Toad to Toad: A Level Playing Field

Kim Turner CdeP 1998 is interviewed by Richard Smith CdeP 2003.
The Alumni & Development Office and the Alumni Council are excited to introduce Toad to Toad, a series of alumni peer interviews highlighting a cross section of the alumni community. The purpose of this series is to promote and celebrate alumni and their accomplishments and the passions, pursuits, life adventures, and hobbies that embody the Thacher values.

For the first installment of the Toad to Toad series, I had the honor of sitting down with Kim Turner CdeP 1998. Kim is a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work, an organization that provides free services to help low-income people exercise and advance their rights. Kim’s current focus at Legal Aid at Work is the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and Fair Play for Girls in Sports Project.
 
This Toad to Toad conversation covers topics ranging from why Kim attended Thacher, what led her to litigation, her work on education and policy for female youth athletic opportunities, her thoughts on how we can make an impact in our own communities regarding awareness, equality and inclusion, and, of course, her favorite Thacher memories. Kim is a tremendous individual who embodies the Thacher community and I hope you enjoy some of the highlights from our conversation below. You can learn more about her work here. She encourages the Thacher community to reach out.
 
Enjoy!
 
Richard Smith CdeP 2003

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Richard Smith: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Thacher becoming co-ed. Given your work, which we’ll learn more about shortly, what does the anniversary of Thacher becoming co-ed mean to you?

Kim Turner: I was a beneficiary of the co-ed movement and I’m thrilled that Thacher took that step—it means a lot to me that we’re celebrating the milestone because Thacher was, and continues to be, part of the gender equality movement. It means so much to me that I could see my brother [James Turner CdeP 1994] so greatly enjoy Thacher and then come myself. I was thinking that if I had laid eyes on this School as a sister to my brother attending the School, and wished to go there and couldn’t because it wasn’t co-educational, I would’ve been crushed. It means the world to me that Thacher is dedicated toward gender equality and co-educational environments. I’m very happy to be part of that celebration as well.

RS: Shifting gears to where you spend most of your time now, tell us about what led you to your career and role today?

KT: I’m currently a senior staff attorney for a legal services nonprofit in San Francisco that serves low income individuals all over California and beyond. I’ve been an attorney for 10 years. I have essentially dedicated my career toward providing legal help to those who can’t afford it. We don’t charge any of our clients for our services. I have a specific focus on helping girls in low income areas experience equity in their school and their park and rec athletic programs because playing sports, as a lot of Thacher grads know, is really key to development and success. So I want everyone to have that chance to play and thrive.

RS: Your focus seems to be on equality for girls, mainly through athletics. What other services does your organization provide?

KT: My organization represents people with a variety of claims. In fact, most of my colleagues help individual workers who have been discriminated against on the job, such as based on one's race or disability. We have a niche focus on athletics because there are very few attorneys who are helping low income girls with athletic equity. There are around three million girls in the country who are playing high school sports. Yet there are only around 10 attorneys representing plaintiffs, at no cost, in matters where they’re not experiencing equity to the male counterparts. We feel like it’s important to dedicate ourselves to this work because there are just so few resources. And a lot of girls out there—and parents and guardians and coaches and schools—don’t know the rights and responsibilities under Title IX. So we actually do a lot of training and education, too. Frankly, growing up I didn’t know my rights under Title IX, and my rights in equity and sports. So I’m a big fan of educating and holding accountable these institutions, and helping communities ensure that girls and boys are on a level playing field.

Author’s note: Title IX, as a federal law enforced in the United States of America is considered a part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972. The following is the original text as made signed into law by U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1972: no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. (source: Wikipedia)

RS: For the readers, is there a moment you can recall that embodies the impact of your work?

KT: I’m very lucky in that, compared to most lawyers, I spend time outside the office, for example, in a high school gymnasium and high school softball and baseball fields, looking at facilities to see what girls are being afforded and what boys are being afforded. We typically focus on public schools because those are the schools that are federally funded and are subject to Title IX, although all public and private colleges and universities are subject to Title IX. I actually spend a good deal of time outside of the office, kicking the dirt on a softball field and baseball field to make sure that those fields are conditioned equally. And unfortunately for me, spending time in locker rooms that might not smell the best, but having to compare the number of lockers that are afforded to boys and to girls, etc. We do bring litigation when necessary against schools and districts that are refusing to comply with the law and treating the girls as a second class. And when, for example, we see the boys have really nice concrete, cinder block dugouts and the girls have a chain link fence at their softball field, you can see the stark difference between these two fields that are sometimes side-by-side. I think the best moments of my career are when I have sat in the brand new softball dugout that they’ve built for these girls on account of the suit we bring, and the school and district finally get that we have to make the facilities for girls and boys equal, and to sit in that finally shaded dugout and look at a field that’s properly conditioned, watching the girls play and seeing the confidence they feel, knowing they are being equally treated by the school.

RS: I think the confidence, the confidence, that’s so important.

KT: Yes, the confidence they feel and the fact that they can look across and see the boys on their field and see their teammates on their own field and say, “We are actually truly on a level playing field right now.” That means the world to me, and it completely motivates me today to do what I do and to remember that we wouldn’t tolerate girls in a classroom being on one side of the room with old textbooks and boys having new textbooks on the other side of the classroom. Or boys having computers and girls having an abacus—it’s no different for sports and that’s the point we’re trying to constantly make.

RS: Whether it’s through academics, sports, music, or computer science, the element of confidence is critical. So, much credit to the work you’re doing and the confidence you’re providing young girls, because as they mature, they have the ability to see themselves as equals.

KT: A couple of quick things on sports and its impact on youth: It instills confidence when you play sports because you figure out how to be goal-oriented and how to literally and figuratively work your way toward the goal. Also, you learn things such as teamwork, leadership, discipline, knowing how to lose, and knowing how to lose with grace. At Thacher, there were some tear-streaked faces after some losses that came, but we really learned from our coaches and from folks like Mully [Michael Mulligan] that even when you lose, one must do so with dignity and grace. You get right back out there and practice the next day, and you shake your opponent’s hand and you cheer them on, and you cheer each other on for the experience, not necessarily the result. That was instrumental for me to learn. Frankly, I don’t think I was a great sportsman before Thacher. I was a very competitive athlete and I learned a lot about being a good sport at Thacher, which I’ve kept with me for a lifetime.

RS: Given the success you've had in bringing equality to sports—what lessons have you learned? What impact have you seen on people's lives and in their communities?

KT: One statistic that really stays with me in my work is that an economist out of Princeton did a study on girls and boys sports participation and found that girls who play sports in high school make 7 percent higher wages 15 years later in life, controlling for all sorts of other variables, so there’s an association between athletics in school and later success. In my work, I literally see girls who come through our program, who are now starting their careers or are entering the workplace and really thriving because they had that opportunity to play, so that’s really meaningful. I do see the girls light up at having opportunity—having the better field, or at least the equal field. I’m also excited about their life prospects because I know that having that opportunity to play means that they’re going to be healthier, have better mental and physical health, and literally have economic health that they wouldn’t have necessarily had. The good news is that boys also get that wage jump when they play high school sports. That said, it’s around 7 percent for them as well, but again, historically, boys have had many more opportunities to play, they’re not literally sidelined in the same way that girls have been, so we just want to make sure everyone is getting off the sidelines.

RS: What is your advice on ways that Thacher and communities at large can be creating a better environment for all related to the topics we’re discussing?

KT: I think in this era right now of increasing awareness about gender equality and what we can do about it, it’s somewhat the darkness before the dawn moment. There’s a lot coming to light that I think is really difficult to face in terms of sexual harassment, assault, and more, and it’s very dispiriting. Of course, these things can come to light when a lawsuit happens. But I also advocate for self-reflection by institutions, employers, and people. I actually think Thacher encourages that amongst its students, and I think alumni carry that value forward such that we look at ourselves as much as possible in that bright light to say, “Well, what could I and we be doing better? Where are our blind spots?” That’s what I see a lot in our work, a lot of schools never looked really hard at their facilities. They took it for granted. They said, “Oh there are girls out there playing sports. I see some girls over there, they’re playing,” end of story. But they didn’t get up close to the situation and say, “Oh wait a minute, their lacrosse sticks are older, their uniforms are second hand. The boys have had new jackets every season. The girls are buying their own.” I have cases where they’re sewing the holes up themselves whereas the school is conditioning and fixing the boys' uniforms.

In my own family, I have a brother who played sports. The question is, “Did my parents more often go to his games than they did to mine?” Probably, granted he was a far better athlete than I was, but the question is, “Is the TV in one’s household switched to male sporting events far more than female sporting events?” Yes, I guarantee it, in almost every American household you’re going to find little girls are growing up watching male sports on TV and not female sports, even though great women athletes are on television. You can watch a WNBA final and it’s an awesome level of play to see. You can watch women's tennis and women's soccer, and it’s inspiring and awesome. So just think about our own habits, think about making sure at Thacher that we have full support for the women's basketball game and full support for the men’s basketball game is important and it takes some self-assessment, some hard conversations sometimes about changing traditions, and an action plan that’s lasting—making sure that you’re going to go forward with steps that ensure ultimate equity, even though it’s going to take time and it’s going to take effort, and you’re going to have to get all the stakeholders involved.

RS: Great advice. I want to tie it back to your professional career as well, because I think some of the readers will be Thacher students, young alumni, or alumni who are thinking through career changes. For folks that are thinking about a path like yours, whether it be a legal profession or specifically in equality and sports, any advice about how to get involved?

KT: I want to mention something that relates to the legal profession and Thacher. I was interested in law from a young age even though neither of my parents were lawyers. They are great professionals, and they helped a lot of people in their lives, but I was not exposed to lawyers at all growing up. One of my dear friends from high school, Caroline White CdeP 1998, her parents were both lawyers. I remember going home on a vacation to her house in Sacramento, and Caroline’s mom was talking about being a lawyer and it stuck with me, and I thought this woman is amazing. She is bright, she is effective, and she has this great family. A woman can be a lawyer and a mom—that was very helpful for me to see that role modeling, too.

I think Thacher is doing even more now to expose students to different career paths. I’m a nonprofit attorney. I did a short turn in corporate law, but I do think it would be nice for Thacher students to know about all the different types of law that you can practice because that’s not always clear, and there’s a lot of pressure in law school to go the corporate route. The big defense law firms have an outsized presence on the law school campuses, so the nonprofit organizations may not get as much attention. I hope to even that out. I hope that Thacher students interested in pursuing a legal career will reach out to someone like me, or the many alums who are in the legal profession, and just learn. Maybe go and shadow at the workplace, or have a quick call or an email exchange. I know a lot of alums that want to be available in that way to students. I did have some great contacts when I was at Thacher, but I think seeing the alumni network expanding and becoming more accessible to students is a really great development.

The other thing I want to add—as I was thinking about the question of what motivates me and why I do this work—it’s cheesy and corny, but the Thacher values of honor, fairness, kindness, and truth are really important to me. I tear up thinking about how deeply to heart I took those values in high school, and how I still think so much about them. I think being an attorney and pursuing fairness on behalf of people is such a privilege and such an important pursuit. I try to hold myself up to the highest standards in my work and for my clients every day. I really have Thacher’s values to thank for that compass and that kind of guidance that I have throughout my work and in my days.

RS: We covered a lot of ground, is there anything else you wanted to add?

KT: The other thing I was going to say is my friends and coworkers are floored about how much I talk about Thacher and you know, how many years out can you be and still talk about high school this much. My wireless network has a Thacher name that my husband gave it because he knew it would make me happy logging into the Thacher WiFi network at home. I try to take all my friends and extended family to Thacher when we’re within 100-200 miles of the school. I say, “Oh well, let’s just take a quick trip, it’s not far away, we have to drop in for some POG,” and you know, pick an orange. Of course, we don’t discard the peels directly into any orchards, per Mr. Vickery’s instructions. Thacher has this gravitational pull on me, and so many people I know, spiritually and physically. You want to get back to it. You want to connect to it. It’s this tractor beam that we feel between the campus and ourselves. I’m just so pleased to be part of the Thacher family and will always feel so close to it and so grateful for it.

RS: I couldn’t agree more.

More about Kim Turner: Kim is the daughter of now retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Colleen Boyd Turner and John “JT” Turner,  which led to growing up in locations ranging from Colorado to Greece; however, she spent the majority of her childhood years before Thacher living in Los Angeles, California. Kim graduated from Cardozo Law School in New York City in 2008. And she received a B.A. from Brown University in 2002, double concentrating in public policy and sociology. At Brown, Kim also played for the varsity women’s volleyball team. Kim has practiced a mixture of Title IX, employment, and housing law, including as a staff attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid. Before law school, Kim worked for Senator Dianne Feinstein and the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C.
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