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Alumna, MacArthur 'genius' to join KU faculty

Thursday, April 13, 2017

LAWRENCE – Sarah Deer holds many titles, including MacArthur “genius” Fellow, law professor, victims’ advocate and Jayhawk alumna. She’ll soon add a new one: University of Kansas professor.

Starting in fall 2017, Deer will join the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies and the School of Public Affairs & Administration in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences as a professor. She is known nationally for her scholarship and advocacy regarding sexual violence targeting Native women.

“Sarah Deer is an exceptional scholar who brings an abundance of knowledge and experience in a critical area of research. I am thrilled she has chosen to return to KU and share her expertise with fellow Jayhawks. The possibilities for collaboration with colleagues and student researchers are exciting,” said Carl Lejuez, dean of the College.

A national leader in the effort to protect Native women from gender violence, Deer is currently a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. She was recognized in 2014 as a MacArthur Fellow.

In her scholarship, Deer has documented a history of inadequate protection for victims of physical and sexual abuse in Indian country. Deer has simultaneously worked with grassroots and national organizations to reform federal policies that hinder the ability of tribes to prosecute offenders. Her efforts were instrumental in the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The joint appointment in women, gender & sexuality studies and public affairs & administration reflects intersections in Deer’s work. She sees many opportunities for collaboration with faculty and students across disciplines.

“I have dedicated my career to making the law work for victims of crime. My scholarship investigates ways to improve government policies to address violence against Native women. I am excited to work with my new colleagues in these two academic units to develop ways to better architect government services so that they address the needs of all members of our community,” Deer said. “Helping pass the federal Tribal Law and Order Act was a great learning experience for me, and I hope to share with my students the insights I have gained.”

Returning to KU is a homecoming in many ways for Deer. Her parents both attended KU, and she met her husband, Neal Axton, at the university in 1998. Axton will also join the KU faculty as a graduate engagement and government information librarian with KU Libraries.

“My mother became an educator, and my father was a prosecutor and judge. My prior experience as an advocate for victims and a law professor reflects the lessons they instilled in me. In many ways, my accomplishments are a legacy of the excellence of KU’s system of education,” Deer said. “Nearly 20 years after we met at KU, Neal and I are excited to return to educate the next generation. It is an honor to carry on the traditions of KU education and share my experiences working with the federal government, state government and tribes.”

Deer recently published a book, “The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America,” and she participated in a conference hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls. Her next book project will feature the writings of young Native women who are working on social justice issues. Down the road, she plans to publish a book on indigenous feminist legal theory in American law.

Deer earned a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and philosophy from KU in 1995 and a juris doctor from the KU School of Law in 1999.

After law school, Deer worked for three years at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., then became a victim-advocacy legal specialist and staff attorney at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in Los Angeles. In 2009, she joined the faculty of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, where she has served as co-director of the Indian Law Clinic.

A native Kansan who grew up in Wichita, Deer has maintained loyal ties to KU. She served as a Langston Hughes Visiting Professor in the School of Law in fall 2016, as the February Sisters guest lecturer in 2015, guest speaker about “Native Women, Violence and Reproductive Justice” at a law school forum in 2012 and the keynote speaker at the 2009 Diversity in Law Banquet.


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