In fifth grade, Delaney Barker ’20 once strode into school wearing a tan corduroy pantsuit (her mother’s idea, Barker said). Classmates joked about how her fashion indicated a bright future as a lawyer. They were right — Barker is now sharpening her legal expertise as a graduate student at Harvard Law School.
An experience with Kenyon’s John W. Adams Summer Scholars Program in Socio-legal Studies sparked Barker’s specific interest, civil rights law. She worked with Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies Ric Sheffield, the Distinguished Professor in Diversity and Inclusion, to examine voting rights in Ohio, her home state. Sheffield, whose teaching frequently focuses on issues of race, gender and ethnicity, was compiling cases about 19th-century Ohio voting laws; Barker assisted by researching old newspapers to find additional information.
The experience proved formative, said Barker, a political science major. “We were looking at 1870, and you can still see this myth of African American people committing mass voter fraud, which didn’t happen then and it isn’t happening now.”
Energized, she spent the next summer producing her own research on election administration and the myth of voter fraud.
“Essentially, I looked at election administration and how poll workers have their own organizational culture and how that's developed. I surveyed poll workers, looked through different handbooks in Ohio counties and did basic research on street level bureaucracy,” Barker explained. “I also looked at, historically, how the myth of pervasive voter fraud has always been tied to Black and brown voters and it's always been a way to suppress their vote and their political power.”
Barker’s interest in government carried past the classroom. Her time as a co-chair of Campus Senate and as president of Student Council provided valuable avenues for learning to work with different people and compromise.
“Negotiation and trying to get everyone in the room to agree on a course of action — that's just a great skill to have, especially if you want to do law,” Barker said. “Being in student government also taught me the importance of active listening, and coming up with solutions, and also being OK with your solution not being the best one.”