The first time someone approached Janet Gauvin in the grocery store and asked, “Where did you adopt your children from?” she wrote it off as a single impolite moment on an otherwise normal day.
Then one day, browsing the aisles with her two sons — who are not adopted — she had a far more jarring encounter.
“You know you can get a lotion that will lighten their skin,” said the fellow shopper.
Gauvin had never been naïve about how groups of people are sometimes treated differently than others. However, when she became the mother of two biracial sons and started seeing those biases affect her own family, her awareness went much deeper.
She knew it wouldn’t be enough to merely get offended about it, because that really wouldn’t solve anything anyway. Instead, she decided to do something about it.
“Privileged” is the word Gauvin uses to describe her upbringing in Nevada. When she came to BYU as a freshman, her broadcast journalism major gave her a glimpse at how society could sometimes be unfair to people — minorities and the poor in particular.
“I would go interview people or watch the news,” she said. “A lot of times, I would see people get depicted in an unfavorable light. Seeing that made me think, ‘I want to help people who are being depicted that way.’”
While she was in school, she met and married a man from Haiti, and they had two sons together. Over the years she has witnessed prejudice against her family. One day, while Gauvin was playing at the park with her sons when someone yelled a racial slur from a passing car. One evening, the police were called because her husband was simply walking through their neighborhood.
“It’s been a different experience that has made me realize not everyone has it so easy,” she said. “It’s given me a unique perspective and a hyper-awareness of all the issues surrounding privilege, discrimination and the legal system.”
Charting a New Course
Gauvin began considering law school while wrapping up her undergraduate degree. However, she put her law school plans on hold to take a family-friendly job in search engine optimization.
Yet with each unfortunate encounter from an inconsiderate stranger, it became clearer to Gauvin that she needed to do something — for her sons and for anyone else facing discrimination.
“That changed my whole perspective on what I had the opportunity to do,” she said. “I realized what I wanted to do with my law degree. I wanted to do something for the public interest, to provide counsel to minorities and people in poverty who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to get fair representation.”
About three years after graduation, she applied and was accepted to several law schools, including BYU — which had even offered her a scholarship — but she and her husband decided to head to a school in Georgia.
Then, just months before classes started, Gauvin’s marriage unraveled. She found herself raising her two children alone.
“I didn’t want to move out of the place where my kids were going to school,” she said. “So I contacted Dean Sorenson at the BYU Law School and asked her if the scholarship offer was still available.”
Fortunately, it was.
“If that hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t be in law school at all — I don’t know how it all would’ve worked out,” she said. “As a law student, things are hard and stressful enough as is. I know I’m not going to make a ton of money with the type of law I’m going to practice, so getting that much less into debt now is such a blessing. It’s one less thing to worry about.”
The Balancing Act of the Single Parent
When most other students head to the library or back to their apartments after a full day of classes, Gauvin picks up her two boys from day care. In the next four hours Gauvin and her boys eat dinner, play and read together. After she puts them to bed, she cracks open her textbooks and spend time studying.
No matter how difficult her assignments may be or how much homework she brings home, Gauvin has two powerful, motivating reminders waiting for her every day: her sons. For Gauvin, there couldn’t be a clearer or more urgent drive toward making the world a better place.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to be at BYU Law School,” Gauvin said. “I hope that I can give back by serving my community while in school and once I graduate.”
Writer: Michael Sackley