As the newly appointed co-dean of Rutgers Law School in Camden, Kimberly Mutcherson’s goals include imbuing in each student a sense of how the law can improve people’s lives.
As the first black lesbian to be named co-dean, Mutcherson said her academic work advocating for reproductive justice and equality will continue alongside her high-profile position.
“I’m a social justice person,” she said. “I will continue to be a social justice person.”
Mutcherson began her career as a public-interest lawyer and then moved into academia where she writes on bioethics and reproductive justice, a term coined in the 1990s by women of color who wanted to expand the debate around procreation beyond abortion. Who gets to be a parent? Who gets to have a family? Poor people, people of color and LGBTQ people (and any combination thereof) are often marginalized within the current framework, Mutcherson said. Assisted reproduction is costly and often not covered by health insurance. LGBTQ people in particular can face discrimination when doctors tell them they only help the medically infertile, not the “socially infertile.”
If two men want to hire a surrogate in order to bring a child into the family, Mutcherson pointed out some of the legal questions around it: “What are the laws in your particular jurisdiction? Is it even legal for you to have an arrangement like that?”
These are some of the ways in which LGBTQ people who build families are subjected to levels of public scrutiny that aren’t necessarily true for other people, Mutcherson said. “So that’s the stuff that’s interesting for me, in large part because who you marry, who you fall in love with — these deeply personal parts of people’s lives for many of us become very public because of the ways in which we have to go about the process of building our families.”
Mutcherson has personal experience with some of the topics she covers in her scholarship. She has two children, ages 13 and 10. How did her work overlap with creating her own family?
“I was very cognizant of how critical it was for my then-partner and I to make sure that our children were legally linked to both of us even though they are genetically linked to only one of us,” she said. “Post-marriage equality, too many LGBT people make the mistake of believing that marriage solves all of the problems of family formation.” The laws about families created with assisted reproduction vary from state to state. “Therefore, it’s vital that people consult with a lawyer who is well-versed in LGBT family law issues before they bring children into their families.”
Mutcherson sums up her work as a message to recognize “how the law treats families and that our fundamental ways of deciding who gets to have a family are ways of deciding who is worthy.’”
The chancellor of appointment of Rutgers University-Camden applauded the selection of Mutcherson as co-dean. “What makes her truly remarkable is how she instinctively develops opportunities to help our students learn and grow,” Phoebe A. Haddon told PGN.
Mutcherson is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who got her law degree from Columbia Law School. She wanted to use the law to “dismantle systemic ways in which people are disadvantaged in this country, whether it’s sexual orientation or gender identity or race or immigration status — I don’t really care what the impetus is, I just want us to be better about how we treat people.”
Her lived experience as black gay woman is a part of what she brings to her advocacy, but there’s more. “It’s also just a really ingrained sense of justice and of what this country’s potential is and that’s what I keep coming back to,” she said.
“I think what’s really exciting about being an American is thinking about how to make this country live up to its promises and that’s what I’m trying to do.”