2020-21 Innovation Grant Recipients

Alexis Banks

After a year at Columbia Law School, Alexis Banks was struck by the interactions that indicated that racism and racist ideologies still had a foothold within the law school. After a pandemic that disproportionately affected Black and brown Americans radically changed our lives and a renewed movement for racial equality returned to the nation's streets, Alexis felt the need to hear the stories of Columbia Law students and document their experience with racism at the school. Ultimately, the goal of translating these stories to film is that by engaging with these narratives, Columbia Law School can identify a way to become an anti-racist, liberated institution. 

I am a 3L from the United Kingdom. Before joining CLS, I read law at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Prior to attending law school, I performed pro bono work under a free legal advice scheme where I assisted in providing underprivileged members of the public with advice as to their legal positions. From this experience, I was acutely aware of the anxiety and anguish that they endured when they were denied access to legal channels and just resolutions of their matters. Therefore, one of my greatest motivations behind becoming a lawyer is to increase the public’s access to legal services and advance the rights of people who are unfairly prejudiced. As a law student, I believe we are in the unique position of being exposed to a myriad of legal disciplines. We can harness our broad knowledge to make positive contributions to our community. At Columbia, I am a part of the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic. I have also worked on projects that involve a large-scale reform of labor law to safeguard unions, helping refugees file non-refoulement claims, and monitoring trials in countries where basic rule of law protections have been denied.

Through the Innovation Grant, I aim to strengthen the resilience of Asian Americans in light of the disproportionate economic, health and racial challenges that they are facing because of the pandemic. My project involves increasing Asian Americans’ access to pertinent resources such as financial assistance for small businesses, unemployment insurance, and protection against anti-Asian harassment. I hope that my project will be a step towards restoring the vibrant and diverse scenes in New York.

Marcus Liang
Paul Riley J.D. '22

Paul Riley is a 2L from Philadelphia, PA. He graduated from Princeton University in 2015, where he concentrated in Politics and minored in African American Studies. Prior to law school, he spent four years in San Francisco, working most recently as a Senior Legal Analyst at Dropbox, Inc. At CLS, Paul serves as the Vice President of the Black Law Students Association, the Student Senate Parliamentarian, and a Richard Paul Richman Leadership Fellow. As an aspiring litigator, he competed on the Frederick Douglass Moot Court Team and won the 2020 CLS CJAN Mock Trial Tournament. Paul spent this past summer in his hometown of Philadelphia participating in Morgan Lewis's 1L Diversity Fellowship. In his free time, he is a political junkie and also enjoys working on his blog and podcast – "The Riley Rant" – which discusses all things political, professional, and personal. With a strong fascination with and interest in politics, Paul's project (Let's Run!) centers on educating, empowering, and electing Columbia Law School's next generation of political leaders at the local, state, and federal levels. Through podcasts, blog posts, an alumni speaker series, and practical campaigning workshops, he hopes to open CLS students' eyes to what is possible – not only within the judiciary branch, but the legislative branch as well. 

Paula Zampietro J.D. '22

With students of color now more than ever being disproportionately affected by the pandemic, the financial crisis, social unrest, and public policy, Paula Zampietro hopes to create a unified and cohesive space dedicated to supporting and elevating these students. By establishing a Coalition for Diversity, made up of representatives from across student organizations, Paula hopes that student leaders will be able to address diversity issues in a more holistic way. While individually, student organizations do a lot to support diversity within CLS, there is no unified, student-led body to discuss diversity issues and provide feedback to the administration. The Coalition for Diversity embraces the motto that we are stronger together. Paula envisions that the Coalition will: respond to societal events and social issues that demand attention in a coordinated and unified way (i.e., the horrific killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tessa Major, among others); report to the administration on areas of improvement with concrete issues the administration should address, such as hiring more diverse faculty to teach black letter law classes and addressing the disparity in grades between white students and students of color, brought to light by previous alumni on the Columbia Law Review with access to student grades; and organizing ways to celebrate diversity such as a monthly seminars on relevant diversity topics and an annual Global Diversity Conference.