Prior to joining Vanderbilt, she was an associate professor of law at the University of Tennessee where she directed the Law School and State of Tennessee’s first Immigration Clinic dedicated to educating law students on immigration and refugee law. Her clinic successfully focused on representing indigent immigrant and refugee populations, including children who travel to the United States with out a guardian, from Togo, Syria, the Gambia, China, Jordan, Somalia, Rwanda, Iraq, Eritrea, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Central America.
Her focus is on engaged activist research that she brings directly into the classroom and where she challenges her students to directly apply the concepts in which they learn in practicing law. In furtherance of this goal, in the fall 2014, McKanders, along with her students, traveled to Artesia, New Mexico to engage in the pro bono representation of detained women and children who were summarily denied due process rights.
From 2016 - 2017, she was visiting professor and supervising attorney at Howard University School of Law in the Civil Rights Clinic where she wrote Supreme Court amicus briefs on contemporary civil rights issues with her students and colleagues at the Law School.
Her work has taken her around the country and abroad researching the efficacy of legal institutions charged with processing migrants and refugees. In 2011, she received a Fulbright Award to lecture at the University of Mohammad V in Rabat, Morocco. After her Fulbright, she played an instrumental role in establishing Morocco’s first pro bono Refugee Legal Aid Clinic with the organization, Droit et Justice. She continues to collaborate with law professors and civil society in the Middle East and North Africa to address implementing clinical legal education and disparities in access to justice for immigrants and refugees.
Her articles have been published in the Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice, University of Iowa’s Gender Race and Social Justice Law Journal, and Catholic Law Review, among other law journals. She has also been cited as an authority on immigration and refugee law in Reuters, ABC News, and Al-Jazeera. In addition, McKanders has received numerous awards for her work, including selection by University of Tennessee’s Chancellor for the Jefferson Prize and the Gardner of Change Award for her teaching. Her teaching expands outside the classroom as she has been sought after by police departments, Universities in the MENA region, bar associations, community organizations, and Tennessee’s Department of Children Services to provide training on immigration and refugee law.
McKanders received her J.D. Duke University School of Law in 2003, and her B.A. in Political Science and Minor in French from Spelman College in 2000. She clerked for the Honorable Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals from 2005 - 2006.