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Alumni Newsmakers

An American in Paris

Cherine Foty, JD '10, has been out of school barely two years, but she has already put her GW Law degree to multiple good uses.

After graduation, she traveled to Paris for a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, where she studied for a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in French and European Law and conducted research for faculty members.

In August 2011, after her Fulbright Scholarship ended, Ms. Foty was asked to stay on at the Sorbonne to teach common law and American law to French undergraduate and law students.

"I am really excited to be in Paris for another year," she says. "Comparative law has always been a great interest of mine, so having the opportunity to teach from a comparative perspective, juxtaposing British and American common law systems with French civil law, while being able to put a focus on human rights and constitutional law elements, is an ideal situation for me."

A requirement of the LLM program was a professional internship and Ms. Foty found work at a large French-American law firm working on cases and issues dealing with the intersection of business and human rights—something she had done often as Professor Ralph Steinhardt's research assistant at GW.

"Corporations are now putting out their own guidelines and standards for the protection of human rights, which is a trend I hope will continue and result in real change," she says.

"Cherine was an ideal research assistant: smart, responsive, cheery, multi-lingual, organized," says Professor Steinhardt. "She aptly handled both the high-theory work and the practical details; it was a pleasure to work with her and to continue to collaborate with her on ideas and issues."

At GW Law, Ms. Foty made her commitment to human rights a reality by studying, researching, and working in social justice. She says her GW Law classes and experiences provided a great foundation for her professional experiences in and after law school.

For the summer after her 1L year, she secured an internship at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Federal Tort Claims Act Branch, helping the government defend torts claims allegedly committed by federal employees.

"Cherine worked with various attorneys on a smorgasbord of legal issues which required extensive legal research and the writing of memoranda containing her legal analyses," says her internship supervisor Gail Johnson, whose guidance later led Ms. Foty to an internship in the DOJ's Civil Rights Division (Voting Rights Branch) where she investigated allegations of discriminatory practices and irregularities in voting procedures and worked as electoral monitor in the 2008 elections.

Prior to her DOJ post, she traveled to Brazil to learn about human rights issues facing Brazilian citizens. She spent a month in Brazil's largest favela (shantytown), Rocinha, examining the human rights conditions of its nearly 200,000 residents.

"Cherine was an absolutely superb student in my Law of Race and Slavery class," says Professor Robert Cottrol. "She did an outstanding paper on Brazilian favelas; I learned a lot from her research and paper." She later published a revised version of the article in a Brazilian law journal, examining international law obligations in combating racialized police brutality in French, Brazilian, and American ghettos.

At GW Law, she was also active in the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), working on important cases brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of clients in Jamaica whose children had been killed by Jamaican police officers, part of a widespread pattern of police extra-judicial killings and impunity.

"Cherine was an outstanding member of the clinic," says IHRC Director and Professor Arturo Carrillo, who also served as one of her Presidential Merit Scholar advisers. "Her enthusiasm, dedication, and talent made her an excellent advocate on behalf of the clinic clients she represented. She knew how to take productive initiative, and displayed a mature judgment beyond her years."

Ms. Foty says her motivation to attend law school was based on a commitment to social justice. "I wanted to have an impact, as a lawyer, to change things on a large scale and have a chance to serve disadvantaged communities, particularly through mobilization against racial and gender discrimination," she says.

In January 2011, she had the opportunity to witness first-hand social change in her mother's homeland: Egypt. During a break from her LLM courses, she traveled to Cairo to witness the Egyptian people's popular uprising against more than three decades of dictatorial rule. She joined her grandparents—human rights activists born and raised in the changing country—as well as her sister, who was studying abroad there at the time.

The experience gave her insight into foreign diplomacy in the region: "I went to Tahrir Square, the center stage of the popular uprising, where continual demonstrations on Fridays filled the square with hundreds of thousands of people," she says. "I witnessed a renewed sense of pride and nationalism of the Egyptian people, which was inspiring.

"My philosophy on teaching is that it can be a form of achieving social justice," she adds. "The first step to making true legal change is understanding the change that needs to be made. Being a teacher gives me the opportunity to engage in that dialogue, to question the basic principles of legal systems, and to impact a group of students that may not have otherwise been introduced to such concepts. I hope to continue to have that type of impact in the future."

—Claire Duggan