Heather Meshell is deeply and personally committed to social justice issues and hopes to put her law school experience to use helping victims of domestic and sexual violence in a meaningful way.
Born in Nashville, Meshell, a third-year student at NSL, grew up in nearby La Vergne, where she also went to high school. She then attended Middle Tennessee State University, earning a degree in sociology.
The thought of attending law school first came to Meshell while working with the Tennessee Democratic Party in 2014. During an executive committee meeting, the chairman asked how many people in the room had a law degree.
“At that time, several respected community leaders stood up,” she recalls. “These were men and women that I desired to work alongside to effectuate policy change in Tennessee. Seeing so many of them stand in unison made it clear to me that pursing a legal degree was the next step for me to be able to acquire the skills I needed to engage in effective public policy advocacy.”
She chose NSL because it allowed her to continue her full-time job while attending classes at night. While in law school, she has particularly enjoyed hearing the Tennessee Supreme Court conduct oral arguments at the School and witnessing the progression of the cases through her studies.
“I was privileged to be present when the Supreme Court heard State v. McCormick,” she said. “Their ruling on the community caretaking doctrine changed search and seizure law in this state. Two years later, I was tested on this change during my Tennessee Constitutional Law class. It is remarkable that I witnessed this case that resulted in a significant change to search and seizure law in Tennessee.”
Meshell currently works at the Sexual Assault Center of Tennessee as a Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator. She collaborates with police, nurses, prosecutors, and advocates to help four counties (Davidson, Cheatham, Sumner, and Williamson) formalize protocols on responding to sexual assault. She previously worked at the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, including as their Director of Community Engagement and Advocacy.
Meshell is devoted to her work, and her passion for justice in this area is fueled by personal experience.
“I’ve been advocating against interpersonal violence from a young age,” she said. “I am a survivor of childhood sexual assault and went on the local news at the age of 7 years old to encourage others to report sexual abuse. I experienced firsthand some of the barriers and limitations of the criminal justice system.”
Her commitment to social justice is inspiring. While she celebrates social progress, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s invalidation of same-sex marriage bans in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), she knows there is much more work to be done.
“The only thing oppression needs to thrive is silence and I will never be silent,” Meshell said. “I can’t imagine a life where I ever stop talking about injustice and stop fighting to create a better world for all. It’s the most compelling conviction I have ever experienced and it’s the motivating factor for me in attending law school.”
She hopes to use her law degree to help “criminal defendants who are victims of domestic and sexual violence.”
“I want to see a criminal justice system that understands trauma and responds to survivors of interpersonal violence in a supportive manner that allows them to tap into their inner resilience to not only survive, but thrive after trauma.” Meshell said. “Often the practical effect of a system ill-equipped to support survivors leads to a cycle of self-medication and criminal activity.”