In the midst of #MeToo, Maya Raghu ’95 serves as an expert voice for change across all media
by Jeremy Gerlach
You’ve seen her on PBS NewsHour, you’ve heard her on talk radio, and you’ve read her on websites like the Huffington Post. Maya Raghu ’95, an attorney-turned-advocate for gender equality and workplace justice, isn’t letting this moment slip away.
Raghu is director of workplace equality and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) in Washington, D.C., and has become a visible, clear voice across all media for change in the era of movements such as #MeToo, a hashtag highlighting experiences of sexual assault that went viral in October 2017.
“The hashtag #MeToo may have taken off last year, but this movement is not new,” Raghu says. “For many people, fighting against gender-based violence is their life’s work. We (at NWLC) feel a lot of responsibility to make sure that we don’t lose this momentum, and that the bravery of the people who came forward with their experiences of harassment and assault results in real and lasting change.”
At NWLC—a 45-year-old non-profit that promotes rights and opportunities for women and girls—Raghu is part of a team of legal and policy experts that focuses on “workplace justice” — issues of job quality, such as raising the minimum wage and ensuring access to paid leave, and anti-discrimination, which includes sexual harassment.
In D.C., Raghu and her team of advocates and attorneys keep their fingers directly on the nation’s political and institutional pulse. NWLC works with members of Congress, federal agencies, state-level representatives, and other advocacy organizations to shape policy related to workplace justice, education, reproductive rights and health, and income security for women and girls, while also helping the general public understand the impact of political and legal policies on the lives of women and families.
Call her an attorney, advocate — and now, a media presence.
In addition to 20 years experience as an attorney tackling big social issues through impact litigation, policy advocacy, and public education, Raghu now has a growing media portfolio. In the past year alone, she’s made several high-profile TV appearances, serving as a legal expert who can offer commentary on the issues surrounding big issues such as #MeToo.
While the team at NWLC remains committed to empowering individuals struggling with issues of discrimination and harassment, and working with grassroots organizations to enact legal and culture change, media appearances like these can be a powerful educational tool.
“Having a platform that you can use to reach thousands of people, it’s been exciting,” Raghu says. “This is an incredible opportunity.”
Raghu certainly didn’t plan to become a public figure during her Trinity days, but she’s always had her sights set on advocating for vulnerable members of society.
“Halfway through my time at Trinity, I decided I wanted to go to law school,” said Raghu, a political science and Spanish double major at Trinity. “I had a very idealistic view of lawyers, and how they could be agents of social change and social justice.”
Trinity, Raghu continues, was where her interests in international affairs, the role of government in society and how culture and the law shape each other “began to crystallize.”
“Being at a school like Trinity gives you a chance to really engage with your classmates and professors on these issues, and that might not be possible at a larger school,” Raghu notes.
After graduating from Trinity and earning her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center ’98, she worked as a law clerk for a federal judge in Houston, and for a law firm in NYC, seeing a variety of cases at the trial level. Eventually, she made the jump from litigation into the advocacy world, and worked for nonprofits in NYC and Washington, D.C.
But continuing that jump into the court of televised public opinion “was terrifying at first,” Raghu notes.
“I’d done radio before, I’d spoken to print journalists, but being on TV is very, very different, and requires a different set of skills. It was terrifying the second time, and the third time. But you start to get used to it, and you eventually are able to relax and just have a conversation with the (interviewer).”
Now, Raghu has found a comfort zone under the spotlight, to the point where she says her friends and family “joke about how I’m becoming ‘famous.’”
“Maybe I’m ‘PBS-famous’ at best,’” Raghu laughs. “I never thought I was going to have this much of a public presence; it’s wild to have all of these people on Twitter start following you or send you letters because they saw you on TV.”
Beyond the terror and excitement of televised appearances, Raghu is maintaining a focus on the path ahead in the nationwide battle against gender-based violence and discrimination.
“It isn’t easy to be doing this work in this current political environment,” Raghu says. “It can feel like there are very large and insurmountable obstacles to achieving equality.... and at NWLC, we’re concerned about women and vulnerable communities being targeted. We’re fighting hard to make sure we’re not losing critical rights that we already have.”
Despite the obstacles, Raghu has another message for those struggling against gender discrimination and harassment, especially in light of the #MeToo movement.
“What I am optimistic about, is that in the last couple of years, there has been a renewed, incredible energy among people, especially young women, to engage in their communities, to be agents of change, and to shape where this country is going,” Raghu says. “And that gives me hope.”
Jeremy Gerlach is Trinity University’s brand journalist, and he wants you to know that if you need help or feel unsafe in your workplace, there is always someone listening on hotlines for organizations such as RAINN (800-656-4673) and the NWLC (202-588-5180).