For The Record

Photograph by Jamie Betts

When you’re in law school and cramming for your next exam, it’s easy to think of the law as simply text to memorize and cases to analyze. The 40 Years, 40 Faces photo exhibit at the Muse Law Library through the end of 2021 is a compelling reminder of the real people protected by those laws.

Stunning black-and-white portraits by photographer Glen McClure and accompanying text share the diverse stories of 40 clients served by the Virginia Poverty Law Center, a statewide nonprofit that seeks justice in civil legal matters for lower-income Virginians. The center supports Virginia’s nine local legal aid programs and serves as an information clearinghouse on such issues as domestic abuse, elder rights, housing, and education.

The VPLC commissioned the exhibit in 2018 to celebrate its 40th anniversary. As the police killing of George Floyd and similar events in 2020 elevated awareness of social justice issues, Roger Skalbeck, professor and associate dean for library and information services, recognized that the exhibit could engage students in conversations about inclusivity and inequality.

“I wanted to get in front of them the human story about the people they can serve, whether they work for a legal aid organization or engage in pro bono work after joining a tax and accounting firm,” he said.

A quick scan of a QR code reveals the moving story behind each portrait. “In class, students often hear hypothetical cases,” Skalbeck said. “I love this exhibit because this is not a hypothetical; this is real life.”

For example, in the library’s main entrance, students encounter Lisette, who was able to leave her abuser through a VPLC program called Legal Assistance for Victim-Immigrants of Domestic Abuse (LA VIDA). Outside of the career development office, passersby meet Ryan, an autistic eighth-grader who received the resources mandated by his individualized education plan after a legal aid program intervened.

“The exhibit is a reminder that no matter how much society may divide us in regard to economic status or skin color, we are all equal and all human beings,” said Charmaine Nyman, L’22. “Everyone deserves to be treated the same under the law and have equal access to justice.”

If the exhibit serves as a call to action, students can find information about the law school’s family law clinic, children’s defense clinic, and other outreach opportunities in a law-library display case. Said Skalbeck, “We hope students feel inspired to ask, ‘How can I make a difference?’”