Robin Fretwell Wilson

Robin Fretwell Wilson

Primary Affiliation: Co-Lead, Equity, Justice, and Human Flourishing Working Group; Lead, COVID-19 Task Force; Fiscal and Economic Policy Working Group; Education, Learning, and Child and Family Well-Being; Substance Use Disorders and Behavioral Health Working Group

Director, IGPA, and Professor, College of Law | University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Skill Highlights

Bridging Divides

Convening Public Dialogues

Facilitating Policy Discussions

Translating Scholarship to Policy

Crafting Policies from People

Milestones

Awarded funding of $100,000 for a project studying Racial Equity and Justice in the State Courts During the Post-Pandemic Transition. The project will leverage and build on the COVID-19 and the Operations of Courts Project and what has been learned so far on the operations of courts and access to justice during the pandemic.
Professor Wilson received a $232,032 Templeton Religion Trust grant to support the Tolerance Means Dialogues initiatives.
Since January 1, 2019, Professor Wilson and a team of students have been supporting legislative efforts across the U.S. to provide patient protections around intimate teaching exams, which have resulted in laws in 16 states, drawing on her Opinion-Editorial in the Chicago Tribune, #Just Ask: Stop Treating Unconscious Female Patients like Cadavers.
Assisted Utah Governor Gary Herbert and General Counsel Ron Gordon in crafting legislation banning gay conversion therapy through revisions to R156 concerning Commerce, Occupational and Professional Licensing, drawing from her article Being Transgender in the Era of Trump: Compassion Should Pick Up Where Science Leaves Off.
Assisted the Utah Legislature to craft its landmark antidiscrimination laws protecting both the LGBT and faith communities in a package of protections, drawn from Bargaining for Civil Rights: Lessons from Mrs. Murphy for Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Rights, described in more detail in Common Ground Lawmaking Lessons for Peaceful Coexistence from Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Utah Compromise.
Assisted Senator Michael McLachlan, Connecticut State Senate, in codifying same-sex marriage with legislative protections for all, drawing from her work on Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts with Professor Douglas Laycock and Anthony Picarello. This effort resulted in religious liberty protections in 9 states and the District of Columbia. See, e.g., Connecticut (S.B. 899, 2009); District of Columbia (D.C. Law 18-110, 2009); New Hampshire (H.B. 73, 2010); New York (A. 8354, 2011); Washington (S.B. 6239, 2012); Maryland (H.B. 438, 2012); Minnesota (H.F. 1054, 2013); Rhode Island (S. 0038A, 2013); Illinois (S.B. 0010, 2013); and Hawaii (S.B. 1, 2013).
Assisted Rep. David Orentlicher, Indiana House of Representatives, in crafting child protection legislation (Indiana S.B. 311), drawing on her work on Sexually Predatory Parents and the Children in Their Care: Remove the Threat, Not the Child, in Handbook of Children, Culture and Violence 39 (Nancy Dowd, Dorothy G. Singer & Robin Fretwell Wilson, eds., 2006).
Assisted Rep. James Smith, SC House of Representatives, in crafting the Lewis Blackman Hospital Patient Safety Protection Act (South Carolina H.B. 3832). Professor Wilson partnered with Helen Haskell, whose fifteen-year-old son, Lewis Blackman, had died, to fashion a package of patient protections designed to avert tragic deaths, such as requiring health professionals to wear name tags and posting notices about how to reach an attending physician.
Partnered with Del. Robert Bell, VA House of Delegates, to provide patient protections around intimate teaching exams, drawing on her article Autonomy Suspended: Using Female Patients to Teach Intimate Exams Without Their Knowledge or Consent and her testimony before the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice at the Joint Hearings on Health Care and Competition Law and Policy on June 10, 2003.
Assisted Representative David Orentlicher, Indiana House of Representatives, in crafting child protection legislation (Indiana S.B. 194), drawing on Professor Wilson’s article The Cradle of Abuse: Evaluating the Danger Posed by a Sexually Predatory Parent to the Victim’s Siblings.

EXPERIENCE &
BACKGROUND

ABOUT

Robin Fretwell Wilson is the Director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, where she also co-leads the Equity, Justice, and Human Flourishing Working Group. Professor Wilson is the Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. She holds appointments at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine in the Biomedical and Translational Sciences Department and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign in Pathology. A member of the American Law Institute, Professor Wilson is the founder of the Tolerance Means Dialogues and Fairness for All initiatives, both gift-funded projects to reframe the culture war as not-a-war-at-all. She co-directs the College of Law’s Epstein Health Law and Policy Program and founded and co-directs the Family Law and Policy Program. She specializes in law and religion, family law, and health law. Professor Wilson has led law-reform projects on same-sex marriage and gay rights, resulting in landmark legislation. More recently Professor Wilson has led a law-reform effort requiring specific consent to use patients to teach intimate exams in teaching settings. The laws are now in place in 18 states. Professor Wilson has published 13 books on family law, religious freedom, and health equity issues.

National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. 

K01 Award Grant Team, 2019 to Present.  

Fulbright Specialist.

Roster Member on Civil Rights Complementarity, 2019 to Present.     

International Society of Family Law, Trinity College, Cambridge, England. 

Vice President, Newsletter Editor, Website Co-Editor (with Joanna Miles), 2017 to Present. 

Law and Religion Section, Association of American Law Schools, Washington D.C. 

Chair, 2016 – Present. 

Member At Large, Executive Committee, 2014 – 2015. 

Family & Juvenile Law Section, Association of American Law Schools, Washington D.C. 

Chair, 2008 – 2010.

Secretary-Treasurer, 2007 – 2008.

Member, Executive Committee, 2001 to Present.

Chair of the Mentoring Program, 2001 – 2006.

The International Society of Family Law, Trinity College, Cambridge, England. 

Elected to the Executive Council, 2014.  

Elected to the Executive Council for the Study of the Jurisprudence of the Family, 2012.

American Law Institute, Philadelphia, PA.

Elected in 2009. 

Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois System.

Director, 2020 to Present. 

Co-Lead of the Equity, Justice and Human Flourishing Working Group, 2021 to Present.

Lead of the Substance Use Disorder and Behavioral Health Working Group, 2019 – 2021.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Law, Champaign, Illinois.

Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law, 2020 to Present. 

Co-Director and Founder of the Family Law and Policy Program, 2020 to Present. Director, 2016 – 2020. 

Co-Director of the Epstein Program in Health Law and Policy, 2020 to Present. Director, 2016 – 2020. 

Director of the Fairness for All Initiative supported by the Templeton Religion Trust and the First Amendment Partnership, 2016 to Present. 

Director of the Tolerance Means Dialogues supported by directed gifts, 2016 to Present. 

Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law and Director, 2013 to 2020.

Associate Dean for Public Engagement, 2019 – 2020. 

University of Illinois College of Medicine, Champaign, Illinois. 

Professor in the Department of Pathology, 2016 to Present. 

University of Illinois Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, Urbana-Champaign, IL.

Founding Faculty Member of Genomic Security and Privacy Research Theme, 2019 to Present. 

Washington and Lee University School of Law, Lexington, Virginia.

Class of 1958 Law Alumni Professor of Law, 2009 – 2013.

Law Alumni Faculty Fellow, 2011 – 2012.

Professor of Law and Law Alumni Faculty Fellow, 2008 – 2009.

Professor of Law, 2007 – 2013.

University of Maryland School of Law, Baltimore, Maryland.

Professor of Law, 2006 – 2007.

Associate Professor of Law, 2004 – 2006. 

University of South Carolina School of Law, Columbia, South Carolina.

Associate Professor of Law, 2003 – 2004.

Assistant Professor of Law, 1998 – 2003. 

ADMINISTRATIVE EXPERIENCE

University of Illinois College of Law, Champaign, IL. 

Co-Director (with Professor David Hyman) of the Epstein Program in Health Law and Policy, 2016 to Present. Director, 2016 -2020. 

Director and Founder of the Family Law and Policy Program, 2014 to Present.

Washington and Lee University School of Law, Lexington, Virginia.

Director and Founder of the Johnson & Johnson Law and Medicine Colloquium Series,  2008 – 2013. 

University of South Carolina School of Law, Columbia, South Carolina.

Director and Founder of the Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Law Lecture Series, 1999 – 2004.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Texas.

1995 – 1996.

University of Virginia School of Law, Charlottesville, Virginia, J.D., May 1995.

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, B.A. with Highest Distinction in Religious Studies and Biology, May 1989.

Engagement



Policies from People, for People

One important generator of policy is the lived experiences of actual people, especially during times of immense need. Gathering these insights is one thrust of Professor Wilson’s work, an approach that can loosely be described as “Policies from People, for People.” IGPA has developed innovations to help lift the voices of actual people, including the Citizen Scientist Journaling Project and the surveys of panels of experts, the Pandemic Stress Indicator Project, led by Professor Brian Gaines. These initiatives especially resonate with elected officials because they mirror an important generator of policy—constituent feedback—with a rigorous, systematic process that reaches across the entire state or region.


Dialogues on Tolerance

Many culture war clashes need not be a war at all: antiquated laws trap us into deciding to preference one interest over another when, in fact, they can be melded. Millennials and Generation Z are actively bridging culture war divides, which is no surprise since they have grown up with unprecedented diversity and openness to one another. If we are to heal a fractured society, we should amplify their voices and learn from them. The Tolerance Means Dialogues (TMD), a project co-founded with Yale University Professor William N. Eskridge, Jr., generates dialogue around deeply contested questions in civil society by hosting Dialogues at colleges and universities across the nation, offering scholarships to essay winners who provide the most compelling advice on what tolerance means to them and how to live together in a diverse society. This important work is made possible by a gift from Templeton Religion Trust.


$500,000 MacArthur Grant

Professors Wilson, Mendenhall, and others are now working to expand the Citizen Scientists approach through a new project: Centering Youth’s Health and Wellness: Designing a Third Reconstruction and Chicago Renaissance. This project seeks to create a culture of innovation that centers on the health and wellness of Black and Latinx high school students and young adults (up to age 21) living in Chicago. These students and young adults will also act as Community Health Workers and Citizen Scientists to document health disparities and offer solutions, with a generous grant of $500,000 from the MacArthur Foundation.


17 Citizen Scientists

Together with Professor Ruby Mendenhall at UIUC, Professor Wilson has convened the Citizen Scientists Journaling on COVID-19 Project in an effort to better understand how Illinois residents have managed socially, emotionally, and economically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixteen Illinois residents journaled here once a week for six months. The project drew from those most affected by the pandemic—older persons; persons presently incarcerated; persons in rural communities; members of the homeless community; and members of the Black, Latinx, and LGBT communities, and more. These individuals’ journals teach lessons about community, faith, resilience, halting progress, overcoming—and even the efficacy of public policies being put in place in real-time by a government struggling to mitigate impacts on people.


Access to Justice

In a collaboration between the National Center for State Courts and IGPA, Professors Wilson, Jason Mazzone, and Brian Gaines have launched a large-scale examination of how pandemic-related changes to court operations impacted cases and access to the legal system: the COVID-19 and the Operation of Courts Project. A national survey – constructed after two dozen focus groups in Illinois, South Carolina, and Ohio with judges, lawyers, litigants, jurors, and court staff – is presently in the field. The goal is to determine what has worked and what hasn’t. A key preliminary finding is that when court proceedings move online, digital divides exacerbate problems of access to justice. Learning not only from presiding judges, court personnel, and attorneys, but also from litigants themselves, the project is documenting innovative approaches like kiosks pioneered by some jurisdictions to overcome the digital divide.


Medicalization of Poverty

Professor Wilson co-convened with University of Virginia Professor Lois Shepherd the Medicalization of Poverty Symposium, published in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics. The Symposium brings together experts in medicine, law, policy, and ethics to explore the connection between poverty, disease burden, and healthcare expenditures. A number of diseases are strongly linked to poverty, and poverty is a strong predictor of health status. A second aspect of poverty is less well-explored: we spend inordinate amounts of money and other resources to address healthcare needs brought on by poverty instead of providing for the tangible needs of the poor before illness results — a phenomenon we call the Medicalization of Poverty. We treat the symptom, not the problem. Rather than adequately address poor housing conditions and prenatal care, we offer inhalers and NICUs. This approach comes at both a financial and a human cost. The Symposium asks, “How Can We Do Better?” In 2021, the Medicalization of Poverty was published as a book in China with Professor Lois Shepherd and Professor Lei (David) Shi, associate professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law.


Fairness for All

Professor Wilson founded the Fairness for All Initiative 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. Made possible by the generous support of the Templeton Religion Trust, Professor Wilson’s work draws extensively on her experience assisting the Utah Legislature when it enacted its landmark 2015 nondiscrimination laws. The Fairness for All bill, H.R.5331, introduced in December 2019, draws on Professor Wilson’s policy proposals relating to foster care and adoption.



Recent Publications

Up Next

No Content Available
No Content Available

HONORS & AWARDS

2022 Plumer Visiting Professor, St. Anne's College, Oxford University
2022 Plumer Visiting Professor, St. Anne's College, Oxford University
2022 Designated Fulbright Specialist on Civil Rights Complementarity and IHSS Distinguished Visiting Fellow by Queen Mary University, London, United Kingdom
2018 Named as one of the 150 for 150: Celebrating the Accomplishments of Women at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for its sesquicentennial celebration
2015 Honored at signing of the Utah Compromise, receiving one of 16 signing pens in recognition of work with the Utah Legislature to enact its landmark LGBT nondiscrimination law, Senate Bill 296
2011 Louise A. Halper Diversity Award, Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, Washington and Lee University School of Law
2007 Citizen's Legislative Award, presented by Delegate Robert Bell, Virginia House of Delegates, for work on Virginia's informed consent legislation
2020 Granted the Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law at the University of Illinois College of Law
2020 Larine Y. Cowan Make a Difference Award for Advocacy for LGBTQ Affairs
Honored by the Utah State Senate in 2022 for her sustained efforts on behalf of human rights, fairness for all, and a more civil society.
Top 10 Most-Cited Family Law Faculty in the US 2016 -2020.
Named a member of the 2021-2022 cohort of Public Voices Fellowship sponsored by the University of Illinois System

POLICY

Policy Work

Informed Consent for Unauthorized Pelvic Exams, 2003-present

Since January 1, 2019, Professor Wilson and a team of students have been supporting legislative...
Read More

Access to Justice During COVID-19 and Beyond

In collaboration between the National Center for State Courts and IGPA, Professors Wilson, Jason Mazzone,...
Read More

Fairness for All Initiative, University of Illinois College of Law, 2016-present

Together with Utah Senate President J. Stuart Adams, Professor Wilson has conducted Fairness for All...
Read More

Centering Youth’s Health and Wellness:  Designing a Third Reconstruction and Chicago Renaissance

Professors Wilson, Mendenhall, and others are now working to expand the Citizen Scientists approach through...
Read More

Tolerance Means Dialogue, University of Illinois College of Law, 2016-present

TMD provides scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students for exploring the meaning of tolerance in...
Read More

Landmark LGBT Nondiscrimination Laws and Ban on Gay Conversion Therapy, 2015-2019

Professor Wilson’s work on balanced measures that respect religious freedom on questions central to many...
Read More