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Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: Nicolette Bruner

“I want to meet people who incorporate diversity and fairness into their work in non-traditional ways. Reconciling differences is a personal mission for me,” Nicolette says when talking about her goals as a member of the Bouchet Honor Society. An inductee this year, Nicolette exemplifies academic and personal excellence and serves as an example of scholarship, leadership, character, service, and advocacy for students who have been traditionally underrepresented in the academy.

Nicolette is finishing her Ph.D. research in English Language and Literature, adding a doctoral degree next to her U-M Law School diploma. “I went to law school at Michigan, passed the bar exam in my home state of Maryland, and went right to work on my Ph.D. in English.” Not the journey of most law school graduates, she continues, “Halfway through my law degree, I found that the kinds of questions I wanted to answer were best addressed by the interdisciplinary field of law and literature. U-M had several leading professors in the field and a history of supporting interdisciplinary projects, and so I stayed here. It also didn’t hurt that I had such a great experience here in law school.”

Her research focuses on the legal fiction of corporate personhood in American novels between 1885 and 1920. As she describes, “Corporate personhood is an old idea but has evolved in meaning. Corporate status used to be restricted to organizations that served public interests, but this changed in the mid-19th century. I’m interested in how the notion that corporations were people stretched the concept of personhood in unexpected ways for women, animals, children, and others with uncertain legal status in the United States.”

Before coming to U-M for law school, Nicolette worked as a paralegal in Washington, DC. While there, she worked with organizations that fight violence against women, helping several Latin American immigrant women who were victims of domestic violence petition for legal residency. Since her own mother is an immigrant, Nicolette feels a responsibility as a Latina scholar to be engaged in the community. In law school, she worked in Quito, Ecuador on the Aguinda vs. ChevronTexaco case involving oil drilling in the Amazon—a case recently depicted in the documentary Crude. “That was an amazing experience. I was able to help the Ecuadorian legal team with support research, and got a firsthand look at the real impact of multinational corporate power.”