Law School welcomes gender and family law scholar to faculty

Noelle Mateer
July 31, 2013
Dara Purvis explains family law issues, gender roles and her research on nontraditional parents. Then she chuckles. “You can probably tell that I’m a pretty staunch feminist,” she said. “My question is: how free are we to conform to norms, which I think is a totally valid choice, or depart from them?”
As it turns out, Purvis departs from some norms herself as she covers something unusual for a feminist: men. Stay-at-home dads, unwed biological fathers, men who take on traditionally feminine roles -- they’re all treated differently by the law. And according to Purvis, those who go against societal norms are often forced to jump through higher legal hoops. 
For example, she’s researched a case in which a family court said that a stay-at-home father wasn’t the primary caretaker of his child because the Air Force-officer mother was able to help on evenings and days off.
“That's definitely true descriptively,” she said. “But I don't think many judges would similarly say that a stay-at-home mother wasn't the primary caretaker of a child because the breadwinner father was still available on nights and weekends.”
These sticky situations have fueled Purvis’ academic writing of late, but she’s focused on the intersection of gender roles and the law ever since she began writing as a Yale Law School student, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.
Purvis, assistant professor of law, joins Penn State Law from the University of Illinois College of Law, and she says she’s excited to see what the perspectives of her new colleagues and students will bring to her writing.
These new perspectives come about during the “robust discussions” she likes to hold in class. She also adds that her teaching is somewhat informal -- she believes that students are adults with “the freedom and responsibility to make decisions accordingly.”
But she has another reason to look forward to her move to Penn State. “One of my best friends from law school is a Penn State undergraduate alum,” she said. “Outside of wearing a business suit, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without some sort of Penn State gear on.”
In addition to her Yale juris doctor degree, Purvis holds a masters of philosophy from the University of Cambridge and a bachelor of arts from the University of Southern California. She has clerked for The Hon. Gerald E. Lynch, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and The Hon. Raymond C. Fisher, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  
  • Dara Purvis is a professor of law at Penn State.

    Dara Purvis, assistant professor of law in Penn State Dickinson School of Law, is a scholar of gender and family law. 

    IMAGE: Mary Szmolko
Last Updated July 22, 2015