College of Law
Robin Fretwell Wilson is the Director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs and the Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law at the University of Illinois College of Law, where she served as the Associate Dean for Public Engagement. At IGPA, Professor Wilson also leads IGPA's Substance Use Disorder Working Group.
A scholar in family law, bioethics and law and religion, Professor Wilson has worked extensively on behalf of state and federal law reform efforts in each realm.
Across two decades, she has worked to secure laws protecting the autonomy of patients to decide when they will be used to teach intimate exams to medical students, laws now in place in 15 states—nine of which have been enacted since 2019.
Professor Wilson is known for bridging differences in the culture war. In 2015, she spent a month in residence with the Utah legislature, helping Utah state lawmakers to pass anti-discrimination legislation that balances religious liberty and LGBT rights. In 2019, Professor Wilson assisted the governor of Utah to craft regulations banning gay conversion therapy. In 2019, she also aided U.S. Representative Chris Stewart with portions of the “Fairness for All” he introduced in Congress. A member of the American Law Institute, the Vice President of the International Society of Family Law, and a Fulbright Specialist, Professor Wilson has served as a consultant to the United Arab Emirates’ Judicial Department as they sought to create a parallel court system for the adjudication by expatriates of family law matters using the laws of their home country or of their faith traditions.
Professor Wilson is the author of 13 books, including her most recent book, Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground, with Yale University Professor William Eskridge, Jr., which is now in paperback at Cambridge University Press. Her other books include: The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law (Cambridge University Press, 2018, ed.), Reconceiving the Family: Critical Reflections on the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution (Cambridge University Press, 2006, ed.); The Handbook of Children, Culture & Violence (Sage Publications, 2006, with Nancy Dowd and Dorothy Singer, eds.); Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008, with Douglas Laycock and Anthony Picarello, eds.); Health Law and Bioethics: Cases in Context (Aspen, 2008, with Joan Krause, Sandra Johnson, and Richard Saver, eds.); Domestic Relations: Cases and Materials, 8th edition (Foundation Press, 2017, with Walter Wadlington and Raymond C. O’Brien); and Understanding Family Law, 4th edition (LexisNexis, 2013, with John DeWitt Gregory and Peter N. Swisher). Her articles have appeared in the Boston College Law Review, Cornell Law Review, Emory Law Journal, Illinois Law Review, North Carolina Law Review, San Diego Law Review, U.C. Davis Law Review, and Washington and Lee Law Review, as well as in numerous peer-reviewed journals.
In 2010 and again in 2016, Professor Wilson was ranked among the Top Ten Family Law Scholars in the United States for scholarly impact. She ranks among the Top 10% of Authors in all time downloads on the Social Science Research Network. Professor Wilson’s scholarship has been cited by the Fifth, Seventh and Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, lower federal courts, and the Supreme Courts of Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, and Washington.
Professor Wilson’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic Monthly, U.S. News and World Report, ABA Journal, Chronicle of Higher Education, Chicago Tribune, CNN Headline News, Good Morning America, ABC News, CBS News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Essence Magazine, The American Prospect, People Magazine, The American Conservative, The Australian, and Al Jazeera, among others. She has presented her research across the world, including the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Chile, China, Israel, Qatar, the Netherlands, Italy, England, Wales, Poland, Spain, Serbia, Japan, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey, and France.
Building on her work in the culture war, Professor Wilson founded and directs Tolerance Means Dialogues, a gift-supported effort to generate dialogue around deeply contested questions in civil society. She is joined in that effort by prominent gay rights leaders and sitting legislators. She also founded the Fairness for All Initiative, which seeks to provide tangible support and advice to thought-leaders, stakeholders, policymakers, and state and local legislators who seek balanced approaches that respect both LGBT rights and religious freedom.
Professor Wilson founded and co-directs the College of Law’s Family Law and Policy Program and co-directs its Epstein Health Law and Policy Program. Professor Wilson is a founding member of the Genomic Security and Privacy Theme of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and she holds appointments at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign.
Professor Wilson has thrice been honored for her work on innovative laws that respect all persons. In 2007, she received the Citizen’s Legislative Award for her work on changing Virginia’s informed consent law. In 2018, Professor Wilson received the Thomas L. Kane Religious Freedom Award from the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, which is presented annually to an individual who exemplifies the spirit of religious liberty for all and who has contributed in significant ways to the defense of religious freedom in the public square.
In 2018, Professor Wilson was honored as one of the 150 for 150: Celebrating the Accomplishments of Women at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for its sesquicentennial celebration. In 2020, Professor Wilson received the 2020 Larine Y. Cowan Make a Difference Award for Advocacy for LGBTQ Affairs, a university-wide honor given by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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