When Laura Graham applied last year to serve as a student officer with the Yemen Accountability Project at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, she wasn’t planning to lead the effort.
But that’s exactly what James Johnson, director of the Henry T. King, Jr. War Crimes Research Office, had in mind for her.
Since then, Graham, now a second-year law student who recently was nominated for National Jurist Magazine‘s law student of the year, has served as executive director of the project. The student-run project aims to document war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Yemeni Civil War on both sides of the conflict. In her role, Graham oversees the project’s divisions and helps lead general body meetings.
“We’re very objective and neutral in our stance, and what we are working to do is to build a body of evidence to help the victims of that conflict and acquire justice at some point,” Graham said.
The project launched in fall 2018, and Graham is proud of the reputation it already has garnered, with new students this year contacting her early on to get involved.
“It was really rewarding to see all of the hard work we put into place last year really come into fruition now, with more people than ever wanting to be a part of it,” Graham said.
But the project wasn’t Graham’s first exposure to the topic of international conflicts. Prior to law school, Graham was an assistant professor of peace and justice studies at Tufts University and an assistant professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin, where her research involved mass atrocity and genocide. But something was lacking. While Graham enjoyed interacting with students, she wanted to make a direct difference in the lives of others. Law school seemed like an ideal path toward that goal.
The international law program’s reputation—No. 19 in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings—drew her to Case Western Reserve School of Law.
She hoped the program would allow her to make an impact—and she feels as though the opportunities she’s been afforded so far have allowed her to do just that.
In addition to her efforts with the Yemen Accountability Project, Graham also spent last summer in The Hague, The Netherlands, working with the International Criminal Court as part of the defense team for Dominic Ongwen, a former child soldier with the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Graham also gained experience with the Jessup Moot Court Team, which won the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition last year. From that experience, Graham learned from others on her team, who all were upperclassmen, and Dean Michael Scharf, who coaches the team.
“The work I was doing before was very academic, and it helps that I had that background because it serves as a context to the work that I’m doing now,” Graham said. “I don’t know that I would be able to do the work in the Yemen Accountability Project or on the Jessup Moot Court team if I hadn’t had that experience.”
Learn more about Graham in this week’s five questions.
1. What’s something you don’t know how to do but would like to learn?
I would really like to learn how to play the guitar. My husband actually has a PhD in guitar performance and he has tried, on multiple occasions, to teach me how to play. Unfortunately, I’m just not very good at it. If I really had the time to devote to it, that’s something I’d like to learn.
2. Who’s the best teacher you’ve ever had?
The person I most admired was Mike Collins, who has since passed away. He was my constitutional law and mock trial teacher at my undergraduate institution—University of Memphis. He was somebody who really just went above and beyond the expectations of a professor to not just teach his students but to identify what he thought were their talents and strengths and encourage them to pursue their passions. I definitely wouldn’t be in law school if weren’t for Mike.
3. Where do you most like to travel?
Anywhere new. I’ve traveled a lot over the years; I’ve been to almost every continent, so I don’t think there’s any one place in particular. I just really like seeing new places, meeting new people and learning about new cultures.
4. If you could go back in time and tell a younger version of yourself something, what would you say?
Don’t count yourself out. I feel like especially young women get messages growing up that maybe a certain area is not their place or that other people are better than them so they shouldn’t go after something, and I think those messages are harmful for women and girls. So if I could tell myself something, it would be to not count yourself out. Go after what you want to do and believe in yourself.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
The people. The campus is beautiful; it’s a great location. But the people make the place. The professors, the students, the staff—everyone here is friendly and genuine and just delightful to be around.