Assistant Professor of Law and Assistant Director of the Ronald H.
Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development
Attending public schools in her Astoria, Queens neighborhood,
Professor Janai Nelson J.D., witnessed first-hand the disparities
in educational opportunities for students in predominantly
“I saw so many distinctions between my educational experiences and
the experiences of students from schools outside my neighborhood.
We simply did not have the same resources and opportunities as
students in more affluent neighborhoods. That’s when I decided I
had to be a part of the educational system in some capacity.”
After obtaining her law degree from University of California, Los
Angeles (UCLA) Law School, Professor Nelson clerked on the federal
district court and federal court of appeals. She then
received a fellowship to work as a litigation associate at the firm
of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and then as an
attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
(LDF). At the firm, she did corporate litigation and handled
charter school matters pro bono. At LDF, she litigated voting
rights and redistricting cases and did some death penalty work
before becoming Director of Political Participation.
Although she found her career at LDF extremely satisfying, her
interest in teaching law remained. Presented with the opportunity
to work for The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and
Economic Development at St. John’s University, Professor Nelson
joined the law school faculty in 2006, after spending a year in
Ghana, West Africa on a Fulbright Award.
“I have always had a desire to teach, but I didn’t want to give up
my interest in social justice. The Ronald H. Brown Center has given
me the opportunity to explore my interests in both.”
Over the past three years, Professor Nelson has taught courses in
Election Law, Voting Rights, and Professional Responsibility/Legal
Ethics and was appointed Assistant Director of The Ronald H. Brown
Center in August of 2008.
“At the Ron Brown Center, we have done an amazing job of attracting
incredible college students who, prior to their participation in
the Center’s Summer Prep program, may never have considered going
to law school.”
The Center serves as a resource to engage students in legal
studies, research and outreach focusing on issues that affect the
lives of underrepresented people, while simultaneously educating
law students to be leaders on issues of racial, economic and social
As an advocate of social justice herself, Professor Nelson hopes
her teaching inspires students to strive to become the change they
hope to see in the world.
“Teaching at St. John’s has given me an opportunity to fulfill a
long-term aspiration to educate future lawyers who are still
connected to local and underrepresented communities. In all of my
classes and personal interactions, I encourage students to think
critically about the law, their role as advocates and their
potential as agents of social change.”
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