Chicago-Kent Student Named a 2021 Law Student of the Year by National Jurist and PreLaw Magazine



By Tad Vezner

Katherine Hanson (LAW 3rd Year), who gave up her successful hair salon business to become a standout student at Chicago-Kent College of Law, has been named a 2021 “Law Student of the Year” by National Jurist and PreLaw Magazine.

The publications named ten Law Students of the Year in their spring 2022 issues. The honor recognizes students “who have made outstanding contributions to their law schools and their communities” in 2021. Law schools across the country were each asked to nominate one student for the award.

“Not only has Katherine Hanson proven to be an empathetic leader and excellent student, but she also has dedicated her personal time to improving the lives of parenting students at Chicago-Kent and at law schools nationwide,” says Chicago-Kent Dean Anita K. Krug. “On top of her academic and extracurricular work and leadership roles in student groups, she started a support group and a nonprofit to address essential gaps for students in need.

“She’s exactly the type of advocate anyone would want fighting for them, and Chicago-Kent is proud to have educated her. She's well deserving of the honor of Law Student of the Year.”

Says Hanson, "It's such an honor to be selected as Law Student of the Year—I never expected to gain such wide recognition for pursuing my passions. 

“I truly believe Chicago-Kent granted me a unique opportunity to follow my interests and find my voice and niche,” Hanson adds. “I am grateful for the faculty and community support I have received, and I look forward to contributing further to the C-K community."

Prior to enrolling at Chicago-Kent, Hanson owned a hair salon where she would listen to women talk at length about their lives. From the salon chair, her customers would confide in her about safety issues or discrimination they’d experienced on their jobs. As a working single mother, Hanson could relate.

“Listening to their stories wasn’t enough anymore,” Hanson says. “I felt like I could do more than I was doing.”

Upon her acceptance at Chicago-Kent, Hanson immediately focused her energy on employment and labor law. While completing a Justice John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowship and Edward Coles Fellowship with the Illinois Human Rights Commission in the summer of 2021, she notes, “That’s the primary resource you have if you’ve suffered some kind of employment discrimination at the state level. I love the field. The work is so meaningful to me because it affects people’s livelihoods.” 

While there, Hanson worked with the commission’s general counsel’s office, reviewing claims that had been appealed and advising the commission how to vote. She was one of only three to receive either the Stevens Fellowship or Coles Fellowship, and has subsequently made the finalist list for the United States Department of Labor’s Honors Program for law school graduates.

In 2021, Hanson became editor of the Chicago-Kent Law Review; served on the Executive Board of Chicago-Kent’s Student Bar Association; and proved to be a powerful writer.

Hanson won the Mary Rose Strubbe Labor & Employment Writing Prize and placed second in the Louis Jackson Memorial National Student Writing Competition for her paper “Conduct, Causation, and Comparators: Revisiting the Defense of the Equal Opportunity Harasser After Bostock.” The paper explored how a recent U.S. Supreme Court case could weaken a peculiar sexual harassment defense made by “equal opportunity harassers”: employers who, in effect, harass both men and women at work, and thus skirt discrimination-based Title VII harassment claims.

She is currently researching Title IX parental status discrimination and the absence of comprehensive worker bereavement protections in state and federal legislation. 

In addition to her academic work, Hanson started a student organization, Parents and Caregivers at Chicago-Kent, which now has dozens of members, from students caring for grandparents to parenting students like herself. The organization recently ran a clothing, toy, and femine product drive for The Women’s Treatment Center, a Chicago-based social service organization.

Hanson is also co-founding JD & Family, a 501c3 nonprofit that seeks to address the needs of J.D. students with families nationwide, by offering a supportive network and building a scholarship fund. The network will include a listing of local organizations and scholarships, information on Title IX, and other resources.

When Hanson personally reached out to numerous law schools to check on their student-parent organizations, “I found it kind of alarming that most of them had atrophied and died off,” she says. “That doesn’t match up with the data I’m reading on how many mothers are in college right now. I think the reality is just that parenting students just don’t have time.”

A full seventh of Chicago-Kent’s student body are part-time evening students, many of them working parents.

“I see there are places where parenting students need more resources. Sometimes your car breaks down and you need $50. Sometimes these things are addressed with financial aid, and other times they are not,” Hanson adds. “That’s what I hope to address.”

Hanson hopes to continue contributing to the labor and employment field upon graduation.

Born from a family of farmers on one side and trade workers on the other, Hanson is a first-generation college student. She received her Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts from Northern Illinois University in 2018. In addition to her fellowship with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, she completed externships with U.S. District Court Judge John Robert Blakey, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Chicago-Kent’s Plaintiffs Employment Law Clinic.

Photo: Katherine Hanson (LAW 3rd Year) (provided)