Meet Gabrielle Davis, '85
Attorney and Educator; Domestic Violence Prevention Advocate
“After I was here a couple of months, you couldn’t have dragged me away from Siena. I don’t know that I knew I was going to get my degree from Siena, but once I was here, I was sure of it. ... It’s almost hard to put into words because Siena had such an enormous influence on me. I am who I am today because of the years I spent here at Siena.”
Gabrielle Davis’ Siena Heights experience was only supposed to last one semester. Davis, a Toledo, Ohio, native, was attending Oberlin College but had to return home to deal with a medical issue. She didn’t want to fall behind in her classes, so when a friend invited her up to nearby Siena Heights to visit, she accepted.
“I enrolled with the intention of just being here a semester and going back to Oberlin,” Davis said. “After I was here a couple of months, you couldn’t have dragged me away from Siena. I don’t know that I knew I was going to get my degree from Siena, but once I was here, I was sure of it.”
It was another suggestion from someone at Siena that put her on her next career path.
“I was getting close to graduation, and I had a professor who I was very close to, Sister Pat Hogan,” Davis said. “She said, ‘What are you going to do when you graduate?’ ... I said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe this. Maybe that.’ She said, ‘I think you should apply to law school. And, by the way, I’ve already written the letter of recommendation. So here’s an application, fill it out and send it in.’ ”
When Davis resisted the notion, Sister Hogan’s response was nothing short of prophetic.
“She said, ‘You’ve had a lot of advantages in your life, and you really have an obligation to give back a little bit. And I can’t think of a better way to do it than for you to go to law school and serve the people who need your help.’ ”
Now an accomplished lawyer and a professor at the University of Toledo’s College of Law, Davis is using her legal expertise to help victims of domestic violence.
“Many (domestic violence victims) were talking about their experiences through the criminal justice system,” Davis said of her early exposure to the problem. “And those experiences were roundly negative. ... It broke my heart to think that people turned to the criminal justice for help, and they were actually re-victimized through that process. I wondered if there was anything I could do that could turn the tide.”
She started and currently directs UT’s Domestic Violence Clinic that teaches and supervises students in assisting domestic violence victims in collaboration with many community services and organizations. Her efforts have been called groundbreaking, and she recently received the prestigious Jefferson Award for Public Service. However, awards are not what drive Davis.
“It’s lovely to have your work recognized, but at the same time, when I look at all the work that needs to be done, it feels premature or undeserved,” Davis said. “Maybe because there is so much work, so much change that needs to be made. It’s very bittersweet. I just hope people being very generous rallying around me will translate into rallying around this cause.”
Davis said receiving an award named after the first woman (Sister Ann Joachim) to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court is a “humbling” experience. It’s also another reminder of the place where she “learned to love to learn.”
“It’s almost hard to put into words because Siena had such an enormous influence on me,” Davis said of her Siena experience. “I am who I am today because of the years I spent here at Siena.”