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Advocate for mentally ill remains ardent activist

In the '60s, many college students became active in political, social and academic causes. Keeping up that activism after their college years proved less popular.

Kim Darrow, B.A. '69, didn't go that route.

Having been especially active in academic rights and Vietnam war resistance at UB, the 49-year-old Darrow is now a senior attorney at the uniquely named Mental Hygiene Legal Services of West Brentwood, N.Y.

"There's a tremendous stigma attached to the label of mental illness," he remarks. "They're the only group of society who can be locked up and have their freedom taken away simply because of the way they're perceived by society."

As a member of the Special Litigation and Appeals unit of Mental Hygiene, Darrow takes on special assignments involving institutionalized clients. The legal work is extremely complex, as all sorts of "special" rules apply. "These people have extremely difficult legal problems. They may have committed violent acts, but because of their 'insanity' verdicts, they're supposedly not criminals. Yet they're still locked up. There's an unspoken feeling that they ought to be punished. Consequently, their liberty is compromised."

Handling mental illness litigation may seem like an unusual career move for a physics-turned-philosophy major, but Darrow views it as an extension of UB activism. "These are different battles, sure. It's not necessarily about academic freedom or war resistance, but it's certainly dealing with the centrality of personal liberty."

At UB, Darrow was a founding member of the Faculty-Student Committee for Academic Freedom, a group which, among other things, protested the requirement that SUNY professors sign the so-called Feinberg Certificate disclaiming membership in the Communist Party. (In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of those who had long fought this vestige of McCarthyism.)

Darrow was later a student senator, vice president of the Student Association, and cochair of the President's Task Force on University Policy. "During my time in Buffalo, students became interested in running the school. Not just being passive consumers of an education, but being active participants in the university."