Sandra Park ’02, Law Women’s Alumna of the Year, discusses her work advancing gender justice

NYU Law Women honored Sandra Park ’02 with the group’s Alumna of the Year Award in a February 22 event in Lipton Hall. Last fall Park was named chief of the Civil Rights Bureau at the Office of the New York State Attorney General. Her work to advance gender equality and fight discrimination against victims of domestic violence has spanned more than two decades, through previous positions at the Legal Aid Society and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sandra Park
Sandra Park ’02

Law Women co-presidents Olivia Thompson ’25 and Emily Yan ’25, as well as Dean Troy McKenzie ’00 welcomed attendees and spoke about how Park’s work aligns with Law Women’s commitment to proactive advocacy and community building. 

Park described her decision to transfer to NYU Law after one year at another law school: “I wanted to move somewhere with a significant social justice community as well as a loan forgiveness program that would allow me to go into public interest work right after I graduated,” she said. “And I found both of those at NYU.”

She entered law school with a specific interest in gender justice advocacy, particularly the rights of survivors of gender-based bias, Park said. “It was here that I first really developed a deeper understanding of how attorneys, particularly, can advocate for women and girls and gender equity more broadly, from almost any area of law,” she said. In the Immigrant Rights Clinic and Comparative Criminal Justice Clinic, she explored how different legal responses and policies can impact women and girls, particularly people of color. 

These experiences inspired her to successfully apply for a Skadden Fellowship that allowed her to work at the Legal Aid Society after graduation. There she created a project aimed at providing legal services to immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, whose legal needs included immigration, family law, public benefits, and housing issues, as well as assistance with interactions with the criminal legal system, Park said. After her fellowship, Park spent two more years as staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society. 

In 2007, classmate Claudia Flores ’02 reached out to Park to suggest that she apply for a job at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)’s Women's Rights Project, where Flores worked. “[The ACLU] really hadn’t done a lot of gender-based violence work, and I was curious about what the possibilities were,” explained Park. She ended up working at the ACLU for 16 years.

“I found that [the issue of] women's rights touches on so many areas of law. One of my primary goals at the ACLU was to build up our housing justice advocacy on behalf of women and girls,” Park said, noting that the efforts of fair housing advocacy groups, women’s rights groups, and advocates for domestic violence survivors had been siloed in the past.

“We were successful in litigating the first cases that recognized housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence as a form of sex discrimination under our civil rights laws,” Park said, “as well as the first cases challenging local laws that threatened to evict survivors for seeking police assistance or because of criminal activity occurring at their homes.”

Park and others used those litigation successes to advocate for legislation in numerous states, including New York, and at the federal level through the Violence Against Women Act. She also served as counsel on the ACLU’s successful US Supreme Court challenge to human gene patents in a case that centered on genes involving breast and ovarian cancer risk—the first and only patent case the ACLU has ever tried, Park said. 

“One message I want to send tonight for law students and others interested in gender justice is that there are always opportunities to advocate for women's rights and broader gender justice—whether you're doing eviction, defense, criminal law, corporate work, working for the government, and even within patent law,” Park said.

Watch Sandra Park’s remarks at Law Women’s alumnae reception:

Posted on March 20, 2024