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Alumni Spotlight

Amanda Ray

Amanda Ray has been chosen as our Outstanding Alumni for 2018. She holds a Juris Doctor of Law, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (with a focus in Women’s Studies), a Master of Arts in History, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and History with a minor in Women’s Studies, all obtained at WVU!

She currently works as the Managing Attorney at the law practice that she created in 2012, called Ray Law PLLC. Her practice is located here in Morgantown but she practices in both West Virginia and Maryland. Her focus is on family law. The type of work she does includes Landlord/tenant, social security, business organizations, and court appointed work in criminal law, juvenile defender services, and abuse neglect cases. She has also been a community member on the West Virginia University Council for Women’s Concerns since 2015. Her work is very beneficial to the community. 

First, we discussed how her Women’s and Gender Studies background has helped her to help others in her law career. Ray opens with, “I think Women’s and Gender Studies changes how you view everything”. She goes on to describe how she grew up in Roane County WV, where there “was no diversity”. In 1997, when she took her first Women’s Studies class (what it was called at the time), it really changed her perception. She learned about more women throughout history that have fought for our rights than the few that were briefly mentioned in high school. It was eye opening for her to learn about things like white privilege as well as how people are judged on their appearances. For another class she learned about representations’ importance across class, sexual orientation, ability, races, genders, and religions. She also learned proper terminology to describe these differences. Additionally, she learned about the gender pay gap. She has been able to apply this knowledge in her career by noticing that there are more white male attorneys and female secretaries. She was also able to use this to her advantage when questioning salary amounts in interviews. She has even been able to apply this knowledge directly to cases in order to try to make judges and attorneys more aware of racial differences with regard to targeting and punishment. They are often all white and unaware of how people of color can be targeted by law enforcement. She also points out things like potential for sentencing differences for black men, who are often given longer probation or sentences than white men. Though she does not always get through to them and get a better plea deal, sometimes she does. Her background in Women’s Studies also helped her help others when working for Legal Aid in the past because she had a good understanding of class and gender issues. As far as having a Women’s and Gender Studies backgrounds effect on her daily life, she is more perceptive to the things her friends go through, like dealing with racism and xenophobia. 

We then began to talk about how having a Women’s and Gender Studies background helped her get into graduate school. Ray states that her Women’s Studies background “was the whole reason I went to grad school actually. The director of Women’s Studies at the time had suggested grad school”. She really pushed her to think about graduate school as an option though it was something she had never considered before. That encouragement lead to her attending graduate school and later law school. Clearly, having a background in Women’s and Gender Studies can open doors for students!

Women’s and Gender Studies helped her find her passion for law. Ray states that, “It’s important to advocate on behalf of your rights but you also need to be aware of your rights and know how to do that. The law is a great way to help people. I got interested in what women’s rights were, I got interested in how we changed them and it kind of only made sense [to either go to] law school or [pursue] a PhD”. Though she currently focuses more on the state or local level, she points out that having a law background can even be “used for policy and advocacy” if you work for certain organizations. Some examples of the types of organizations she mentioned include Planned Parenthood and NARAL. 

As our conversation progressed, we spoke about what kind of advice she would give to Women’s and Gender Studies majors and minors about life after graduation. She recommends “starting before graduation” by making “those links”. She stresses the importance of networking; “building those connections is really important. If you get the opportunity to travel as a student to the capital to get to meet the people at any organization-go! Volunteer. Talk to them. Find out what they are looking for in people they like to hire because you have to be competitive”. She also puts an emphasis on expressing what you bring to the table “as someone with a background in Women’s and Gender Studies” and/”or as someone from Appalachia”. Finally, she notes the importance of being “cautious” about employers and remember that you may notice things from your background that others do not, so you may find yourself in a position where you need educate others while staying calm. Judging by history, you may also find that you have to “work harder than your male counterparts”, so be prepared with good credentials coming out of college. Remember that if you ever encounter harassment “to document everything”. 

There are a few experiences that had a big impact on her both during school and afterwards. After her Grandparents died in a tragic car accident, though she was still in college at the time, she was able to help with legal questions about their belongings, since they did not have a will. With the help of the Dean at that time that also taught property law, she was able to relay information to her family about who would be in charge of her Step Grandpa’s property (his children) and who would be in charge of her Grandma’s possessions. Though this time was stressful, she played a valuable role in helping her family navigate this difficult time. She also describes that her experience working at Legal Aid had a big impact because she learned a lot while working in poverty law regarding things like HUD housing, divorce and so on. She emphasizes the need for more people with a WGST background to be in positions of power making decisions for these types of programs because they understand the intersectionality of things like class, gender and race. 

She draws connections between her background in Women’s and Gender Studies and law, including her interest in the Supreme Court rulings and women’s representation. She states that her “Women’s and Gender Studies background” caused her to begin to follow people like “Ruth Bader Ginsburg and some of the others and of course I was outrageously excited to see three women on the Supreme Court bench”. She is passionate about how the law can be used to further women’s rights. 

Ray looks back with nostalgia on her years at WVU. She says that “the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies really was great” and that she would go there as a student to “just hang out and talk to people” or “do homework”. She says there was a “luncheon every year” in which “you would meet women who were successful who could sort of act like mentors usually and help set a direction for where the center was going”. She smiles as she looks back on these fond memories. 

Ray feels that a bright future for our WGST program should include creating a Master’s Program as well as a PhD program for Women’s and Gender Studies because many other colleges do. She would also like to see “more faculty just in Women’s and Gender Studies”. In closing, she says “I would really like to see a flourishing Women’s and Gender Studies Department here”.
Interview conducted by Kaelee Brown-Benkovic