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Faculty Profile: Tonya Kowalski

Students and faculty work together to expose others to the needs of Native American communities

Lanna Allen and Tonya Kowalksi

(From left) Lanna Allen, Candidate '20, and Professor Tonya Kowalski recruit members to the Native American Law Student Association during the fall Opportunity Fair

From the School of Law Alumni Newsletter - Fall 2019

Exposing students to Native American legal issues is the goal of the re-activated Washburn University School of Law Native American Law Student Association and its organizers.

Tonya Kowalski, professor of law, is advising the organization and teaches two courses, Tribal Law and Government and the International Law of Indigenous Peoples, for Washburn.

“The lawyers we are training need to have exposure to these issues because they can do harm without even realizing it,” Kowalski said. “Like so many marginalized communities, we are often blind to the Native American people who are right here in Topeka and to their communities in our region. It’s one of the areas of law that touches everything else, from family law to business transactions.”

Lanna Allen, a 3L law student and president of the organization, is focused on organizing the activities for the organization, including teaming up with the Federal Bar Association to try and bring tribal judges to campus. They are also planning on a film series in conjunction with the International and Comparative Law Center and hosting Blake Follis, ’13, the first law school graduate and first attorney general of the Modoc Nation, as a speaker. Allen came up with the idea for reactivating the student organization after meeting a student with significant ties to the Native American community and knowing many other students also had an interest.

Allen, who hopes to work on federal Indian law and natural resources law in the future, hopes some of the experiences will be life-changing or career-changing for students.

“I didn’t want other students to be cheated out of the experience of a local NALSA chapter, and our student organizations are very well supported,” Allen said. “I knew from the faculty they would be very encouraging and supportive to help attract good speakers and events.”

Kowalski believes the importance of having a student organization like this is multilayered. Affinity groups such as NALSA can help students to find community, support, and networking connections. They also signal to new students that they are very much welcome and wanted here at Washburn Law.

“Student organizations also play a role in helping to build an ethos of giving back to the community, doing pro bono work, and raising money for charitable causes or student activities.” Kowalski said.

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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483