Donna Kay Coker

Professor of Law
Social Justice/Public Interest Concentration Affiliated Faculty

(305) 284-3041
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Professor Donna Coker teaches Evidence; Substantive Criminal Law; Gender Violence and Social Justice; Social Justice Lawyering; Restorative Justice and Law; Mass Incarceration: Causes, Consequences, and Remedies; and Criminal Justice Policy Reform. She has twice received a Provost’s Research Award (2017, 2021). Students awarded her the Hausler Golden Apple teaching award in 2015. Professor Coker served as Academic Associate Dean from 2005-2009.

Professor Coker’s scholarship focuses on criminal law, gender, and race inequality. She is a nationally recognized expert in intimate partner violence (IPV) law and policy. Her research concerns the connection between economic vulnerability and IPV; restorative justice responses to IPV and sexual harm; and the intersections of gender and race subordination in criminal law doctrine, policy, and application. Her research is interdisciplinary and influenced by scholarship in critical race feminism, restorative justice, public health, and criminology.

Professor Coker is a leading critic of the disproportionate focus on criminal justice responses that characterizes U.S. IPV policy. Her widely cited research illustrates the negative impact of this focus on women marginalized as a function of poverty, race, and immigration status. In 2014, she co-organized a national conference of more than 200 academics across disciplines, service providers, attorneys, activists, and students. The conference, Converge! Reimagining the Movement to End Gender Violence, furthered gender violence activism and policy that is anti-racist, supports alternatives to crime-centered approaches, and addresses structural inequality. In 2015, she was the co-investigator for a national survey of service providers regarding police response to domestic violence and sexual assault. With more than 900 respondents, the survey uncovered significant police bias on the basis of gender, race, class, immigration status, and LGBTQ identity. She is the co-founder of the Reimagining project, which highlights the thinking of leading scholars and activists involved in changing the response to gender violence.

Professor Coker’s research regarding the use of restorative justice approaches to IPV and sexual harm has influenced work in the interdisciplinary fields of restorative justice and domestic violence in the United States and abroad. Her empirical study of domestic violence cases in Navajo Peacemaking courts was one of the first empirical studies of Peacemaking and the first to focus on domestic violence cases. Her recent scholarship examines the use of restorative justice responses to campus sexual assault.

Her work on the nature of "heat of passion" doctrine uncovered gender related assumptions imbedded in criminal law doctrine. She continued to explore gender and racial bias in her Criminal Law Stories chapter on Wanrow, a self-defense case frequently cited as the first "women's self-defense" case. She co-edited Criminal Law Stories (2013) with Professor Robert Weisberg (Stanford Law).

Professor Coker has assisted numerous non-profits and advocacy organizations. She served as an expert and advisor to the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered; an advisory board member for A National Portrait of Restorative Approaches to Intimate Partner Violence (a national survey); and a founding board member of the non-profit, Media for Change.

Before attending law school, Professor Coker worked in the domestic violence field for 10 years. This work began in 1978 when she was became the sole staff person for a newly opened battered women's shelter in Little Rock, Arkansas. In subsequent years she was the Coordinator of a community based battered women's project in Honolulu, Hawaii, overseeing advocacy and support for more than 100 women a year.

Area of Expertise
  • Criminal Law
  • Gender and the Law
  • Intimate Partner Violence
  • Restorative Justice