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With “A Marriage Between Everything I Learned in Both My Majors,” Kayla Richardson ’24 Embarks on a Career in Constitutional Law

With “A Marriage Between Everything I Learned in Both My Majors,” Kayla Richardson ’24 Embarks on a Career in Constitutional Law

Academics, Diversity and Inclusivity, Internships, Research, Testimonials

May 22, 2024

With “A Marriage Between Everything I Learned in Both My Majors,” Kayla Richardson ’24 Embarks on a Career in Constitutional Law Kayla Richardson '24

Kayla Richardson ’24 believes that the two majors she quickly declared after arriving at Ƶ have given her the best possible preparation for a legal career.

“Political science was my first love, but then I fell in love with sociology, and those two have absolutely worked together,” she explains. “The route I took within political science confirmed that I want to go to law school, while sociology influences the way I view my political science major and how I’m able to look at the law. It’s very important that I was able to do those two majors in tandem because once I go to law school and then enter the legal profession, I will have that sociological background to back me up.”

Richardson has completed some impressive research initiatives in her undergraduate career that underscore how her majors have complemented one another. As a rising sophomore, she was selected for Ƶ’ Summer Fellowship Program. She collaborated with John P. Wheeler Professor of Political Science Edward Lynch on examining Catholic social thought and free market theory. Richardson and Lynch’s study resulted in a paper that they presented at the annual conference of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists in the fall of 2021.

“That was a very big moment for me, research-wise,” she says. “I have taken the skills I learned there and utilized them in other projects.”

During her sophomore year for a course on Critical Race Theory, Richardson looked into the motivations behind code-switching, the process of shifting from one language or dialect to another. Specifically, she was interested in the reasons why people may change from African American Vernacular English (AAVE for short) to standard American English, and vice versa. “It was so different from that first big research project I did through the Summer Fellowship Program, and I would say that if anything, the blending of my political science and sociology courses led me in that direction.”

The summer before her junior year, Richardson was selected as part of the inaugural cohort for the University of Virginia’s , a program held over two summers that supports undergraduates from every background who aspire to careers in the legal profession.

“The first summer was focused on giving us experience,” she says. “We took legal courses in 18 different disciplines, and we got to see what it’s really like in law school. It was a fantastic experience and there were so many interesting things that we learned. It further solidified that I wanted to go to law school.”

 The program also sparked Richardson’s fascination with the many facets of interpreting and applying constitutional law. “We took classes with the dean of the law school at the time, an amazing, brilliant woman who made me think about court cases in a way that I had not thought of before. It was something that I really appreciated and took with me when I came back to Ƶ.”

In her second summer with the Roadmap program, preceding her senior year at Ƶ, Richardson interned in Richmond with Dominion Energy. She and a fellow member of her cohort were the first undergraduate students to work with Dominion’s legal team, and they got to do everything from attending court depositions to sitting in on contract negotiations.

“We were assigned mentors, and we got a crash course not only in what it’s like to be a lawyer but also what’s happening in the field of energy. I learned so much that I did not know before.”

Richardson says she is passionate about constitutional law “because I want to change it.” That sense of purpose informs her senior thesis, which Ruth Alden Doan Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio says “offers a new, intersectional, and powerfully important vantage of U.S. jurisprudence.”

Describing her thesis as “a kind of marriage between everything I learned in both of my majors,” Richardson explores the and argues that the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation needs to be more intersectional for queer Black women. “I researched queer Black women not just because I am one, but also because I believe this demographic is best for seeking a bottom-up approach as described by the ,” she explains, noting that she learned about through her sociology courses and her work with former Assistant Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies Courtney Chenette.

Richardson covered a lot of the readings for her thesis last summer and says she was ready to “hit the ground running once I got back to school in the fall. Almost every court case that’s in my thesis was one that I already knew about from my political science courses that I was taking with an emphasis on the law. That gave me the confidence and knowledge I needed to discuss those cases.” and served as Richardson’s two theoretical frameworks.

Richardson plans to take two gap years, one to “catch my breath” and the other work on law school applications. “I’d also like the opportunity to enter the workforce,” she says. “I absolutely poured myself into my academics and have made myself the strongest student I can be, but I haven’t had the chance to go and work at a job. So, I want to do that before I go back into the three most rigorous academic years that I will have.”

Richardson is a member of Pi Sigma Alpha (the national political science honor society) and Omicron Delta Kappa (the national leadership honor society), and in her junior year was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. At Ƶ’ 47th Honors Convocation this spring, she received the Pi Sigma Alpha Award, which is given to the senior with the highest grade point average in courses taken in political science.

Applauding her professors from throughout her Ƶ career (especially Florio, Chenette, Assistant Professor of Global Politics and Societies Ashleigh Breske, and former Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Turner), Richardson says, “They are all amazing and all incredibly smart. I’m definitely nervous about my next steps, but they have all worked to assure me that everything will work out okay.”