Bagwell-Chase’s vision was destroyed by Stickler Syndrome, a genetic disorder that resulted in retinal detachment. Her visual impairment has given her a front-row seat to the challenges those with disabilities face, both physical and societal.
“I see discrimination everywhere,” said Bagwell-Chase, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice from Indiana University Kokomo. “People talk about race or gender, but few people realize the discrimination that visually impaired or other disabled groups face. It can be anything from denying people a ride because they have a service animal to the reality that a lot of students can’t keep up in class and don’t even pursue higher education because getting a textbook in electronic format in a timely matter is sometimes almost impossible. We have to jump through so many hoops. I plan on trying to change that,” Bagwell-Chase said.
In addition to her political aspirations, Bagwell-Chase said her life experiences inspired her to attend law school to try to help others who don’t always have equal access to justice.
“I want to pursue a career in which I can help nonviolent offenders reintegrate back into society,” she said. “I have family and friends who were either abused or went down the wrong path and ended up in the criminal system. For many, that system let them down. For nonviolent offenders, throwing people in jail isn’t necessarily going to help solve the problem. They pay for what they’ve done but they should also get the tools they need to actually be successful when released back into the community. The community will then be more apt to help them instead of shunning them.”
Bagwell-Chase, who expects to graduate in May 2018, has already laid out a clearly defined career path.
I want to start my legal career as a public defender, then potentially become a state representative. If I am successful, I’d like to eventually run for Congress. I want to create bills that allow society to work more effectively with nonviolent offenders.
Beyond her time in the classroom, Bagwell-Chase’s life is steeped in advocacy. She is a member of the Valparaiso University Law School Trial Advocacy Team, where she is learning the skills she will need in the courtroom, and she is secretary of the Valparaiso Law Student Animal Legal Defense Fund.
“We focus on things that are happening with animals in the legal system, and we try to educate people,” she said. This year’s focus is on shelter animals, rehabilitating animals like pit bulls used in illegal dog fighting such as those that led to the conviction of NFL quarterback Michael Vick. Bagwell-Chase has her own guide dog, and she hopes to change the law to better protect service dogs. “I want to enact more comprehensive laws so that service dogs are protected to the same extent as police dogs,” she said.
Bagwell-Chase said she encourages all minorities, whether through race, disability, or otherwise to speak out to institute change.
Speak to city council members, city courts, mayors, and police – advocate at an organizational level. Go to your state representatives and ask for legislation. Make your voice heard on important issues to drive positive change in the world.