Blazing trails as a Black woman in law, UF student Britney Deas has a bright path ahead

<p>UF Law student Britney Deas</p>

UF Law student Britney Deas

Certain things defy explanation – like the way Britney Abigail Deas never crawled before she started walking, or how she could always come up with an ingenious pun for every situation.

The University of Florida law student entered the world with an unstoppable instinct to stand up, charge forward, and find the perfect words at the right time – even in the tough times, sometimes especially in the tough times. She was just born BAD (literally, those are her initials).

So it was no surprise to those around her when 25-year-old Deas started crushing barriers and glass ceilings – becoming the first Black woman to hold several collegiate titles – all by the first quarter of her life. Her latest achievement: being appointed the first Black woman chief justice of the UF Supreme Court, during Black History Month. 

“I think it’s amazing to be the first person to do something,” said Deas, whose new role will include overseeing student hearings, disputes, and appeals. “But it’s even better to make sure that you’re not the last.”

The firsts

The first person to pave the way for Deas’ success was undoubtedly her mother – a physician assistant who immigrated from Haiti to New York to Florida and took care of her daughter on her own.

“I was raised by a single mom who sacrificed a lot for me to have the best education,” Deas said, adding that she attended Catholic school in her Miami hometown. “My mom would always tell me that the reason she would go without certain things – why she would wear the same clothes, why she wouldn’t get her hair or her nails done – was to make sure I attended the best school because she always valued education. She would always tell me that education was the only thing that somebody could not take away from me.”

When other amenities might be taken away – like the power when the utility bill couldn’t be paid and Deas had to do her homework in the dark – she would remember her mother’s words about education.

“Sometimes, there wouldn’t be light for me to study, but I knew that having an enlightened mind was more important – at least that’s how I felt – and so it inspired me to work harder,” Deas said.

Work hard, she did. She initially planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps and aim for the medical field, but Deas pivoted during her undergraduate years at the University of South Florida when she joined student government.

“I saw, as a student government leader, what an impact you could have on the community around you,” Deas said. “And my mom had always impressed upon me the importance of serving others wholeheartedly and offering assistance when you’re given the opportunity to help those in need.”

Envisioning herself filling that need and affecting change as a community leader, Deas decided she would pursue law. She would spend her life helping people. And she would break records doing so.

Her first “first” was becoming the first Black woman student body president at the University of South Florida. At the time, the university had not elected a female student body president in two decades, but the next two leaders after Deas were women. Deas served for a year in that position until graduating in 2020 magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“Representation is so important, because it’s sometimes hard to imagine yourself in a position unless you see somebody else do it,” Deas said. “With me being able to break glass ceilings for others to now imagine themselves in those positions is truly humbling.”

Her second “first” was her recent appointment as the first Black woman chief justice of the UF Supreme Court – a role she will hold while working toward her juris doctor degree at UF’s Levin College of Law with an expected graduation date of May 2025. As chief justice, Deas will serve alongside four associate judges to hear petitions from student government representatives and uphold the student body constitution.

The future

“You do something once and you think, ‘Oh wow, that was really cool and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do something like that ever again.’ That was how I felt when I accomplished what I accomplished at USF,” Deas said. “But being able to come to UF now as a law student and to make history again is something I think solidifies what it means to persevere and to work hard and to have a purpose and a passion. And I think, when people can see and feel how genuine you are about wanting to make a difference and an impact, it resonates with others.”

The work Deas has done as a college student is already making a tangible impact. As student body president at the University of South Florida, for example, she accomplished her campaign initiative of redesigning every student ID on campus to include information on mental health and safety resources – a passionate goal Deas imagined might reach people in their most difficult hours. 

Then, when she went to work as a Congressional intern in U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s Washington, D.C. office in the summer of 2021, Deas gave a presentation on H.R. 2914 (the Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act). Deas’ speech moved Castor to co-sponsor the bill, which, when enacted, would make the addition of suicide prevention resources to student ID cards a federal law. 

The experience confirmed to Deas that, not only could she take an idea and run with it, but she could advocate it into existence – and maybe save people’s lives in the process.

“I have a profound desire to improve my community and be an advocate for those who need someone to be their voice,” said Deas, who is also a fluent speaker of Haitian Creole. “I can save lives by guaranteeing equal social opportunities and protection under the law.”

Adding to her legal experience, Deas worked as a judicial intern for the Honorable Mary Stenson Scriven in the Middle District of Florida (the first Black woman to serve on a federal court in the state), and as a legal intern at Hill Ward Henderson in Tampa.

When Deas wasn’t writing serious memoranda as a legal intern, she was working on her puns – exploring the more whimsical, witty side of her personality. The entrepreneur launched a website in 2020 called, where she creates apparel and accessories that are adorned with clever wordplay.

“I just love puns. I love wordplay. Growing up, I’d write poems for my mom. In high school and middle school, I would do rap battles with my friends,” Deas said. “So, with my website, I sell punny paraphernalia to grad students and professionals in the law, medicine, dentistry, and veterinary fields. I don’t know why God gave me this talent, but if you need a pun, I’m here.”

Joanna Auchettl, Esq., has watched the multitasking Deas in all of her pursuits since she started advising her in Fall 2022 in the Levin College of Law. She looks forward to watching Deas progress in her career after she graduates from the University of Florida.

“Britney is extremely motivated and I greatly admire that about her,” Auchettl said. “I do believe Britney will inspire others as her accomplishments show what hard work and determination can bring.”

That determination comes from “an innate place,” Deas said – always there, always pushing, always moving her ahead.

“I never crawled before walking as a child. My mom actually thought I wasn’t going to be able to walk,” said Deas, who ultimately plans to pursue a career in some form of public service. “But, one day, I just got up and started walking, and everyone in the house started crying.”

Deas has been astounding people ever since.

Abby Weingarten February 21, 2024