At age 13, Josie Gough was arrested while demonstrating for fair housing practices during the 1960s Civil Rights movement. That experience sparked a lifelong desire to help others to fight the good fight. A first-generation college student, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Loyola University Chicago before earning her law degree from Loyola’s School of Law. Today, Gough serves the law school as assistant dean of the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity, and director of experiential learning and professional development. She is a 2016 recipient of the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Justice John Paul Stevens Award and a 2017 recipient of the Chicago Bar Association’s Earl B. Dickerson Award. Here, Gough discusses why she became a lawyer, ways she stays connected during the pandemic, and how she helps create career opportunities for women.
What made you want to go to law school?
I grew up during the Civil Rights movement. When I was in grammar school, my best friend’s father was an attorney. In connection with his work, he would take the two of us to his downtown office, to NAACP meetings all over the state, and to Springfield, where law and policy would be on display. For him, it was the ability to spend time with his daughter, and for me, it was exposure to a world of possibilities.
My best friend and I had our first and last arrest [in 1965] when we were 13 years old, demonstrating in front of City Hall for fair housing at the same time that Dr. King was in the City of Chicago. Thrown into a police wagon and taken to the central district police station at 11th and State Street, where we were then thrown into a cell. This experience is something I will never forget.
I could see myself working as an activist attorney as part of a movement far bigger than me. I knew law school would be the way to do that and change my life in so many ways. After graduating college, I hadn’t quite figured out how I would pay for law school. So that part of the dream was deferred for a few years. I became a high school English teacher. I taught at Chicago Public Schools for 7 years and then decided that I was either going to be three years older with a law degree, or three years older without it. So I quit my job, used my pension, and paid for the first year of law school. And the rest is history.
What are some of the creative ways you’ve maintained relationships during this stay-at-home time?
I serve students by presence and programming. In terms of presence, I make myself available to students 24/7. They count on me to be there for them. Although I am in the office most days, my students are not. I have learned to use technology and not fear it.
I curated a number of programs over the spring and summer semesters, when we were unable to be on campus. This allowed me to stay connected with my students, colleagues, and our legal, cultural, and faith-based community. I featured several of our alums including Romeo Quinto, who is a phenomenal attorney and a key member of our Dean’s Diversity Council…Erika Weaver, a 2017 grad who is running for the 15th congressional district downstate…the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, who led us though a critical discussion on race focusing on the impact of COVID 1619 and COVID-19. A program celebrating Juneteenth was also developed with our community partner, the Chicago History Museum, and Assistant Curator Julius Jones.
Because wellness is so important to our law school community, we convened a program that focused on wellness and how we can all become “agents of healing justice” while taking care of ourselves. This conversation was led by Dr. Candice Norcott. And finally, we took a deep dive into what the legal profession must do to realize real diversity and inclusion. We were able to spend time engaged in conversation with Sandra Yamate and Carla Kupe, experts and visionaries in the pursuit of equity in our profession. Those are examples of programming that I developed that educated us, kept us connected, and hopefully allowed us as a community to focus on the challenges we face each day in the fight for racial justice.
How does Loyola School of Law help create career opportunities for women lawyers?
Our Bridge Program provides opportunities for our students to bridge the gap between graduation, licensing, and employment. I have the honor of taking on a recent graduate who is sitting for the bar in October, a mother of four, who completed law school as a weekend student. I will be working with her on employment, labor issues, diversity, and human resources issues. She will receive practical training from me in these areas as a foundation. She will have the opportunity to work within corporate, government, and law firm environments during this time as well. Her first assignment will be with Major, Lindsey & Africa, Chicago’s premier legal executive search firm in Chicago. Through this experience, she will be able to develop relationships and acquire a level of exposure that will serve her well as an attorney.
I also encourage students to take advantage of the School of Law’s experiential learning opportunities in our clinics, practica, and externship programs. I encourage our students to become members of the various bar associations that will be instrumental in their development as legal professionals during the time that they are in law school.
When I became the director of experiential learning 10 years ago, I saw that we did not have as many corporate opportunities as I would have liked to see available for our students. I made a point of securing additional corporate opportunities through the externship program as a result of strong relationships in the legal community and the support of our alumni family. The first corporate entity I brought in was Wisconsin Energy Group as a result of the relationship I had with my fellow alumna, Greta Weathersby.
I created the D.C. Externship Program six years ago because so many of our students are interested in employment opportunities in D.C. during law school and post-graduation. Another alum, Susan Poll Klaessy, and I team teach the course. As a result of the generosity of Susan’s firm, Foley & Lardner, we are able to hold the classes in their D.C. offices. Nothing that I have accomplished was done alone. It does take a village.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
It’s a 24/7 job. With all of the issues that we, as human beings, are dealing with—it takes a lot out of you to be responsive to our community’s needs in a way that is real. And it’s a responsibility that I take to heart every day. So trying to be of service—and Loyola is known for being of service—is a responsibility that’s personal—and you can’t phone it in.
What do you hope to accomplish over the next 12 months?
My hope in the next year is that those of us who are charged with being responsible with bringing our mission statement to life for the benefit of our students can do it. I hope to be a catalyst for change. In the spirit of John Lewis, to engage in “good trouble” that leads to positive change within the law school and our profession. I want to continue my work in a way that allows our law students to thrive. To feel that they all belong. I want to be a leader within the law school that promotes an anti-racist mission.
Why are you a supporter of the WBAI?
I have been a member since 1984. I have always been able to count on the WBAI to support me as well. I am delighted to see that the WBAI is becoming more diverse in terms of its membership and providing opportunities for women of color to truly have a seat at the table as leaders.