Georgia State Law professor Tanya Washington is a fourth-generation educator. Growing up in Washington, D.C., she recalls receiving a chalkboard for Christmas at the age of 10 and playing teacher with her dolls and little brother. The call to teach met her commitment to justice in the sixth grade following a debate assignment, and her path was set.
She earned her law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law. After graduation, she clerked for the Maryland Court of Appeals, worked as a toxic tort litigator at Piper and Marbury and completed two fellowships at Harvard Law School in criminal and social justice before earning her LL.M. from Harvard Law School.
Washington returned to original passion: the classroom. She has been on the College of Law faculty for 17 years where she teaches Civil Procedure, Education Law, Family Law and Race, Ethnicity & the Law.
“I enjoy planting seeds and watching them grow flowers and forests,” Washington says. “I feel that way about all of my students.”
Her dedication to student success does not end in the classroom. She is on the board of Freedom University, a university for undocumented students. Washington helped draft Georgia State University’s policy against racial harassment. She is also the faculty advisor for the Family Law Society, the Family Law Weltner Inn of Court and the Ronald J. Freeman Chapter of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA).
Her relationship with her students does not end at graduation. Several years ago, she hosted study sessions in her home for eight graduates who hadn’t passed the bar. After those sessions, they all passed.
“Our students are scrappy and smart,” she says. “They have the audacity to believe that they can change the world and I want to encourage them in that belief. I am preparing all of my students to be responsible power brokers.”
Washington’s drive for helping the underdog spreads into her scholarship and into her community. Her co-authored amicus brief was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark marriage equality decision. Her grandmother’s cardigan hanging on the back of her office chair is adorned with pins featuring civil rights activists and statements against hate and racism.
Her current research focuses on gentrification and “displacement patterns that are harming black and brown people and communities.” It’s inspired by her own experience in litigation after losing title to her home by eminent domain.
Washington says that the experience has inspired a deeper appreciation for how community activism, engagement and understanding the law helps people advocate for themselves.
“I hope to inspire my students to help empower communities by sharing their understanding of the law,” said Washington. “This kind of lawyering will have long lasting effects.”
This is the kind of justice Washington wants to inspire her students to pursue. Putting the law to work for people is at the core of her work as a teacher, scholar and community member.