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Get Lost

Enchantingly adrift, exploration intensifies

I grew up in New York City, always looking for forests to get lost in. 

There was nothing more thrilling than losing the horizon of high-rises as I ducked deeper into thick brambles of off-trail Central Park or, even better, the woodsier Van Cortlandt Park. I craved solitude and the excitement of wandering.

My first fall at Swarthmore, it took me just a few runs with the cross country team to learn the entirety of the Crum, so I went in search of more exotic and far-flung woods beyond campus. With the help of a very early beta version of Google Maps, I could identify streams and green spaces that might be the kinds of wooded land where a person could remain in semi-wilderness.

I cobbled together 8- and then 12-mile unpaved runs on interconnected parkland (and through backyards, over hoppable fences, and along railroad tracks and river beds) that looped away from and returned to campus. Some teammates, among them my future husband, gamely accompanied me on these misadventures. We often arrived back with scars from stinging nettles and thorns and bushwacking, or chastened by property owners, well after dark, and after Sharples had closed.

In class I found myself enchantingly adrift, as well. I was an English major with a history minor, and my search for narrative unity and historical perspective often seemed intentionally unmoored. I wandered with Leopold Bloom through his endless postmodern day, or waded through the strange landscape of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County (in Professor Philip Weinstein’s glorious courses). I attempted to decode American history by immersion in scholars’ intricate analyses of Black communities and kinship networks in exotic cities like Cincinnati and Buffalo (in Professor Allison Dorsey’s dynamic seminars). Revelation in either discipline was only possible after these baptisms.

My need to explore has only intensified, and it is not coincidental that much of my professional work has been in places far from typical destinations for liberal arts graduates. I teach at NYU Law School (pretty typical destination), but I also still practice law.

Among my clients are the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. The work I do for these tribes takes place in a town that has been calculated as the literal “middle of nowhere” of the United States, more isolated than any other town in the nation. I first saw this region of the country when I graduated from Swarthmore and my husband and I drove with a fellow Swattie and his old textbooks and bike gear back to his home in Nevada. I was captivated by the prairie and high plains, wondering what life was like for teenagers there, what kids did after school, how the light filtered into their farmhouses as the sun set endlessly over the long horizon.

My work in eastern Montana and in prisons in rural southern Illinois and northern New York enable me to take adventures in places that fascinate and educate me—and where I also witness injustice that outrages me. I bring students with me to these places so that they, too, can learn from local wisdom and get lost with me.

We’ve been buried under hundreds of letters of client mail from prisons and conducted dozens of interviews with young people facing discrimination at rural school districts, and we are deeply immersed in myriad stories. Sometimes I feel as though we are drowning. But we dig ourselves out with broad policy reforms and impact litigation informed by the voices of those we serve and advocate for, made all the better for having been lost among them.