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Laying Down the Law at Harvard


Graduating with a liberal arts degree and a minor in pre-law from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in 2010, Karissa Sauder wanted to challenge herself in the legal field but maintain a foundation of peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

She found that unique blend at Harvard.

“Harvard Law School has a growing commitment to public interest work and alternative dispute resolution,” said Sauder, a first-year law student. “I just started working as an intern for the Program on Negotiation where I’ve connected with other people who also care about peacebuilding, restorative justice and conflict resolution.”

A foundation of law…

Sauder was drawn to the pre-law minor at EMU as a freshman because it encouraged her to challenge preconceived assumptions and “look at creative ways the law can build peace and resolve conflicts.”

“I learned to think through multiple sides of issues, appreciate questions and stop seeing the world in black and white,” said Sauder. “I was worried law school would ruin that important transformation but I’ve realized that law is full of ambiguities and recognizing them is critical.”

Dan Wessner, a former history professor at EMU, initiated the pre-law minor in 2005. Sauder credits Wessner with preparing her for the challenges of law school. “As a lawyer, he taught me how to write more concisely and argue thoughtfully and effectively.”

In addition to Wessner’s classes, Sauder appreciated her pre-law capstone class taught by Marshall Yoder, a Harrisonburg attorney who holds an MA from EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP). She believes the time spent discussing multiple sides of a case and reading legal theories helped her mind transition to think “like a lawyer.”

“Our time spent in personal reflection and analysis gave me an opportunity to consider the type of person I want to be in my legal career,” said Sauder. “I have continued to apply what I learned about myself in that class at Harvard.”

In addition to Wessner, Sauder points to Judy Mullet, Mark Metzler Sawin and to colleagues in Sawin’s history department with influencing her path to Harvard.

“The pre-law classes in peacebuilding, theology, ethics, business and philosophy showed what a unique and well-rounded program EMU has,” said Sauder. “I loved how inter-disciplinary the pre-law minor was…It helped me to see the connections and consider the law in both broad and narrow contexts.”

…rooted in peace

Harvard Law groups incoming students into sections where they maintain the same class schedule with other students. Sauder enjoys the camaraderie and small community feel of her section which has softened her transition from a smaller campus.

“I’ve found a number of others who connect with Mennonite values including a student who studied under John Paul Lederach (founding director ofCJP) at Notre Dame,” said Sauder. “I’m excited about the vibrant community here that’s passionate about social change and justice issues.”

As the newness of the semester has worn off, Sauder is looking forward to continued dialogue with her peers on social justice and peacebuilding.

“I’ve really enjoyed sharing about my unique experiences at EMU and the values I developed there.”

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