co-founder, islawmix, Oakland, California
Challenge: Re-imagine how we identify and tell the many untold stories about our legal system.
Umbreen Bhatti spent her year at Stanford as an advocate for audiences. Upon her arrival, she dove deep into design thinking at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the d.school) learning the methodology and then co-teaching and facilitating workshops at the invitation of others. She used design thinking to tackle her two main projects, both aimed at finding ways to give citizens what they want and need to be informed and engaged participants in society. Her first project, Briefly, is the result of extensive interviews with lawyers and advocates, coupled with lengthy engagement with a local TV station. Briefly is a tool to facilitate the fast, easy sharing of potential stories that can reveal how ordinary people interact with our legal system. Her second project is The Comments Section, which documents insights from interviews with individual news consumers, nearly all of whom have never been asked about their news needs.
Bhatti also took management and storytelling classes at the Graduate School of Business, assisted with the Stanford Storytelling Project’s podcast, and immersed herself in the study of play through game design class, game studies class, creative gym, and the observation of toddlers at Bing Nursery School. Her creative muscles are now the strongest they’ve ever been.
Helping journalists find the untold stories about our legal system.
Umbreen Bhatti is working to help journalists more effectively report on how the U.S. legal system affects all of our lives.
As a civil rights lawyer at the ACLU, Umbreen Bhatti sued police departments, prisons and, once, a movie theater. She quickly learned that fighting her cases in court wasn’t the same as fighting them in the court of public opinion, however, and that news media played a critical role in advancing public understanding of her clients’ causes and the legal system more generally. In 2010, she co-founded islawmix to add context and nuance to the (surprisingly) large number of stories about Islamic law in American news media. Under her leadership, islawmix’s editorial team produced accessible, engaging content that demystified Islamic law as it appeared in news stories on topics ranging from fake fatwas about bananas to the meaning of the terms “shari’a” and “jihad” (spoiler: it’s not exactly “holy war”). Bhatti came to California by way of upstate New York, Barnard College and University of Michigan Law School and now delights in the sun every day.
Information on this page is from the fellowship year.