A SEAT AT THE BENCH

story by GABBY WILSON photos by VERONICA TEETER

Ashlee Gilbert watched as her mock trial teammates received criticism from their adviser. He saved Gilbert, the only woman on WKU’s team, for last.

“You have the most potential out of anyone in this room, but I don’t like your tone,” he told her. “I think you’re too assertive, and I think that’s something you could work on.”

This was the first time someone had commented on the way Gilbert presented herself in the courtroom, she said.

Gilbert, a criminology senior from Auburn, Kentucky, said her goal is to go to law school, become a defense attorney and, eventually, a prosecutor.

Women make up more than 50% of the U.S. workforce, according to a 2014 report by the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor.

However, the same report shows that women represent less than 20% of patrol officers, first-line police supervisors and information security analysts. Likewise, they represent less than 25% of security guards, detectives and criminal investigators. Women represent 37.4% of lawyers in the criminal justice field, according to a 2020 report from the Statista Research Department.

Gilbert sees being a woman in the criminal justice field as an opportunity to disprove certain stereotypes. She said she strives to be successful in a field that can sometimes forget about women.

“There are certain stereotypes that women can’t be dominant, can’t be assertive and can’t perform in some of the ways that men can,” Gilbert said. “I think a natural challenge will be to prove those stereotypes wrong.”

She currently works as a peer mentor in WKU’s department of criminology and sociology, captains WKU’s mock trial team and works at a prosecutor’s office in Bowling Green, shadowing attorney Elizabeth Teel.

Gilbert said working with Teel allows her to witness courtroom proceedings like divorce hearings and jail arraignments.

"There are certain stereotypes that women can’t be dominant, can’t be assertive and can’t perform in some of the ways that men can, I think a natural challenge will be to prove those stereotypes wrong.”

-Ashlee Gilbert

Ashlee Gilbert is a sociology & criminology peer mentor, a member of the Sociology & Criminology Club, and a part of WKU's Mock Trial team. “I joined Mock Trial my sophomore year of college," Gilbert said. "I want to be a lawyer, so I had a few connections of people that were on the team, and they told me about it and thought that I might be a good fit, so I did it.”

Nashville sophomore Chanell Ellis is taking a different approach to entering this male dominated field.

With a double major in criminology and psychology, Ellis said she is still trying to figure out what exactly she wants to do and is letting her classes and work experiences guide her.

“I have always been interested in the way that the mind of a criminal works,” she said “I think that working in the behavioral analysis field would be so beneficial for me, and I think I would really enjoy it.”

Ellis is hoping to land a summer internship that provides her with firsthand experience in her desired career. Her passion for criminal justice was sparked in a way similar to Gilbert’s, both being avid fans of the crime drama “Criminal Minds.”

“I have always been intrigued by serial killers and how their minds work and to fully understand them,” she said.

While she shares the sentiment with Gilbert that being a woman in criminal justice provides opportunities, Ellis said she brings a different perspective to the table and wants to show that people don’t always have to be dominant or assertive in the field.

Ellis also encouraged women to keep their determination and to chase what they want.

“The world is so capable of change, and it’s needed,” Ellis said. “Don’t let social norms scare you, and pave your own path in this field. Look for inspiration in other women in the field, and then strive to be that kind of inspiration for other women later.”

Women lawyers make up 38% of all lawyers in the U.S. according to a 2018 report by the United States Census Bureau.

Teel said that she has only worked for male attorneys in her career.

“However, office staff in legal offices are predominantly female,” she said. “I have worked with some excellent legal secretaries, paralegals and clerks who have taught me so much about the practical aspects of the legal field. Now as a female supervisor in my job, I have so much respect for our female employees who work hard to make sure I, as an attorney, can be successful.”

Nashville sophomore Chanell Ellis stands in a Grise Hall classroom on March 17. "I think being a peer mentor has taught me a lot of life and networking skills," Ellis said. "You have to organize events and sometimes that means reaching out to people to get them to speak at the event."

Teel said there were times where she felt that her gender demanded her to go further to prove herself , but that her perseverance and interactions with other female co-workers are what kept her going forward.

“I look forward to continuing to work for my community in prosecuting criminal cases and bringing justice for those who have been victimized by the actions of others,” Teel said. “I also plan to continue my work advocating for and advising the cities I represent in Logan County to help them continue to grow and be successful.”

Teel said  being a wife and mother of two has also inspired her as she hopes to teach her daughter that you can have both the job of their dreams and the family life they want. It’s all about balance, she said.

“Work hard. Always fight for the truth, and you will earn the respect of others.” she said.

Auburn, Ky., and sociology & criminology senior Ashlee Gilbert meets with the the mock trial team on March 19 in Grise Hall. “It’s taught me a lot of really good traits — how to be a really good leader, how to public speak, and how to think about things critically.” Gilbert said, "I’ve been exposed to objections, I’ve had experience working with other attorneys on a team, and thinking about things logically, and being able to stand up in front of a group of people and communicate my ideas effectively. I think I’ve learned a lot of those skills that I know I will use in the future.”
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