Ellie Martinez has dreams of calling the court room her future office. With a deep connection to law and a passion for equality, this Nebraska Wesleyan senior is packing up for law school in the fall. Unlike the infamous protagonist Elle Woods of Amanda Brown’s 2001 novel and film “Legally Blonde,” Martinez has known about her aspirations for law since her high school years.
“I love to be around people who are different, have different life experiences, speak different languages, and live on their own terms,” describes the communication studies major. Martinez attended Lincoln High School where she was involved in the International Baccalaureate program. These studies emphasized a global perspective rather than a U.S. perspective, and this curriculum taught this aspiring lawyer about legendary changemakers like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Angela Davis, and Judy Chicago who were deeply connected to the feminist movement and combatted gendered inequality in society. Throughout her time at NWU, Martinez has transformed this interest into action.
The NWU senior has completed internships that have allowed to learn about and interact within Nebraska’s lawmaking and justice systems. Among the most influential is her senior internship with OutNebraska, a local organization committed to advocating, celebrating, and educating to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people. Working as their legislative intern, Martinez says that this could not have been a more perfect fit for her.
Virtually completing this internship, Martinez’s main responsibility involves reading the 16 legislative bills pertinent to OutNebraska. Such bills involve prohibiting conversion therapy, prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations and under the Nebraska Fair Housing Act on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, providing for a gender-neutral designation on operator’s licenses and state identification cards, and changing provisions relating to the minimum wage. Sifting through each bill provided Martinez with the necessary practice to understand Nebraska’s legislative process.
“Each bill contained at least 20 pages of technical legal writing,” she explains. “This provided me a great opportunity to familiarize myself with this type of content. The legislative process is only one small part of the legal world but having this experience has given me a great foundation to begin law school.”
Once through each bill, Martinez updates the status of each bill in OutNebraska’s files to monitor their progress so that they can act quickly and appropriately when needed.
Another aspect of her internship is phone banking. After completing a 30-minute training, Martinez was able to phone bank independently and advocate for the local election and the Equality Act.
“On the day of Lincoln’s primary election, I called registered voters in Lincoln and encouraged them to get out and vote.” she describes. “I was able to assist people in identifying their polling location, locating candidate information on the Lincoln Journal Star, and reminding them that if their name was not listed at the polling station, they could still ask for a provisional ballot and vote successfully.”
Phone banking also includes calling constituents to gain support for the Equality Act. Over the course of two days, she called residents of Maine and encouraged them to leave a message with their Senator, urging her to support the Equality Act. Martinez helped people craft a personal and effective message and patched them through to Senator Collins’ voicemail where they left their message.
“This was an exhilarating experience as I could actually initiate and witness real civic engagement,” Martinez says.
The last responsibility of her internship included drafting her own personal testimony for a bill of her choice in which she chose LB 120 – prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This task required her to write about a personal experience and explain how the passage of this bill would affect herself and others.
“This was certainly the most terrifying part of my internship, as I had to make myself quite vulnerable and have my testimony read aloud at a legislative hearing.” she recalls. “This experience was valuable to me and really made me feel as though I was greatly contributing to my community. Although I vote in every election, I haven’t really participated in local government in any significant capacity. I now have the tools and knowledge to contribute to real change.”
Martinez’s passions for law and justice does not end there. She has been on Nebraska Wesleyan Student Conduct Board for the past two years where she works alongside a group of faculty and staff to ensure that Wesleyan remains a safe and inclusive space. Through her service, she has conducted three hearings involving sensitive and controversial content. As the leader of these hearings, she took on a role like a judge, reading the procedures aloud to the attendees, identifying the charges filed, directing the defendant through their testimony, directing the complainant through their testimony, guiding witnesses through their testimony, and facilitating a question-answer session between the board members and the defendant.
“Serving in this role has really made me feel empowered and refined my ability to maintain respect and empathy for all parties involved, even when it’s difficult to do so,” she reflects.
Her classes at Nebraska Wesleyan University helped Martinez make the most through her law experiences thus far. She explains that exposures to different groups and identities in her intercultural communication course allows her to effectively advocate for others. Similarly, the communication studies department’s emphasis on dialogue has refined her ability engage with others while maintaining respect and empathy for everyone involved.
“I feel incredibly grateful that I had supportive mentors who pushed me to do things I would never have done on my own,” Martinez shares.
With graduation completed, Martinez has set her sights for studying law in sunny California. The communication studies senior was accepted to Pepperdine Caruso School of Law in Malibu and will begin her path toward passing the bar exam in the fall.