Volume 41: Reflections from Khalfani Mar’Na
NIU Law’s First African American Law Review Editor-in-Chief
Khalfani Mar’Na (’21) served this past year as the first-ever African American Editor-in-Chief (EIC) for the Northern Illinois University Law Review, one of the most prestigious endeavors in law school and highly coveted by the masses. He joined the ranks with a number of other first-ever African American or law students of color who were selected for this position at other law schools across the country.
Khalfani reflected on his past year as the Law Review’s Editor-in-Chief of Volume 41 and his time as a student as he prepares to graduate in May 2021.
Where did you receive your undergraduate degree and what was your major?
My hometown is St. Louis, MO. I attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis where I majored in English and Psychology.
Why did you choose NIU College of Law?
I chose NIU College of Law for the affordable education, bar passage rate, and smaller class size. I’ve met some truly amazing people here and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to attend.
Why was being a member of Law Review important to you?
Earning a position on Law Review has always been an important goal. I’ve always loved researching and writing, but my time as a staff editor has allowed me to become a more efficient communicator. I am excited to have worked with a group of staff editors and help them as they made their contributions to the world of legal scholarship.
What were your goals this year as Law Review Editor-in-Chief and do you think you have accomplished them?
Growth, Efficiency, and Exposure. Our Board welcomed twenty-two staff editors in addition to the seven returning associate editors. We increased our submissions this year which was due in large part to our exposure. In addition, we maintained our commitment to improving journal tenure by reevaluating “success.”
We also created an NIU Law Review Instagram (@niulawreview) and LinkedIn account. We’ve reconnected with former editors and are building our law review alumni network. Volume 42 is in an excellent position and we’re all very excited to see Kristina Bitzer thrive.
What were some of the challenges you had to overcome with being the Editor-in-Chief in a Pandemic?
There’s no how-to manual for operating during a pandemic. From the outside it may seem like an easy transition, but we had a number of operational adjustments to make. We pivoted fairly quickly after the initial shock and made continued adjustments for the pandemics impact on legal scholarship. All things considered, I’m extremely proud of what our journal pushed through this year. We stuck to our objectives and worked hard.
As the first African American Editor-in-Chief, do you believe that this is breaking the proverbial glass ceiling for students of color at NIU Law?
I think that’s for others to assess. Being the first anything is never easy. Black lawyers make up approximately 5% of the profession and it’s even less for Black women. We have a long way to go, but this is a start. NIU is an incredible community and I’m in this position because of the support of my family, faculty, staff, and other students. I hope I’ve made it easier to stand firm in your convictions while being underrepresented.
How do you think academic discourse can eradicate and help us heal from the racial and social injustices that are being experienced in our country?
Racial and social injustice is an inherently nuanced and traumatic conversation. Healing requires a full examination of every aligning complexity within policing, environmentalism, healthcare, affordable housing, challenges to federal oversight, elections, free speech and so many more. Academic discourse spans these issues and offers potential solutions. Is it solely responsible for providing solutions? No, of course not and I understand the hesitation. We lose people because of the common response, “oh, ivory tower again, huh?” But this approach ignores the contribution of BIPOC academics. Even further, academic discourse expands what qualifies as relevant. It’s designed to promote discussion and, hopefully, be applied in some current, practical framework. It brings more ideas and solutions under the tent. This allows the knife causing the pain to be pulled out a little further. We don’t need to look too far for examples—visit faculty bios and read their work. I promise you’ll find many here at NIU who are actively pushing the discussion. We have a responsibility to take this work and tailor it accordingly.
Do you think you have leveraged your position to create space for another minority Editor-in-Chief?
I do, yes. My intention is to always leave a space better than I found it. I wish I had time to do more, but that’s not how this works. I was fortunate to follow some very accomplished and committed individuals. My Notes and Comments Editor, Abdullah Ali, created space for me to explore digital citizenship and proximity to power. We shared lived experiences and those small conversations helped me immensely. Vol. 40 Editor-in-Chief Kaitlyn Linsner is incredibly talented and created space on day one. She expected our best and helped me navigate our transition to virtual. Additionally, our advisor, Professor Michael Oswalt, has been critical to my ability to lead this year. His guidance and foresight is an institution. It’s because of these individuals that I was able to build with a strong Board of Editors. This includes Managing Editor, Allison Piper Geber and Research Editor, Kate Kiefer. They are well-known for their accomplishments and they consistently outperformed in the midst of a global pandemic. My hope is that the next minority Editor-in-Chief is fortunate enough to have the same support and leadership. It makes the entire process affirming and so much more fulfilling.
What has your law school experience been like?
I’ve been very fortunate these past three years. I remember meeting with Professor Rigertas as a 1L to discuss my torts midterm. We ended up having a frank conversation about how to use my degree. Most importantly, she validated my ambition and gave me excellent guidance. I had a similar conversation with Dean King. She’s been incredibly supportive and has created space for everyone. Many individuals from the COL, my supervisors and colleagues, Professor Oswalt, and others have made this an incredible experience. NIU College of Law has given me the resources to succeed, the opportunity to display my work ethic, and the confidence to use my degree to help others.
What are your future plans?
Most immediate is to continue gaining experience. I certainly intend to help with various policy initiatives and say yes to many opportunities. I just want to do some good. The rest, I think, will fall into place.
What advice would you give to other minority students interested in following in your footsteps?
Do it your own way and give yourself permission to enjoy the journey. DeKalb is a special place, and you owe it your talents. Law school is one of many foundations, but it does not define you. Your personal growth is just as important as your career. So, do the work and laugh as often as you can.
What are some of the other activities you have been involved with while a law student?
I am fortunate to have been able to experience a variety of extracurricular activities during my time in law school. I am an associate justice for the Moot Court Society; served as a SBA Class Representative; competed in the Lenny B. Mandell Moot Court Competition, 2L Trial Advocacy Competition, and won the 1L Closing Argument Competition for the prosecution. I am also a member of several organizations including the President’s Commission on Race and Ethnicity, DeKalb Belonging Council Steering Committee, Black Law Students Association, Latinx Law Students Association, NIU Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), and the Intellectual Property Law Association of Chicago.
I am currently a graduate assistant for the Ethics and Compliance Office. In addition, I completed a valuable externship with Maher Legal Services and served as a panelist for a number of discussions including: Racism Discussion Series hosted by NLG and The Need for Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education hosted by the Black Law Students Association and the Department of Political Science.
The Northern Illinois University Law Review is a student-edited journal that publishes articles intended to assist the legal community and to stimulate critical discussion of current legal, policy, and social issues. As Editor-in-Chief, Khalfani is ultimately responsible for all Law Review operations. The EIC is responsible for the production, publication, and distribution of the Review. In addition to monitoring the overall production, the EIC facilitates the work of other Editors and has daily administrative responsibilities. The EIC acts as a liaison with school administration, faculty, and others having business with the Review. The EIC has final authority on the selection of material to be published and on substantive editing of that material. The EIC monitors the progress made by second year members in meeting their writing requirement and organizes training sessions as needed.