She’s a Lawyer, Advocate, Author & Educator. Meet Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College Law Professor, Valena Beety.

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Professor Valena Elizabeth Beety is Professor of Law at Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Deputy Director of the Academy for Justice, a criminal justice center connecting research with policy reform.

Q: What inspired you to become an Author? Can you tell us about your book, The Wrongful Convictions Reader?
VB:
I’ve always written, since I was a kid. The Wrongful Convictions Reader is meant as a teaching tool about causes of wrongful convictions. Each chapter is a different cause – mistaken eyewitness identification, interrogations and false confessions, and false forensic evidence are just a few examples. Next year I’m publishing my first popular press book called Manifesting Justice: Wrongly Convicted Women Reclaim Their Rights. It’s about two of my clients who were wrongly convicted of a crime that never occurred because of bogus bite mark evidence, homophobia, and sexism. Through their stories and others, I question the history of racism and sexism in our detention systems, from hospitals to prisons, and advocate for convictions to be reversed that are manifestly unjust.

Q: Your Founding Director of the West Virginia Innocence Project. Can you share with our audience more about it?
VB:
After practicing as a federal prosecutor, and then an innocence lawyer in Mississippi, I was excited and honored to move to West Virginia and found the West Virginia Innocence Project. It’s a project at a law school, which means it has a lot of law students working on cases as well as volunteer attorneys. Freeing wrongfully convicted people through the teamwork at WVIP has been the most meaningful work in my life. 

Q: Which courses of law do you teach?
VB:
I generally teach courses related to the criminal legal system: Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Prisons and Civil Rights, Wrongful Convictions, Forensic Justice. I’ve also recently started teaching a course on Women, Gender, and the Law. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about your career as a Law Professor?
VB:
I most enjoy connecting with my law students and watching their lives transform through earning a law degree. They work so hard, and I am very proud of them.  

Q: Why did you decide to go into law?
VB:
I went to law school because I served as a Rape Victim Advocate in the city of Chicago, and I wanted to prosecute people who caused harm. Once I became a federal prosecutor and got my dream job – prosecuting domestic violence and sexual violence in D.C. – I realized prosecutions and prisons don’t necessarily make these problems any better. When I got a call about a job at the innocence project in Mississippi, I jumped at the chance.  

Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue a career as an Attorney?
VB:
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, or that you have to choose between family and law school. Women are more likely to experience imposter syndrome, and openly question whether they are a right fit for law school, or whether they are qualified enough. You are!! And you can do it. 

Q: Can you tell our audience one of your most memorable moments your career?
VB:
My most memorable moment was watching my first two clients walk out of prison, finally free after ten years incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit. I was at the jail with their families and with all the students and attorneys who had worked on their cases. Finally, they were going home. Just seeing them able to hug their families and friends, put on civilian clothes, and step outside to see the sunset, the sunrise, things they hadn’t experienced in ten years – that has been my most memorable moment.

Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
VB:
Be true to yourself and figure out what is rewarding and valuable work for you. I was convinced I wanted to be a prosecutor, and then when I had the job, I realized it was not a good fit for me. I had to listen to myself in order to be open to other job opportunities, and my work path has been quite different from what I thought it would be when I graduated from law school. It has actually been far more interesting and rewarding then I ever would have planned.

Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
VB:
I frequently see my students under-selling themselves, or starting out an interview or cover letter with “I know I’m not a perfect fit for this job…” They’re giving the employer a reason not to hire them, an out. And then when they don’t get the job, that reinforces the false belief that they’re not good enough for the position. You are good enough, you have unique qualities and attributes to bring to a position, and you deserve to convey that to an employer.  

Q: After high school, where did you feel your career path would take you?  
VB:
I was going to college, where I thought I’d learn different languages and read and compare literature in those languages. I was very heady. And I ended up majoring in something totally different – anthropology, a study of cultures. One of the best things I did for myself was after graduating from college I taught English in a rural high school in France, and then in the summer when the students were out, I worked on organic farms in France as a WWOOFer (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). It truly opened up my world, and what I thought I was good at.  

Seven Things About Valena Beety

1. What's your favorite family tradition? 
Having dinner together.

2. Who is the most fascinating person you’ve ever met? 
John Thompson, an exoneree who founded Resurrection after Exoneration to support other exonerees.

3. What was the last book you really got into? 
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

4. What’s the most amazing adventures have you’ve ever been on? 
Hiking down into the Grand Canyon and back out again in one day. Love living in Arizona!

5. Who is your favorite author? 
bell hooks 

6. Best and worst flavor ice cream? 
Best – Cherry Pistachio. Worst – Butter Pecan.

7. Are you a morning person or a night owl? 
Morning person, definitely!  

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