way to get those interested in being more involved with VLW hooked.”
The University of Chicago Law School and other peer institutions have conducted studies on gender disparities in the classroom. Women’s Advocacy Project, Speak Now: Women, Education, and Achievement at The University of Chicago Law School, (May 2018). In 2018, UChicago found that women were less likely to voluntarily participate in class, particularly at the beginning of the term.(INSERT) Women were also significantly less likely to volunteer in a class session when the first speaker was a male. Id. Wine and Cheese, falling at the beginning of the semester, can hopefully encourage female students to feel more comfortable in class. It is hoped that Wine and Cheese, as an event early in the semester, can serve as one opportunity to combat these phenomena in UVA Law classrooms.