Jocelyn Benson

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Jocelyn Benson
Personal details
Born (1977-10-22) October 22, 1977 (age 39)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Ryan Friedrichs
Alma mater Wellesley College
Magdalen College, Oxford
Harvard University
Website Personal website

Jocelyn Benson is the Dean of Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. She is a co-founder of the Military Spouses of Michigan and a board member of the Southern Poverty Law Center. She was the Democratic Party's nominee for Michigan Secretary of State in the November 2010 election and is the author of "State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process." Crain's named her one of Michigan's "Most Influential Women" in 2016[1] and in October 2015 she became one of the youngest women in the state's history to be inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame, second only to Serena Williams.[2]

Education and early career[edit]

Benson graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College, where she founded the now-annual Women in American Political Activism conference and was the first student to be elected to serve in the governing body for the town of Wellesley, Massachusetts. She subsequently earned her Master's in Sociology as a Marshall Scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, in the United Kingdom, conducting research into the sociological implications of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. Prior to attending law school, Benson also lived in Montgomery, Alabama, where she worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center as an investigative journalist, researching white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. Benson has also worked as a summer associate for voting rights and election law for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and as a legal assistant to Nina Totenberg at National Public Radio.

Benson received her J.D. from Harvard University Law School, where she was a general editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.[3] From 2002-2004, she served as the Voting Rights Policy Coordinator of the Harvard Civil Rights Project, a non-profit organization that sought to link academic research to civil rights advocacy efforts,[3] where she worked on the passage of the federal Help America Vote Act.

Upon graduation from Harvard Law, Benson moved to Detroit to serve as a law clerk to the Honorable Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Wayne Law[edit]

Benson stepped down as Dean of Wayne State University Law School at the end of September, 2016 to become CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality. At Wayne State Law School, she taught Election Law and Education Law.[4] She was appointed Dean in December 2012 at the age of 35, becoming the youngest woman to lead a top 100 law school in United States history.[5] As Dean she significantly expanded the law school's opportunities for experiential learning and established two "marquee" programs: the Levin Center at Wayne Law,[6] chaired by former United States Senator Carl Levin, and the Program on Entrepreneurship and Business Law,[7] which helps aspiring business professionals in underserved communities participate in the economic revival of Detroit. The PEBL program offers early-stage legal assistance to participating local startups and creates forums for entrepreneurs to receive general legal guidance, access community resources and share their own business experience. Prior to being appointed Dean in 2012, Benson was the Associate Director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, where she started the Michigan Allies Project, an effort designed to track hate incidents throughout Michigan and provide legal support for victims.

In her new role as CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, Benson will be working with the heads of the major sports leagues to help athletes address social equality. The group is also developing curriculum for younger students to help them learn about issues and how to speak out. The Ross Initiative is a venture led by professional sports organizations, including the NFL, NBA and MLB, to improve race relations in America. She also will serve as a special adviser on philanthropic investments to RISE founder Stephen M. Ross, whose total donations to higher education rank behind only those of fellow U.S. billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Ross' contributions include more than $300 million given to the University of Michigan, which has named its business school after him. Ross is an alumnus of Wayne Law. Benson has worked with him on various issues since being dean.[8]

Military Spouses of Michigan and Veterans Advocacy[edit]

In 2012, Benson joined with three other military spouses and family members in Michigan to create Military Spouses of Michigan, a network dedicated to providing support and services to military family members and veterans in Michigan.[9] In January 2013, the group was selected to represent the state of Michigan in the Presidential Inaugural Parade; the only group of military spouses to receive that honor.[10]

Civics Education and Election Law[edit]

In 2011, Benson was selected to serve with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the national board of directors of iCivics, Inc., a nonprofit created by Justice O'Connor to improve civics education throughout the country.[11] In addition to serving as an appointed member of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Election Law,[3] she is also the founder and current director of the Michigan Center for Election Law, which hosts projects that support transparency and integrity in elections. In 2011 the Center hosted Michigan's first ever "Citizens' Redistricting Competition," providing an opportunity for Michigan citizens to access software and draw their own redistricting maps for the state.[12]

Benson developed and supervised three statewide nonpartisan election protection efforts in Michigan in 2007, 2008 and 2012.[3] During the 2008 election, she was called to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee,[13] where she called on Secretary Terri Lynn Land to ban the use of foreclosure lists to challenge voters' eligibility on Election Day.[14] She is a frequent commentator on voting rights and election law on local news and radio broadcasts.[15][16][17]

In 2007, Benson worked with several groups to successfully keep a Secretary of State branch office open in Buena Vista Township, Michigan. The U.S. Department of Justice, under then-President George W. Bush, concluded that the closure of the office would violate the Voting Rights Act.[18]

2010 Secretary of State candidacy[edit]

In March 2010, Benson published her first book, State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process. The book highlights best practices of Secretaries from throughout the country and seeks to inform voters about how Secretaries of State from either side of the political spectrum can work to advance democracy and election reform.[19] After working with Secretaries of State from around the country while researching the book, Benson was inspired to run for the office in her home state of Michigan.

After receiving support for her proposals for early voting and no-reason absentee voting at the 2009 Michigan Democratic Party Convention [20] on February 21, 2009, Benson filed paperwork to create an exploratory committee for a campaign for Michigan Secretary of State in 2010.[14]

With the formation of the committee, Benson began a listening tour throughout the state to discuss what can be done to improve elections and the other functions of the Secretary of State’s office.[21] After spending several months gaining support in counties throughout the state, she made her official announcement to run for the Democratic nomination on October 6, 2009.[22]

The Michigan Democratic Party officially nominated Benson for Secretary of State on August 29, 2010. Benson was defeated by Ruth Johnson, but earned more votes than any other Democrat on the ballot in Michigan in 2010.[23]

Family and Personal Life[edit]

Benson is married to SGT Ryan Friedrichs of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.[24] A long-distance runner, Benson averages two full marathons per year. She has completed twenty-two full marathons since 2005, including races in New York City, Detroit, Honolulu, San Francisco, Washington DC, Florence, Venice, Chicago and Philadelphia.[25] She completed her 18th Marathon representing Team Red White and Blue in Rome, Italy. In 2016 she completed her second Boston Marathon and became one of a handful of women in history to complete the Boston Marathon while more than 8 months pregnant.[26] Benson is also an avid fan of the Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Portland Timbers Major League Soccer team.


  1. ^ "Most Influential Women 2016,"
  2. ^ "Wayne Law Dean inducted into Michigan Women's Hall of Fame,"
  3. ^ a b c d Wayne State University Law School Bio for Jocelyn F. Benson
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Levin Center at Wayne Law,"
  7. ^ "Wayne Law PEBL Program."
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Military Spouses of Michigan"
  10. ^ "Military spouses march in today's inaugural parade"
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Wayne Law Professor Benson Invited to Testify Before U.S. Congress Wayne State University - News and Announcements Archive
  14. ^ a b Shawn Wright, Law professor announces bid for state office The South End, March 3, 2009
  15. ^ Pennsylvania Inside Out: Voting Rights WPSU TV, originally aired on March 16, 2008
  16. ^ Weekly Edition #3839 Off the Record, WKAR Public Broadcasting, originally aired March 27, 2009
  17. ^ Jocelyn F. Benson Never turn away a voter Detroit Free Press February 23, 2009
  18. ^ U.S. Department of Justice rules with NAACP to prevent closure of local Secretary of State office Michigan Chronicle Online, January 2, 2008
  19. ^ secretaries of state benson&f=false
  20. ^ Mark Hornbeck, Detroiter to run for Secretary of State Detroit News, February 23, 2009
  21. ^ philgoblue Jocelyn Benson Creates Committee to Explore a Run for Michigan Secretary of State West Michigan Rising, posted Thu March 05, 2009
  22. ^ Detroit News staff reports WSU professor to run for Secretary of State Detroit News October 5, 2009
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2011-10-26. 
  24. ^ "Unlikely Recruit," University of Michigan Alumni Magazine.
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Wayne Law Dean Completes Boston Marathon While Pregnant," Detroit News.

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