A ‘Conversation With’ Professor Wendy Parker

Photo of Professor Wendy Parker posing with her 1L Fan Club following her recent "Conversation With" event.

Professor Wendy Parker poses with her 1L Fan Club following her recent "Conversation With" event.

Wake Forest Law Professor Wendy Parker’s first-year law students who attended her recent “Conversation With” may have been surprised to find out that their professor got “kicked out” of honors courses while attending high school in her home state of Texas.  But it no doubt came as no surprise that she went to law school because she thought it would help her make the world a better place

That was just one of the little known facts about  Parker that she shared with a crowd including her husband, students, and colleagues as part of the “Conversation With” series on Wednesday, March 6.

Born and raised in Dallas,  Professor Parker talked about her love for the Lone Star state and her childhood years growing up there. “Texas was a place of opportunity. For me Texas has big sky and Texas allowed you to have a big personality… and be who you wanted to be. I loved growing up in Texas.”

Parker reminisced about attending the only high school in Denton , a suburb of Dallas, and not being the “best student” in the high school. Smiling at the memory, Parker  joked about being “kicked out” of the honors courses. However, her academic standing in high school certainly did not limit her future.

She attended the University of Texas where she earned a bachelor’s of arts in history with high honors. Upon graduation, she attended University of Texas Law School. “It never crossed my mind to go anywhere but the University of Texas,” she said.

Parker, while having some doubts once enrolled in law school, admitted that it “was really a special experience.” She talked about some challenges she faced in law school, but ultimately admitted, “I love the law and I loved the law from first blush.

“I wanted to go save the world. I knew I wanted to do civil rights. I went to law school with the idea that I could help make Texas or our country a better place, and I thought the law would be an effective way to do that.”

In high school, she said she noticed the segregation between races, and found it odd. “I thought of the law as a way to effectuate change, and so that’s why I went to law school.”

Before practicing law, Parker served as a judicial law clerk for Judge Jerre S. Williams of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Parker spoke very highly about her clerkship and the skills she learned, such as writing, and she highly recommended clerking to all law students.

Before teaching, she litigated school desegregation cases as a Skadden Arps Fellow, a staff attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. Her persistent nature landed her both jobs and the fellowship.

“It matters what your first job is, so don’t sell yourself short, it’s not just going to magically happen to you so be very intentional about it and where you want to start your legal career,” she told students. “I do hope you all get your dream job.”

Parker is a nationally recognized scholar in the area of civil rights remedies. Her research has been published by the Northwestern University Law Review, Texas Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, North Carolina Law Review, and Washington University Law Review, among others.  She has been quoted by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Associated Press.

She met her husband, Max, while working in Washington, D.C., and shortly after they got married in Texas. She has two children, Austin and Zoe. She told a story about bringing dirt from both her and Max’s birth states to both of their children’s births so they could be born over Texas and Virginia soil, respectively.

Parker joined the Wake Forest faculty in 2003 from the University Of Cincinnati College Of Law, where she twice won the Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

“When I started at Wake Forest I felt like everyone had my back,” she said. “Everyone wanted me to succeed and it felt like a really special place to be.”

Parker said she uses the feelings she had as a law student to give her inspiration as a professor.

Referring to a group of her first-year law students who wore matching “Wendy Parker Fan Club” shirts to the “Conversation With,” she added, “I do hope to give all of my students the opportunity not only to wear a smart shirt, but to be their smart selves because I know it is in all of you just waiting to come out.”