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Ms. JD Summer 2019 Public Interest Scholarship Competition is Now Open!

Ms. JD is pleased to announce that applications are now open for the 2019 Summer Public Interest Scholarship Competition

The recipients of the 2019 Public Interest Scholarship Competition will each receive a scholarship, up to $5,000 per recipient, to go towards their summer living expenses as they pursue careers in public interest law. Ms. JD is thrilled to continue our support of women pursuing public interest careers and soften the burden faced by folks who accept public interest internships, which are often unpaid.  

Eligibility

  • The Scholarship is open to all law students who currently identify as women, or who have previously lived as a woman (or girl) and now identify as non-binary.
  • Applicants should be entering their second or third year at an accredited U.S. law school as of summer 2019.
  • Applicants should be planning to work at least 35 hours per week for a minimum of 6 weeks over the summer of 2019.
  • Eligible placements include positions with a government agency, nonprofit organization, or unpaid judicial externship.
  • Applicants do not need to have a confirmed placement at the time of application, but will be asked to submit an offer letter confirming their public interest placement before funds are disbursed in May 2019.

Application

  • In 800 words or less, submit a written application responding to the prompt below.
  • Post the application essay directly to the Ms. JD blog.
  • Use your Ms. JD account to post your response to the blog.  If you do not yet have an account, register for one here: http://ms-jd.org/profile/register.
  • In addition to posting the application essay directly to the blog, please send your essay and resume as PDF attachments to publicinterest@ms-jd.org.  Please include your name and Ms. JD account ID at the top of your attached essay.  We also ask that you provide us with information regarding your anticipated summer employer and any sources of summer funding you will be receiving.
  • Applications are due by 11:59pm EST on Sunday, May 5, 2019.

Prompt

This year Ms. JD celebrated our annual conference with the theme “Speak Up!” Please describe a time in your personal or professional life that you had to speak up to advocate for yourself, and how you envision your future public interest career will facilitate speaking up on behalf of yourself or others.

(A note on framing: folks often say that they would like to “be a voice for the voiceless” in public interest work. We encourage applicants to consider that each person you will serve already has their own voice, and instead reflect on how you might uplift – rather than replace – voices of those most marginalized or whose voices are missing from mainstream conversations.)

44 Comments

Norah Cunningham

Hi Ms. JD Blog! Thank you for all the opportunities you offer for students pursuing public interest law. In response to your prompt: I decided to go to law school when I was sixteen. In virtually every classroom in my small suburban town, it was nearly impossible to go through a full class period without hearing at least one overly confident teenage boy loudly “whisper” degrading, racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic comments to their group of chuckling friends. At the time, as an unbelievably timid and passive sixteen-year-old, I thought the only thing I could do was use my platform as the Editor-in-Chief of the high school newspaper and write about it; so, I wrote an article and made a call to action – don’t be like me, don’t stay silent in the moment. However, the classmates I wrote about pushed back, claiming I was infringing on their “freedom of speech,” and apparently, they were not alone. Multiple groups of students took my article as an opportunity to spotlight how they really felt about students of color, LGBTQ+ students, immigrant students, Muslim students, and other disenfranchised communities. They harassed my friends; they sent threatening, anonymous packages to my house; they showed up to my classes wearing uniform t-shirts; they bullied my little brother in the locker room; they keyed cars parked in front of my house, etc. I realized then that being non-confrontational is a privilege. As a middle class, straight white woman, I had the privilege to be able to shrink, unaffected, when topics made me uncomfortable. I was never forced to speak up or confront various forms of injustice because they never to my knowledge threatened the health, safety, or well-being of my family, friends, or myself. I was silent, and in that inaction, I allowed the problem to continue to exist. In that moment, however, I realized that silence was no longer an option – I had to figure out how to use my privilege and my platform in more productive ways. My experience working with a legal aid organization while in undergraduate school solidified this decision. I remember watching in awe as the strong, passionate attorneys and advocates confidently challenged landlords, employers, housing authorities, school districts, and any other opposing party that they needed to fight in order to support their vulnerable, low-income clients. I watched them actively prevent homelessness, section eight voucher terminations, welfare benefit terminations, unemployment, suspensions, and expulsions. They used their legal knowledge and skills to advocate for their clients against strong, powerful forces, and the results were prevalent. Families were kept together by avoiding eviction, single mothers were able to feed their children by maintaining their benefits, farm workers recovered wages that were stolen from them, and the elderly won the ability to keep bible study in their apartment common room, all because of the efforts of dedicated lawyers and advocates. This office was offering support to and creating tangible change in the lives of those affected by the cycle of poverty, oppression, discrimination, and marginalization, and I wanted to be a part of it. All of this is to say that being awakened to things beyond myself and realizing that my position in the world comes with a sort of duty to use my privilege as my platform lead me here – a place where I am continuously learning how to become a stronger advocate so that I can be a resource to support underrepresented and marginalized or otherwise vulnerable communities. During my first year of law school, I took Immigration Law and was exposed to the insurmountable barriers, legal and otherwise, facing immigrant communities – specifically those fleeing from violence. With the knowledge of countless human rights violations occurring at our border and beyond in this very moment and the realization that we who have access to a legal education have the capacity to do something about it, I plan to use the advocacy skills I have learned and will continue to learn to support the legal needs of immigrant communities navigating our complicated, oppressive, discriminatory marginalizing immigration system. Thank you all in advance for your time and your work with Ms. JD!

ksahota

Hello Ms. J.D.! Navigating the legal profession as a brown- turbaned woman has been the most challenging situation I have found myself in, I see a need to speak up for myself every day. Not only do I find peoples’ gaze lasting for a second too long when I get off the elevator, but I also find myself asking more questions than my peers because I am the first generation from my family to attend college, nonetheless, law school. I feel browner at Golden Gate University School of Law than I ever have in my life (and I grew up with a grandma who was constantly telling me I was too dark and should stay out of the sun). I have had to explain my identity more so than I remember doing during my undergraduate degree. I partially blame the political climate. Being a woman of color during the Obama administration was completely different than being a woman of color during the Trump administration. Though the prompt of this scholarship competition is to highlight a time that I have spoken up for myself, I would also like to take this time to point out that often times when conversations of ethnicity/ race/ and identity are concerned, the bulk of the responsibility falls on people of color to carry the conversation. It is usually people who identify with marginalized groups that are bringing up these topics and that becomes exhausting. With that said, I would like to focus on the privileges I hold as an educated person of color and how I plan on using that privilege to help other folks of color. I believe my entire legal education is a way of me speaking up. Wanting to pursue a legal career in estate planning, my identity is challenged even more. From my experience, estate planning attorneys are predominantly white and male. Not only do I feel the pressure to learn the golf lingo, but I find myself following sports apps just so I can be aware of common conversation starters I observe attorneys having with one another. The subconscious default when someone looks at me is, “Oh, she must want to go into immigration.” I have found myself in three different interviews explaining why I picked estate planning versus any other field. I imagine white law students in this situation are asked about their experience rather than why they see the need to become an estate planner. I have a resume full of estate planning experience and instead of asking about that, the question is always, “why estate planning versus other fields of law?” The answer has become simple for me over the past year and a half. I am eager about this field because there are no attorneys that look like me that do estate planning. People of color equally have a need for this type of service and frankly I believe they would be more comfortable with communicating their needs with an attorney that looks like themselves rather your average Bob. In the Bay Area, we see a growing educated community of brown folk accumulating wealth; these people should have options when it comes to doing a simple Google search for estate planning attorney in their area. The idea of communicating with an attorney is already daunting enough, you think of the black suit and legal jargon. Throwing the complexity of race into the ratio creates a danger that people of color may continue not creating estate plans and dying intestate. Sure this may lead to more probate and will keep attorneys in business, but is that really fair for a person of color who worked their entire life to get themselves and their family to live comfortably. People of color should be able to enjoy the benefits of probate and tax laws just as much as white folk. I am thankful that there is a platform like Ms. J.D. where I can express my experience openly and without worry of judgment. Thank you for creating this space and this scholarship opportunity.

Jaimy L. Rothschild Rippe

Hello, Ms. JD blog. Thank you kindly for this opportunity. In response to the prompt: 
      The most significant motives driving me as a future attorney is the right to economic justice. I will serve the public’s interest by ensuring they are heard and that they are compensated and represented for their work. My chosen geographic focus is Africa. This summer I will be interning in Accra, Ghana, working on matters relative to economic justice under the Solicitor General and Minister of Justice of Ghana.
While recognizing the semi-immediate financial benefit of a venture partnership between Ghana and highly-profitable car manufacturing corporations, I do believe a discussion regarding the long-term negative implications of this deal is essential. How is this not fiscal colonialism? Being the “next India of Africa” for the purposes of sustainable development must also initiate a conversation on the potential exploitation by the powerful partner of a prospering nation in due time. Sure, a consumer market might sustain a rapid growth. However, a venture partnership has an array of implications partitioned into a several detriments to the people of Africa.
Let’s say Toyota purchases land, builds infrastructure, and begins its operations in Accra, Ghana. Such infrastructure will effectively destroy any current efforts toward environmental preservation. A predominant number of those jobs will not go to Ghanaians. Seeing an influx of Asian powerhouse corporations sets the tone for the Ghanaian youth that they cannot be leaders on their own lands when such companies employ those who look nothing like the children in the neighborhoods they enter. We cannot simply monitor the politicians; it is not a feasible mode of protection in this political climate. I am afraid the personhood of Ghanaian culture will be diminished with more of these venture partnerships where the playing field is simply unleveled.
Now, there is a fair point about the trade-offs of these deals. However, it is concerning how many investors are certain to look at Africa only for her “material goods.” Perhaps the idea of trade-offs can be malleable pertaining to various times, circumstances, and social developmental schemes. Another aspect I’d be foolish not to raise is the fact that though these means of production perhaps can be done elsewhere, Africa - and especially Ghana - is worth far more and has greater depth than a whatever is produced from this corporation once it sinks its teeth into its land. Natural resources, scientific and mathematics education far exceeding the standards of the primary schools of the United States and other predominant nations, and so forth. That same investor’s argumentative trade-offs are not so binary nor are they consistently applied. The choice for humanity and economic prosperity in one collective initiative for justice is yours. We can make it. 
I am honored to have a position with the offices of the Solicitor General and the Minister of Justice of Ghana for the betterment of not only my opportunities as a future attorney, but so my peers can experience the same. My work there as a female law student with the public’s well-being at the forefront of all I do reminds me of the bigger mission: to build a sustainable community throughout the world as one diligent cooperation. I believe in the power of all for one and one for all. With this internship, through all other work during my law school experience, and so forth into my time as a practicing attorney, I promise to fulfill any and all duties as an advocate for equitable compensatory rights, societal growth, widespread acceptance of diversity, powerful innovation, and intentional inclusion.
I stand for those who are silenced, even if they face that silence because it may feel as though it is simply the best choice they have in fear of being confronted by their silencer(s). I believe in uplifting one another and that I can do that with my juris doctorate. I stand for those who are equally – if not more – intelligent, compassionate, kind, open-minded, honest, and driven as those who are majorly-accepted in intuitions of higher education and/or strong companies. I learn, I listen, I read, I write, I speak up, I teach, I advocate and unconditionally stand for those who deserve better. I am an ally for diversity and inclusion. I sought to become a lawyer because my passions lie within the complex world of humanitarian focuses coupled with the freedom of economic prosperity for Africa.
We are more than what can be read in our casebooks. We are bigger than just ourselves or those who we see quite often. I am a promisor of hope and believe that my work is an opportunity for far more than just myself and those near. This is my covenant with the deciding committee for this grant, the offices of the Solicitor General and Minister of Justice of Ghana, my community, yours, and with Africa in all her excellence.
      Thank you.

Isabelle Ferraro

Hello Ms. JD. Thank you very much for this incredible opportunity. In response to your prompt: When I was in younger, I was diagnosed with a learning disability. Due to this, my mother thought that it was best that I obtain a 504, which was a document that was filed with my school that allowed me to have specific accommodations based on my disability. These accommodations ranged from being allowed to have preferential seating that would reduce distractions to have the ability to have extended time for tests. My mother explained to me that while this document was in place for it to be fully utilized, I needed to speak up and advocate for myself to get those accommodations within the classroom. I remember having to have countless conversations with my teachers to inform them of what I needed so that I could fully succeed in their classrooms. Many were responsive and attempted to work with me.  However, I additionally remember getting pushback from some teachers, because they argued that if they changed their behavior to accommodate me, it wouldn’t be fair to other students. They explained that if they had to offer those accommodations to me, those same services they would then also have to provide to other students.  Each time a teacher gave me this response I had to explain to them that allowing me my accommodations wasn’t unfair to other students. My accommodations were to level the playing field. They were to raise the floor so that I could succeed and that by following my 504 it would not be harming other students or be unfair to them, instead, it would be helping me achieve.  I also had to have this same conversation with a guidance counselor. This conversation was especially tricky for it was in a meeting where they were attempting to see if they could remove some accommodations from my 504. In this meeting I had to non-stop advocate for myself, I had to inform this guidance counselor how every accommodation they discussed with me was designed to help me, and that I still needed them so that I could succeed. I had to once again defend my accommodations against the argument that it was unfair to provide me this if it wasn’t provided to other students. That whole meeting was a test of my ability to advocate for myself; I had to explain and attempt to persuade my guidance counselor that my accommodations were necessary and that If they genuinely wished to level the playing field removing my accommodations would be doing the exact opposite. For those accommodations were to put me on the same playing field as my fellow students, it was not to give me an advantage over them and seeing them as such was detrimental to me for they wanted to remove what helped me keep up with my peers. In the end, I was very grateful for this meeting. It prepared me to continue to advocate for myself in life, and it helped me know how to start conversations like this in a way that was attempting to solve a problem rather than accuse an individual of causing a problem. This lesson will continue to resonate with me and assist me in my future career of being a prosecutor. In learning how to advocate for myself, I now know what is required to advocate for another. It means trying to get their narrative into the discussion so that the truth can be found. In our adversarial system, this is very important for both sides must be zealous advocates. For a prosecutor, this requires not only advocating for the state and their victims but also responsibly advocating in a way that doesn’t allow for the criminal justice system to act improperly against the defendant. Therefore, knowing how to be a strong advocate is paramount for you must advocate for many individuals. Proper advocation requires making sure all probative evidence and testimony is admitted, which assists in creating the narrative of the state and allowing for the victim to have their story told to the fullest extent, whether their physical voice could be heard or not by the jury. This better assists the jury in making their final decision, knowing the complete narrative from both sides. My future career will rely on advocating and facilitating others to advocate from themselves within the court. Therefore, I will forever be grateful that I had to learn how to speak up for myself when I was younger because it was an invaluable lesson that will continue to follow me throughout my life and future career. Thank you!

Brittany Butler

Hello Ms. J.D., I decided to go to law school when I was in 6th grade. My mom was the only person in my family who graduated college. Nobody that I knew had ever been to graduate school. If you were to ask me what drew me to wanting to become a lawyer, I couldn’t tell you. I did not know any lawyers and did not know much about the profession. I stuck with my gut through middle school, participated in my mock trial program in high school, majored in Political Science graduating from Cal Poly Pomona, magna cum laude, and now am fulfilling my dream at Southwestern Law School. Reflecting on my childhood, there were many times where I was an advocate for myself as well as others. I played multiple sports including soccer, baseball and basketball. I played in leagues that were “co-ed” but had mostly boys. I remember being in little league coming up to the plate and watching all the fielders move closer to me. I remember this making me feel small and as if I wasn’t as good as the boys. I ended up hitting a home-run on that at bat, over the fence, and that was the first time I can recall speaking up for myself through my actions. Speaking up for myself that day was the first of many times in where I had to stand up for myself. As a woman, my goals and ambitions have mostly been shot down by men and women who are not seeing the vibrant change that is happening in our world today. I am enlightened to see that more women every year are becoming doctors, lawyers, politicians and are making their voice stronger and louder than before. More recently, I have had to speak up for myself against my own family for wanting to pursue a career in criminal defense law. I always knew I was interested in criminal law. I obtained an internship with the Orange County Public Defender’s Office. As well as, during my time at Cal Poly Pomona, I was fortunate enough to take a criminal justice class that completely changed my life. The teacher of the class explained to us that he had never been involved with the criminal justice system, so he was unequipped to teach us. So, each week, he brought in parolee’s or other people who had been involved in the criminal justice system. As a class, we were able to tour two different prisons and have conversations with inmates during our time there. It was during my time spent talking to inmates and taking this class that I knew I had found my calling in working with public interest. The way I connected with the inmates, the parolee’s and defendants at the Public Defender’s office was something that was very difficult to explain to my parents. My parents are white, modest republicans who wanted me to become a District Attorney since I told them I wanted to be a lawyer in 6th grade. They could not comprehend that people are wrongfully convicted and certain populations are mistreated by the criminal justice system. Neither one of them had ever been involved or been educated about the criminal justice system. Every time I would try and explain that someone was incarcerated even though their Constitutional rights had been violated, their response would be something along the lines of, “how are you going to be able to defend child rapists?” This is still a struggle even now when I am in law school. Every time I go home for a weekend or a holiday and my family ask me what type of lawyer I want to be, and I respond with criminal defense, the response is similar to my parents. “How can you defend someone that is guilty?” “How can you defend a murderer?” I keep my composure and respond usually with, “The Constitution states that you are innocent until proven guilty. Every person is entitled to representation. If you were being charged with a crime that you did not commit, wouldn’t you want a lawyer to stand up for you?” I know this is just the beginning of my career. It just the beginning of a long road ahead of standing up for what I believe is right and being a woman in a male-dominated profession. This summer I will be working fulltime with the Project for the Innocent at Loyola Law School, where I will be helping wrongfully-convicted criminals become exonerated. However, that little girl on the softball field still shines bright within me. I will be able to take my own experiences standing up for myself to be able to stand up for defendant’s who do not have a voice in the criminal justice system.

jpetuhova

I huddled uncomfortably in the back corner of the lecture hall, drawing in my shoulders so I wouldn’t expose myself as I wrestled out my used textbooks. Scanning the room did little to alleviate my anxiety; though many of my lower-division mathematics courses had boasted as many as ten women, a brief glance across my first upper-division mathematics course revealed only one other woman. She, too, sat in a corner, biting her bottom lip as she texted on her phone rapidly and anxiously. Around us, the room was full, thickly laden with deep-voiced conversation and husky laughs. Amidst the chaos, I felt noticeably feminine and very alone.

Growing up in Russia, I always associated feminine expression with strength. For me, this meant the agency to sport flowy dresses, strappy heels, and bright red hair. But what was strength in Russia proved weakness in my male-dominated mathematics courses, where my outward appearance was treated not as agency but as superficiality. I quickly adapted, shrugging on baggy sweatshirts and abandoning mascara. Toning down my femininity allowed me to become more accessible to my male classmates, and soon I was invited to study groups and social events. While I treated my conformity as success, my one other female classmate became further isolated, hugging the wall during lectures and clinging more apprehensively to her phone for support. After a month, she dropped the course, and though I felt less noticeably feminine, I felt even more alone.

Over the next few semesters, I found respite from the mathematics department’s gender disparity in the film theory department. There, I blossomed. I became Editor-in-Chief of an annual film publication. I published papers and attended conferences. I became a Research Assistant and taught a course in Academic Writing. Most importantly, I re-established my agency, digging my dresses out of cardboard boxes and parading confidently around the halls in my favorite floral pumps. Though I was still technically a mathematics major, I became increasingly distant from the culture of the department. In the film department, I felt like myself again.

With that cast of mind, I entered my final semester of undergrad, torn between mathematics and film. The truth is, I was angry and resentful—of myself, for not naturally fitting in with my male peers in the mathematics department, and of the department itself, for passively allowing their program to emotionally oust me. But those feelings were underscored by a resolve to justify my lack of success in the mathematics department with empirical evidence of systemic issues. So, I went to the only female professor in the department and requested permission to conduct a study on gender disparity. My study was simultaneously shocking and unsurprising. I was able to show that women were devolving from BS- to BA- and minor tracks at absurdly disproportionate rates compared to men. For instance, though the university accepted BS-track male and female students at approximately equal rates, male students compromised approximately 75% of the eventual BS-track graduates. I was angry, but I had resolve. Knowing I had only weeks left, I created the Association for Women Students in Undergraduate Mathematics (AWSUM). The association did many things. We changed protocol for advising women students within the department and modified the system through which women could sign up for class series with one another. We had study sessions, group meetings, and social events. We took care of one another. What had initially begun as angry advocacy for myself transformed into deliberate advocacy for others. Now that I know how to transform my anger into resolve, this is how I approach my future law career in public interest, representing children in juvenile court. This population is not voiceless. But society often only accepts their voices when they have conformed to a specific societal standard that does not always perfectly align with a child’s identity and circumstances. I hope to not only advocate for children, but provide them with the respite that the film department offered me so they can re-establish their agency and begin to advocate for themselves, as well. In 1976, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote, “well-behaved women rarely make history.” I am not well-behaved; I am angry. And I fully plan on making history, one public interest cause at a time.

meganadame

Often times women are seen as inferior to men. This old stigma still carries itself in society today, and as a woman, I have been faced with this issue more times than I would like to admit. Speaking up for me started as a young girl, when I ran as fast as the boys did on the playground, and when I did better than a boy did on a test. As young girls we were never seen as superior to the boys, and when we did beat them, it was seen not as a personal achievement of our own individual success, but as a shock that a girl could beat the boy.
A pivotal time in my life where I had to advocate for myself was when I began to tutor incarcerated youth while I was studying for my undergraduate degree. I was responsible for assisting in the boys and girls classroom for high school incarcerated youth. Earning respect inside the jail walls is essential to getting your job done. This can be difficult being a woman in a classroom full of teenage boys, especially when most of the boys have been placed inside this facility for most of their lives, and are falling very behind in school. The key to earning their respect is staying firm and keeping them on task. It makes the day easier not only for me, but for them as well.
  One day that I will never forget was when one of my students told me that he thought that women don’t deserve the privilege of voting. He then continued to say that women belong at home and are only on earth so that we can have have children and listen to men. Hearing this comment from someone so young, and so troubled made me realize that I couldn’t just let this kind of thinking continue, I could not stay silent. I had the opportunity to speak up for myself, something that so many women don’t, so I decided that I needed to say something. So many women have been deprived by the criminal justice system, and have not been allowed to speak up for themselves, so I felt that this was an opportunity I needed to take.  I stopped what I was doing, and made it clear not just to that student, but to the entire boys class, that women were not here to please men. We are all equal, and that I had every right to vote, work, and live the fullest life just like he did. I made sure he knew that his line of thinking would not be tolerated by me.
Now I know that most of the boys in that class did not take me seriously, but I am hopeful that at least one of them really heard what I said, and carried it with them. I had the opportunity to say something, so I took advantage of the privilege I had to use my voice because it was a privilege I had in that moment to educate, and advocate for myself, and all other women. I hope to take this kind of advocacy to my career as a District Attorney. I want to be able to bring justice for the people that have been wronged, and give them at least some peace at mind after they have a chance to confront their aggressors. I want to be able to lift their voices up and encourage them to tell their story and give them any bit of closure that I can. Part of the healing process for victims is allowing them to confront their attacker and use their voice, and being able to provide this opportunity for those who have been hurt would be an honor to me.
A career in legal advocacy has stemmed from my passions as a young girl. Everyone has a voice, but not everyone has the opportunity to be heard. I want to make sure that everyone who wants to tell their story, can. I feel that as a District Attorney I will be able to make sure everyone has an opportunity to tell their story, speak up for themself, and use their voice.
Thank you!

Kyla Kaplan

When I tell people why I decided to pursue a law degree I tend to get some different reactions and questions: “So what exactly is food law?” “Does that actually translate into a job?” “I am just not sure what you mean by that?” Although I am used to these questions by now, I still find myself answering the questions differently each time as I learn new things about myself and about the field of food law. 
I came to law school because I have a passion for food and for helping people gain access to this basic human necessity. Not just access to any food but clean, healthy, affordable, sustainable food that can be accessed by people of all socio-economic statuses. Food is a non-partisan way to bring all people together and get to the root of some of the largest issues facing local, national, and international communities today. When I chose to attend the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law I realized I was attending a school with well-known health and environmental law programs, but not exactly food law. I was determined to create a food law program for myself and make the most out of my legal education at this particular school.
Throughout my 1L year, I felt a bit lost in that I was not pursing what seemed to be a traditional field of law. In my own head I understood how all the classes we were taking related to the field of food law, but it seemed abstract to everyone else. I therefore decided to advocate for myself and other students in the future who would be interested in the same field and create the Food Law Society (FLS) at the university. The purpose of this society would be to help students have a space to discuss and learn about food law, as well as to help with various food desert issues in our own community in the inner city of Baltimore
I began my endeavor to create FLS by connecting with students across the country that had also created or begun creating food law societies at their law schools. This gave me a network of likeminded students who felt the same way about food law as I do. Using the knowledge that other students gave me I purposed my ideas to other students at my law school. I found a group of students who supported my passion and together we went to the school and create FLS.
It was challenging at first to connect with the law school community. Our first general body meeting did not have a great turnout of students. Rather than getting discouraged though, as a society we reached out to the student body and asked what type of events they would like us to put on. This past semester we hosted a career panel about food law jobs and had a room full of interested faculty and students. Further, it was even more challenging to connect with the outside community because there was no foundation of trust—why would the community accept a bunch of elite law students who say they want to help bring food into their communities? I was determined to change this discourse. Through attendance of local community meetings and partnership building, the society began to give back in ways that the community was able to spearhead. Rather than taking charge and telling the community what they need, we let them lead the way.
In order to be a leader, I trust you must start by advocating for what you believe in. Once you have found your passion you can use your voice to ignite and bring together like-minded people who may not have been able to speak for themselves. As a leader and an advocate who aspires to be a public interest attorney I have learned to listen, stick to my ideals (but compromise when needed), synthesize a vast amount of information quickly and arguably most importantly, envision creative solutions to pressing problems facing public health and the natural environment.
Thank you for your consideration!

Jarmeika

Speak Up! Often we think of speaking up as being the loudest voice in the room. Or as having the strongest position. Most times we forget that our actions speak louder than our words. I prefer to let my actions speak when my words may not be heard as well. That position is contrary to the one we are supposed to take as future attorneys. It is contrary to the one society tells us we should take. However, it is the one I have found most effective. I served twelve years in the Army National Guard. For ten of those years I was attached to an infantry battalion. I quickly learned that I could not sound off louder than my male counterparts, but I could out work them. That is what I did. I worked! I did my job and the training that was assigned to the infantry soldiers. As other female soldiers came in and struggled to find their “voice” I showed them that it is not about being the loudest one in the room. It is about being proficient in your warrior tasks and drills. It is putting the mission first, letting your work speak for itself. And when you get the opportunity or when you make the opportunity, help someone else navigate the struggles you were in when you began. All of this may seem contrary to what we are supposed to do as attorneys, but it is not contrary. As future attorneys, we use our words to solve problems, but we have more than just our words at our disposal. We have our actions and positions as well. We can be an example to others by using our positions for the greater good. We do this by taking on clients who may not be able to afford our services for free or at a reduced rate. One of the scariest things I have ever done is speak up for myself. It is absolutely terrifying. While serving in Iraq, I experienced something so terrible it almost broke my will to live. I told someone in my immediate chain of command who I thought would help me. Instead of helping me, he told me that I was most likely mistaken, and I should never speak of this again. In my moment of shock, I was able to disregard his words and speak to someone of higher rank whom I also trusted. I believe this is the moment I found my true voice. This person made sure I received the helped I needed. He made sure I understood that I did the right thing. This experience gave me the courage I needed to attend law school and continue to make my voice heard in all aspects of my life. I suppose both of these stories are shared to explain that there has not been one moment in my life that gave me my voice. There seems to be a collection of moments and I am sure I will continue to have moment after moment that will strengthen my voice. While working in the Veterans’ Assistance Legal Program (“VLAP”), I observed first hand, the struggles a veteran has with getting the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) to hear their cries for help. Often a veteran has debilitating wounds/scars/injuries when returning home. These wounds can be both visible and invisible. When attempting to convey to the VA how they are injured, veterans struggle with putting their injuries into words because they are not always the best at advocating for themselves. Veterans file the initial claim which often gets denied because they didn’t “check off” all the boxes associated with what the VA believes the injury requires for compensation. In my current work with VLAP, under the supervision of a licensed attorney, I assist veterans and connect the dots for their claims that the VA otherwise would have denied. This is the work I will continue after graduation and hope to solidify my legal foundation this summer by working in VLAP and for a legal aid organization. I envision my future public interest career will facilitate speaking up on behalf of other veterans like me. I will assist them with writing appeals in an effort to receive a favorable rating and get the help they so desperately need.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

anbonill

  Think back to a time when you experienced bad customer service. Perhaps the waiter was slightly rude, or an agent charged you more money than they originally stated. What did you do? Did you complain or haggle for a better deal? During my undergraduate studies, after we examined the wage gap between men and women, the class noted that men are also more likely than women to challenge things. Women are less likely to complain about bad service, are less likely to ask for raises, and are less likely to speak their concerns. This is partially because of the desire to maintain a good public image and to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of confrontation. These were all contributing factors, in addition to plain gender biases, that exacerbated the wage disparity. Think back again to what you did that time you had a bad experience, or even a time where you had to bargain for a raise. Does what you did match these tendencies?   My bad customer service story came when I moved cities last year. I had to cancel a hotel reservation and was charged much more than the cancellation fee on my receipt. I called customer service to ask about the discrepancy. Maybe it was a mistake. After speaking with the representative, he told me that it was not a mistake, but that those are their fees. The receipt was wrong and there was nothing he could do about it. I knew this was unfair. A business should not be charging more than what the customer agreed to. In contemplating what to do next, I thought about the economics study. In my head, I remembered, men are likely to get more because they ask for more. Was I going to be another statistic that did not advocate for my justice? I decided I was not. Although I felt uncomfortable, because it was not something that I normally do, I asked to speak with a manager. I explained it was not my fault their system erred, and the price on the receipt was the price I agreed to. He gave me a refund.

  This was a trivial matter, but in my heart I felt that I had won a war. I did something that was not in my usual pattern of reactions and defied a gender norm. Through these moments, I learn to be a better advocate for myself and others. Just as it was for me, self-advocacy can be a challenge for people who are unable or embarrassed to articulate their stories. Thus, it is important for me to grow into a fearless advocate for others.   One of the most noble tasks one can take on is using their voice to empower others. Often times people say they are a “voice for the voiceless.” Although this characterization does not come from a bad place, it is inaccurate to describe the genuine passion that we, as future lawyers, will have when representing our community. It is important to remember that the people we serve, today, tomorrow, and far in the future, have always had a voice. They have opinions, thoughts, and ideas that contribute to the world. Unfortunately, those ideas are often ignored or suppressed through things like communication, financial, or prestige barriers. It is our job to uplift their voices and make them be heard. We cannot mischaracterize their stories, but we must give them light through translations. I do not merely refer to linguistic translations, for even those who speak English can be left with their voices unheard. I also refer to translating the wonderful stories of those with lesser education and less financial means. People who have less access to education and financial resources tend to be ignored because they cannot articulate their words in a “sophisticated” manner or cannot pay for someone else to do this for them.   Through my public service career, I aim to translate the meaning of people’s stories. I want to represent my underserved community because I know that it is full of life and magnificence that is waiting to be heard. This summer I will be interning for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office where I will have the exciting opportunity to learn about and contribute to the legal system. Although I may only be drafting memoranda and conducting research, I will be able to partake in the progression of the city’s legal system and help shape it towards a more representative and just system for all. Thank you for taking the time to read this essay. I hope it has contributed in some way to transforming each other into strong self-advocating women!

asnguyen

    Advocating for others comes easier to me than advocating for myself. For as long as I can remember, when my friends or family were overlooked or stepped on, I was always the first to stand up on their behalf. My father, a successful businessman, is hard of hearing and has a heavy Vietnamese accent, making it difficult for him to understand others and vice versa.

    In one instance, my father and I were at Small Claims Court and my father was stating his case. The judge did not completely understand him given that the opposing side was overpowering my father. My father looked at me to assist him. Without any hesitation, I introduced myself to the court and asked the judge to direct the questions at me. The judge was understandably hesitant because I was only 18 years old and had no legal experience yet. But, he was willing to listen as I explained our position. The experience was trilling, and it became natural for me to become a lawyer and continue to advocate for others in need.     But when it comes to advocating for myself, I tend to retreat to my natural state as the silent Asian girl in the back corner of class dressed in all black. I rarely speak in class and networking events require a lot of mental preparation. Ideally, I would sit and absorb as much information as I can to become knowledgeable and speak intelligently when I must. Advocating for myself became more prevalent as I go through law school, especially in interview settings. I had to recognize that I am as qualified with my grades and legal experience as any other candidates. During interviews, I no longer shy away from my past, but instead I embrace my diverse upbringing. My Vietnamese American roots has taught me two languages, tradition and discipline, while my gender taught me self-motivation and ambition.     Even though I continue to struggle to advocate for myself, I evolve to be the best advocate for my client possible behind the podium and in front of judges. This past year, I competed in the Moot Court Lefkowitz team to further learn about how to advocate for my client. We wrote a 50-page brief and practiced for months leading up the competition at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The experience was monumental. And it strengthened my career choice to be an advocate for others.     I never considered working in the government or public interest generally, but my internship at the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission changed that perspective. My internship at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revolved around how to best protect innocent investors and maintain a fair market. I investigated and examined investment advisor companies to see if there are any violations with the Investment Acts, including misleading advertisements and fraudulent transactions. I was able to advocate for investors by pursuing these companies’ violations.     I plan to continue my legal career in the public service sector and advocating for the American people. This summer I will be interning in Petersburg, VA with Army JAG. I believe that the biggest public service anyone can contribute to is with our armed forces. My goal is to learn what it means to advocate for our servicemembers and their families. I am excited to participate in a bigger mission than my own but also continue to do what I love—advocate.

Sara Zeimer

Since I can remember, I have felt like people do not listen to me. I have felt that even if people are trying to listen to me that they are not truly hearing me. There are many possibilities for where this feeling comes from: an aloof father, hard of hearing family members, friends who took up more space in a conversation that I did. But regardless of why I had this feeling, I wanted to do something to feel as though my voice was heard. I joined mock trial in high school to help assuage this feeling. But even when I was in the courtroom on the witness stand, I felt like people in the courtroom heard me, but they still were not fully listening to me. I wanted to do more. I wanted people to not just hear me, but also listen to me. I went to law school to make sure that not only my voice was heard, but that other voices were heard too. Specifically, I wanted to advocate for immigrants and for individuals deserving of equal protection under the Constitution. Before I came to law school, I worked at an immigration law firm where I helped people obtain asylum. It was a gratifying position, to aid people to tell their stories about why they were fleeing their home countries, and help them explain why they were seeking asylum in this country. Working in that capacity was fulfilling. Not only were people taking my advice in the office, but I was also able to help people tell their stories so they would be able to gain legal status in the United States. After that experience, I knew that I wanted to devote my career to making sure that people would feel the same way as I did; I wanted people to feel like others were listening to their stories. I am pursuing a career in public interest to enable people to tell their stories. I am interested in continuing to advocate for immigrant rights, but I am also interested in becoming a civil rights litigator. This summer, I am working from the inside of the immigration system, where I will see how the government litigates immigration claims. I want to use that experience from inside the Department of Justice to educate people on how they can better frame their experiences to have a better chance of succeeding in the system. My career in public interest will undoubtedly involve advocating for others, as I want to ensure that people do not feel voiceless and unheard like I did for so many years. People should be empowered and encouraged to share their stories, and I want to be a source of encouragement for people to feel comfortable doing just that: having their voices heard.

mccabeh1

When I was sixteen years old, I was sentenced to an indefinite term in a lock-down juvenile rehabilitation center.  It was a program where the inmates were required to move through different levels before one could be recommended for release to the Judge.  The minimum one could spend in there, if advancing to a new level each week, was four months.  It ultimately took me seven months to advance to the highest level and appear before the Judge for a hearing on my release. I met my fate when in October of 2005 when I was sentenced to Mary Haven Youth Center.  My time in Mary Haven was rough.  I struggled and I missed home.  I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter in Mary Haven, as well as my seventeenth birthday. Several months later, I achieved the highest level and I went before the Judge on Wednesday, April 26, 2006.  After evaluating my progress, she decided I had successfully completed the program and I was a good candidate for release back into society. After the hearing, I returned to the facility and I was in a room for a release meeting with my parents, the director and a counselor, both of Mary Haven.  They were discussing the fact that the school year, my junior year, was nearing the end.  They said they had two options for me, that I could either be released now as recommended by the Judge and return to my hometown school immediately, or I would have to stay in there for another month to finish out the school year.  Everyone was speaking about me as if I was not in the room.  They were discussing apparent struggles I would face upon immediate release and the subsequent return to my high school.  They spoke of it as if it were a challenge that I would not be able to overcome.  They spoke of how my grades would fall.  They spoke of how I would be embarrassed and face ridicule by my peers.  Of course, it would be challenging, but I was ready to go home.  I spoke up for myself at this point in time.  It took an abundance of courage that I did not know I had.  In fact, I was not even positive if what I said was true, but I told them I was ready for that challenge and that I would like to be released pursuant to the Judge’s recommendation and that I would like to return to my homeschool. I was released late afternoon on that Wednesday, April 26, 2006.  I returned to my hometown high school on Friday, April 28, 2006.  I was extremely nervous and petrified.  I worried far too much what everyone would think of me, did they all know where I was the past several months, and will they make fun of me?  Ultimately, it was not as bad as I had expected.  I mostly stuck to myself.  I made the honor roll that final quarter of school.  My grades did not fall.  Was I embarrassed?  Sure, but I was vulnerable and sometimes we have to succumb to vulnerability in order to thrive.  Had I not been vulnerable and allowed myself to be challenged, I would have had to spend another month incarcerated.  The challenge of returning to school with just one quarter remaining, allowed me to flourish.  Had I not spoke up for myself in that small room that day on April 26, 2006, I may not have had that opportunity to flourish.  I would have been released in the summer, and not had the challenge of having to return to school until later that year at the start of my senior year.  I spoke up for myself, and because of that I flourished. Fast forward to today and I have just completed my first year of law school.  I am a single mother to three amazing little boys.  This summer, I will be interning at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.  I will work alongside attorneys and others as we serve as advocates for the under privileged of Ohio.  My ultimate goal in becoming an attorney is to advocate for youth in situations similar to the one I was in.  I was never represented by an attorney during my tribulations.  Albeit seventeen, I was only a child.  I needed an advocate, but that opportunity was not afforded to me.  The only advocate I had that day in that meeting concerning my release was myself.  I spoke up for myself.  I seek to be the advocate for others in similar situations to help their voices be heard in their most vulnerable times.  I know what that experience is like first-hand, and those experiences will help me be a great advocate for the youth. Thank you for your consideration.

Astghik Hairapetian

      I was seven and we were at our Armenian Orthodox church on Holy Thursday. My brother and two male cousins were participating in the Washing of the Feet as my mother and I looked on.  “Why can’t I go up?” I asked.  “It’s for boys,” she answered. I made my dissatisfaction known.  “That’s not fair.”
“That’s not fair,” became a constant refrain.  Every time I was asked to help wash up while the boys played. Every time I was asked to cover my head in church while the boys marched forward bare-headed.  In college, every time my activities were closely monitored by my parents – and my brothers’ weren’t.  And even though the injustice is clear, speaking up is never easy.  Nevertheless, various lessons have emerged from my speaking up. Lesson #1: Translating Experiences
First, I must make my own dissatisfaction known, because no one else can translate my experiences to change.  This lesson is crucial.  I see my role as a public interest lawyer not as one of filling a void, but rather as using my technical skills to translate stories into powerful legal arguments.  For example, during a volunteer trip to Tijuana, I translated the stories of my clients on two levels: from Spanish to English, and from narrative to asylum claim.  My career in public interest will allow me to engage in this process of translation, as a powerful form of “speaking up.” Lesson #2: How and When I Speak
Second, oppressive structures operate on a variety of levels. I refuse to let criticisms that feminism is antithetical to Armenian tradition silence what I see as injustice, even as I stand in solidarity with my community.  Nonetheless, this is a decision that I have made. Marginalization and oppression are complex, and speaking up carries particular risks for some multiply burdened people.  I carefully think through the ways that I choose to speak up, as a function of my identities, and it is important that those I work with have the same autonomy over the ways they choose to take up space.  This means that sometimes I can speak up about injustice when others can’t, and that other times, just because I can does not mean should.
For example, during an international human rights field experience in Honduras, my classmates and I wanted to ensure that our facts on defending the right to water reflected a female perspective. We actively tried to encourage women in the community to speak to us about their experience, and certain women agreed to share their stories.  Other women, however, likely after engaging in a personal cost benefit analysis, chose not to share.  Speaking up is different for everyone, and public interest work will facilitate a form of “speaking up” that is sensitive to these differences. Lesson #3: Creating Positive Change
Third, speaking up can come from a place of positivity.  Criticizing patriarchy and related structures is important, but using these criticisms to create the world I want to see, rather than being overwhelmed by the problems of the world we live in, helps keep me focused on why I’m speaking up at all. I speak up not for its own sake, but to contextualize the moments when I ask male family members to help clean. Likewise, learning about civil rights doctrine and history this year has been frustrating to say the least.  However, an end of year activity that allowed us to act as judges and write our own opinions helped reframe my thinking constructively.  What, exactly, would I like to see in the ideal world? What do I need to do to get there?  The exercise framed the ways I hope to speak up not just in individual communication, but throughout my career. I hope that work I do as a public interest attorney as a whole will be a process of speaking up, reframing, and creating the future that I want to see. Lesson #4: Fostering Solidarity
Fourth, sometimes speaking up by itself is not enough. The times that I have really been able to make a change, I have worked with others, whether by recruiting female cousins to my side, or finding ways among my female classmates to support each other in classrooms dominated by male voices.  I particularly treasure this lesson because it disrupts what we usually understand as “speaking up.”  I know that my style of communication can be sparse, judicious even.  But that doesn’t mean that I can’t help lift my classmates up.  Creating the space for other women to speak up is just as important as speaking up yourself, and I believe that in this way, as a public interest lawyer I will be able to create change on a personal level in the work environments I find myself in. 

stephcastillo

I grew up three minutes away from the infamous Joliet prison featured in the cult classic film The Blues Brothers and, most recently, in the television drama series Prison Break. Consequently, my hometown has always been known notoriously as “Prison City.” The most impoverished, disenfranchised, and marginalized people of my community would be defined by twenty-five-foot high limestone walls and medieval-style fortifications. When I was a little girl, the old brick guard tower loomed impossibly large over my small and frail body. I would come to understand the power of identity and the way many people suffer from identities that are the product of structural oppression. My identity would collide with laws, policies, and practices that ravaged my home mercilessly. On October 2012, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) initiated a plan to build a for-profit immigration detention center in Illinois. I immediately had a childhood flashback to members of my community cycling in and out of prison. My feeble attempt to process the world around me was magnified by the psychological burden, financial constraints, and social stigma of what my youthful eyes witnessed in my community. Unfortunately, incarceration had become a normal part of daily life. I vowed to leverage all of my energy to fight the criminalization of my family’s existence. I was determined to be the person I needed when I was a little girl; a person who would remind me that as human beings, though we are often consumed by fear, our vision and appeals towards creating a different existence that celebrates our true identity must be inexorable and incessant. I promised myself that my hometown would no longer be known as “Prison City” and we would no longer turn to prisons to reignite our economy. At the intersection of Collins Street and Williamson Avenue, hundreds of protesters took the streets to voice their opposition to the immigrant detention center. As I glanced at the partially decayed streetlights, my feet firmly planted on the asphalt that covered the road, an American flag was waved back and forth by a man with chiseled cheekbones and a low black ponytail. Next to me was an elderly woman with a black and white sign that declared: “we are not criminals.” In the distance, I saw my uncle who had come to this country twenty years ago. He was undocumented and I was worried about his safety. With tears in my eyes, having understood the gravity of the situation that he could be deported at any time, I trembled and chanted, “¡Sí, se puede!”  I immediately wrote letters to all of my professors, urging them to publicly oppose the construction of an immigration detention center and encouraging them to initiate discussions about immigration policy in the classroom. From organizing public forums to rallies and protests, we received support from the governor and attorney general. Most of our demonstrations took place in bustling intersections, but we were unrelenting, chanting and walking as onlookers massed on the sidewalk, agitated by our presence. By June 2013, Corrections Corporation of America withdrew their interest. I will never forget the collective resilience as we defeated one of the most powerful corporations. I pictured myself as that young fragile girl, despite witnessing the structural damage unfold, believing that I would one day have the strength and courage to make an impact. While our group effort successfully obstructed CCA’s efforts in my community, I am still deeply concerned for other vulnerable neighborhoods that have been debilitated by legislation designed to increase the American prison population. The systematic inhumanity of our institutions cannot be ignored and I am unwavering in my commitment to ending the criminalization of poverty and inequality. As the daughter of immigrants, I understand the importance of sacrifice and how I can use my experiences as a catalyst for legal reform. Reflecting on my past, I realize that the path I embarked on as a terrified and vulnerable young girl has naturally led me to a public interest career. The journey ahead is far longer than I could have anticipated, but I hope to participate in some of the greatest challenges in our society. My identity will no longer be defined by draconian forms of punishment or a medieval-style fortress prison, but rather one that I continue to carve as I fortify my identity as a formidable attorney.

TheTot

I took the extended route to law school. Learning to feel safe and to trust people after a childhood immersed in domestic violence was hard. Learning to love myself and live as an out 2S woman in my twenties was very hard. Learning to love my body after developing a disability in my thirties at times felt impossible. But I had a dream, and I chose to pursue it. I got my Masters of Indian Law and used my degree to springboard to the next level: Law school. It has been an uphill challenge since day one, but not because of academics. The first day of law school orientation, a professor lead our class in a diversity exercise. While I recognize the intent behind the diversity exercise, what was not seen were the incredible feelings of alienation and loneliness it caused. “Are you a first gen student?” I raised my hand, proudly. “Did you grow up in a poor or rural area?” I raised my hand again. “Are you a non-traditionally aged student?” I raised my hand one more time. By this point, I begin to ask myself, should I keep raising my hand? No one else was raising their hand, and people began to look at me. “Do you identify as Two Spirit and or LGBT?” I anxiously scanned the room. I asked myself, Do I stay hidden in who I am, and not raise my hand? Should I be true to myself, and raise my hand? I raised hand first, only to see a few others slowly rise. People are definitely looking at me now. Those Who are you, how did you get here looks. Someone snickers. The questions “Do you have a disability,” and “Do you identify as Black, Latino, Asian, Native American or Mixed race” sounded like they were being said in slow motion. Exercises that purportedly promoted inclusion felt like everything but inclusion. Would I still raise my hand? Would I still speak up? YES. How can I advocate for my clients if I cannot advocate for myself as all of myself, for all of myself? I want to live proud, and practice law proud. In school, I have fielded unsolicited feedback on my marriage, on queer people, on worker protections for queer people, on tribal sovereignty, on my disability, and on being a child growing up in a home with domestic violence- the trauma I felt in class when I had to defend why my mother could not leave was incredibly enlightening. The look of shock from classmates as I recalled trying to stand up for her as a child was palpable. But the victim blaming done in five minutes of class discussion was mind boggling. Challenges have been presented from allies as well. Speaking FOR me, and speaking OVER me, are two very separate things. Amplifying voices sometimes involves listening very, very intently. One event, stemming from my sexual orientation, was so traumatic that the Dean of Students had someone accompany me to crisis counseling. Those following three weeks were a blur. I was afraid, I was anxious, and I was angry. During that time, I never entered school without headphones, acting as my invisible shield. But I refused to quit. I spoke up, I shared what happened, and I made absolutely sure all of the school deans were aware. I refused to carry that trauma alone. The school year has been rewarding as well. Volunteering at the Family Law clinic was good, as I felt like I aided others once in my mother’s shoes. Poll observing and ensuring voter rights on the Reservation was empowering. This May, I will receive a Pro Bono hours donated recognition from the Dean. I was very proud to have been awarded the “Leadership in Diversity” award from my university- but I was also saddened to receive this award because it reflects that diversity and inclusion is still seen as a huge challenge. I hope to utilize my own experiences to better serve my clients. I understand the mistrust people feel around lawyers. I know how intimidating the legal process can be, and how much courage it can take to simply walk into a law office to SPEAK UP. The passion I exude in fighting for myself will be the same passion I embody for my clients.  

Brook Tylka

As I read the words “Speak Up!”, my eyes automatically drifted to the megaphone sitting on my windowsill.  When it’s not in use, it serves as a piece of décor, its stickers on the side and my initials written in Sharpie on the handle, worn from wear, reminding me of where it’s been.  I knew that I wanted to be an attorney long before I started college, but the classes I took for my Sociology major helped expose me to the realities of the legal system.  At times, I was frustrated that I would have to wait so many years to actually participate in social change.  Although I spent time volunteering to help individuals in the community, it was frustrating not to be struggling for change on a systemic scale.  Luckily, I found my political home in a progressive campus group during my junior year.  The first political march I attended, called by this organization, was an experience I’ll never forget.  I helped to coordinate logistics for the march, which took place in November 2016.  Like most campuses, ours had a high rate of sexual assault and a student had just been arrested for stalking and assaulting multiple female students.  We planned this march to bring attention to the rate of sexual assault on campus.  We had expected modest attendance, but when election results turned out differently than many people were expecting, the outrage at the university’s slow response to the student perpetrator transformed into a large-scale recognition of how misogyny and rape culture is ingrained into society.  When I arrived at the meeting point, there were a few dozen people present.  I’ll never forget the moment I turned to look behind me after talking to my friends for a few minutes to see that the crowd had grown by over two hundred since I had arrived.  We marched down the street, proclaiming that these streets were ours, that “however we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”.  Our route took us down the street which housed many fraternity houses – a deliberate choice – and it was heartening to see the dozens of people who stood on their balconies and cheered for us.  This was the first time I learned how to chant at the top of lungs and learned what it’s like to stand united with a group of people who are angry and ready to fight for change. During my gap year before law school, I worked in a plaintiff-side law firm that focused on areas of practice such as employment discrimination, disability, and wage and hour.  I assisted with workers’ compensation cases and quickly developed a passion for this line of work.  Because of my dedication to the rights of employees and unions, I am hoping to end up in a career involving labor or employment law.  I also hope to integrate an emphasis on the challenges faced by oppressed groups and those who have suffered injuries by practicing in employment discrimination or workers’ compensation.  Through the work of my previous law firm, I saw the importance of becoming an advocate for clients and being able to amplify their grievances.  I appreciate your consideration for this scholarship to help me speak up and amplify the voices of those who need help, whether it’s behind a megaphone, on a picket line, or in the courtroom. 

Porscha Allen

Ms. JD,
As an American Women who went to Predominantly White Institutions for both College and Law School, I’ve had countless times where I had to “Speak up”. In college, I served on many executive boards such as the NAACP, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, as well as in my sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. As connections chairmen for my sorority, I was responsible for facilitating intramural events with other organizations aimed to help the community in some capacity. We planned a powder puff football game between all the fraternities and sororities at the University of North Texas. All the proceeds went to a local family shelter in Denton, TX.
During our first event planning meeting, we discussed the logistics of the teams and whether we should match each sorority with another, remain in our respective organizations, or have each fraternity teamed with a sorority. My sorority has a reputation for being the “pretty” and “preppy” girls. For this reason, many people automatically assume that members will not get their hands dirty, even for the greater good of the community. Not only is this extremely offensive and belittling, but it is also an inaccurate depiction of the standards we uphold and our dedication to academic excellence, scholarship, leadership, service, activism, and philanthropy.
Collectively, we decided that the fraternities should be teamed up with sororities in order to ensure that the fraternities did not have a significant advantage over the sororities. I know what your thinking; “Anything boys can do I can do better; I can do anything better than you.” But ladies, let’s be honest, women may enjoy watching football and attending sporting events, but many aren’t familiar with playing it in a competitive setting. For this reason, I was in agreement with the formation of each team. Conversely, I was not in agreement with the fraternities looking at each sorority as if they were choosing a survival team. Immediately, sororities were only valued for our physical attributes and the likelihood of aiding the team to win the game. Not only was this sexist, but it made me feel as though we were inferior to them and had to look a particular way to earn their respect in selection. I had to advocate for myself and my sorority by making a decision that we were no longer going to select teams this way. Instead, every sororities name would be randomly selected from a box by fraternity presidents. Many sorority members felt uncomfortable about the initial selection process but chose not to speak out because they were friends with members of the fraternities.
At this moment, I knew that regardless of whether I was friends with them or not, wrong is wrong, and no one should be made to feel inferior to others because of their sex,  physical composition, nor even race. At the annual Greek awards ceremony, I was recognized for my strength and willingness to speak up during the planning of the powder puff game. I was honored to be able to open up members’ minds on how they can be unconsciously sexist and misogynist.
This summer I will be working for the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Restoring Justice, an indigent based criminal and civil rights nonprofit organization. As a double minority, I have experienced discrimination in both the workplace and the school system. This reality fueled my interest in wanting to help those who have been the subject of discrimination due to their race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, or disability. With the increased awareness of the occurrence of sexual assaults, especially in the work environment, I have gained the strength to use my experience of being a sexual assault survivor to help others. At the EEOC, I will be working alongside attorneys as they aid investigators in evaluating all allegations of sexual violence and discrimination.
At Restoring Justice, I will be representing those who do not have the necessary resources to ensure a zealous representation. The reality is that there are higher amounts of minorities funneled through the criminal justice system than any other group. It is my hope to advocate and work tirelessly to protect these individuals’ civil rights and ensure that they have a fair process. Although I will not receive as much pay as my colleagues in the private sector, as a public interest attorney, the difference I will make in the lives of people facing some of the hardest times in their life is truly invaluable. I look forward to my career as a public interest attorney and thank you for recognizing the importance of public interest work. I hope this committee joins me in making this investment into my future. Thank You for your time and consideration.

Stephanie McFarland

Hi Ms. JD.  Thanks for this opportunity!
Growing up if someone asked me what my favorite dessert was, I would not even hesitate to come up with an answer: an Oreo.  When I thought of that glorious after dinner snack, I thought of the juxtaposition between the creamy center and the crunchy cookie made it the most desirable of snacks that in no way could ever have a negative connotation.  However, one day that all changed.  I, like most I am sure, never thought an “Oreo” could be an insult.  That was until I was called one.  Because you know, I was black on the outside but white on the inside. Immediately I was confronted with my biracial identity issues I did not know at the time I even had. In front of me I had three choices.  The most appetizing choice: scream, go irate and educate in a very demeaning tone, my classmates on how they were horrible people.  Of course, that would not have been very productive.  The easiest choice:  bare a smile, and maybe even laugh- after all it wasn’t the first time someone had thrown a micro aggression my way and they probably didn’t mean anything by it right?  And then there was the third choice:  speak up for myself. Explain how those words were not only hurtful to me, but part of a better systematic issue. Explain how that I have never seen those jokes made to the men of color, who speak exactly how I do.  Explain that I would no longer sit back and allow my identity to be the butt of somebody else’s joke.  While I can never look at an Oreo, the same, since that day I have never felt more confident in my own skin. 
In my future both professionally and personally I hope to continue to speak up for myself, at times when others are trying to force an identity upon me.  I also hope to inspire the next generation to do the same.  While in that one specific memory, I was able to use my words to advocate for myself.  If I have learned anything in my life, its that there are also a plethora of scenarios in which the biggest and most effective way to “speak up” is not with words.  I understand more than anything the importance of representation. As a student-athlete most of these lessons I have learned either directly or indirectly from the most important person in a young athlete’s life; my coach.  While I can say with confidence that I have had some of the most amazing coaches from all over the world, who speak different languages, have different skin colors and different life experiences, there is one thing all my coaches have had in common.  They were all men.  Sometimes I imagine what I would have been like as an athlete if I had a woman to look up to, let alone one that looked like me.  I imagine if that school girl who didn’t know what it meant to be half Greek and half black in a white town had seen someone who looked like her working as a professional in a male dominated field, she would have questioned the color of her skin a little bit less than she did.  That same concept transcends into legal representation.  This summer as I intern at the Public Defender’s Officer in Boston in the Child and Family Unit I hope to be someone that clients can look to and see themselves in.  I hope that by persevering and continuing to advocate for myself when necessary I will be able to be that representative for someone who needs it.  

Sarah Omer

As my 1L fall semester came to an end, a revolution in Sudan ignited. Sudan, my hometown, has been suppressed under military rule for over 30 years (and counting). I was born and raised in Sudan and moved to the United States 5 years ago for college. Growing up in Khartoum, I was accustomed to living in an economically sanctioned country plagued with unjust wars. The political and economic instability, state-of-emergency curfews, protests, and rampant discrimination and oppression were mere facts of life. These facts are what led to the uprising in Sudan that began in December 2018. This revolution, with every state participating in daily protests, successfully removed former president Bashir from power on April 11th and planted the first seed for change. The protests turned into a full-fledged, twenty-four-seven sit in at the Sudanese Army headquarters drawing thousands of people for 28 days now (and counting). This sit in is protected by protesters who are giving the world a glimpse into what a free Sudanese society could look like. As a Black, Muslim Woman living in the United States, I utilized my freedom of speech to speak up about issues facing marginalized communities. I worked tirelessly to create a space for Black students and ensure students from marginalized communities received the help they needed to excel. From reactivating the Black Student Union at my community college, to hosting anti-Blackness workshops for Muslim students, I made sure to stand up for what I believed was right and not be afraid to use my voice; the same voice I often silenced in Sudan when the many critiques of Bashir’s regime came to mind. I felt I had to be silent to protect myself and my family from the abuses speaking the truth would bring. As the revolution progressed, I spent every moment of my day glued to my phone, watching every video, reading every tweet and staying updated by the hour. The same fear I felt for myself, I now felt for the thousands marching in the streets. Armed government forces retaliated with violence; Protesters were shot at, teargassed, beaten, detained and many killed. I saw the streets I walked as a teenager and the neighborhoods my friends and family live in turned into a daily battle for freedom. I felt a sense of duty to watch. Women and men, young women and men my age, were out in the streets sacrificing their lives to fight for our freedom. These people spoke up for us and reminded Sudanese people everywhere that our voices matter and should be heard even when faced with a regime that’s willing to kill those who do speak. They made that message clear with the popular revolution chant “a bullet doesn’t kill, a person’s silence does.” To protesters, another 30 years of a government committing war crimes and brutally silencing civilians was unacceptable. As a child, witnessing the many massacres of Bashir’s regime, I knew I needed to gain the tools to fight back early. My love and sense of duty to my country and people compelled me to seek a career that would allow me to speak up. Empowered by the loud and collective voice of my people, this summer, I hope to channel my voice to amplify the stories of Sudanese women who have lived in the margins of Sudanese society for decades. Despite the role of women being vital in the success of the current uprising, our issues are often sidelined and viewed as solely issues relating to women and only ours to solve. The last government weaponized the law by enforcing so-called “morality laws” which dictate the clothes women are allowed to wear, their behavior in public spaces and punished these “violations” with lashings and stoning’s. These violations are present in an escalated manner in the Southern and Western regions of the country where women have been continued to face discrimination, underdevelopment, the systematic use of sexual assault and rape, and even death. These women, having witnessed the brutality of Sudanese governments’ in every facet of their lives, lack the necessary political and economic representation in Sudanese society. The success of Sudan’s current revolution depends on the inclusion of these women and their voices. I hope to travel to the Western and Southern regions of Sudan for the first time in my 23 years of life to speak to women at internally displaced camps and underdeveloped villages and relay their demands and dreams to the community in Khartoum currently tasked with setting up Sudan’s civil institutions. Without these voices, we are bound to make the same mistakes again. I then plan to return to the Bay Area for a clerkship at a governmental institution that will allow me to continue developing the technical legal skills necessary to become a reliable, competent advocate.

Yeshesvini Chandar

Hello, Ms. JD. Thank you for being an awesome forum and platform for women in the law.
In response to the prompt:  I identify myself to be an Indian, Kiwi as well as an Australian. My life story predisposed me to be one who would speak up from a young age. I was born and raised in New Delhi, India in a multicultural milieu. Hailing originally from the South but living in the North, growing up we learned to celebrate diversity in the cultural traditions, language and cuisine of our friends and neighbors. I spoke Tamil, Hindi and English. In addition, I learned French at school and visited France on cultural exchange as a teenager. Leaving home at seventeen, I travelled to New Zealand for my tertiary education. I have lived in several parts of the world since, garnering study and work experience across Australia, India, New Zealand, and the United States. My interest in studying law was rekindled after facing discrimination at the workplace when I had to advocate for myself to receive a redundancy package. On the personal front, I was disfavored by my husband’s family for being an independent woman and being someone from another religion that finally led to a divorce. While I reaped the benefits of speaking up in the work situation, I lost in a large part due to my tendency to speak up in the situation on the personal front. As I reflected on my life, I was spurred to study law so I could learn to speak up in an effective way, with temperance and skill. I was also following the growing trend in the need for lawyers with technical backgrounds to enable innovation and growth of modern economies. I had enjoyed my work in licensing at an Australian university and considered obtaining a legal education to enhance my skill set.  As a young professional trained in a STEM discipline with a varied exposure across different economies, I have seen the way cultural and regional ideas affect negotiations, innovation policy and problem-solving. Being an immigrant, an outsider to the community, combined with having a technical background has allowed me to bring a fresh perspective. I have navigated through male-dominated domains and negotiated transactions that required cross-cultural communication. Thus, I have often found myself in situations where I had to speak up. Yet it is through these experiences that I have realized that I enjoy navigating the nuances of cultural context for business engagement. I find that my strength lies in my ability to connect with people, building rapport and trust while traversing the differences of cultural backgrounds. Alongside my professional pursuits, volunteering and participating in the community has been an integral part of my life. I founded and led a social enterprise called Pragyan, where we worked with artisans and artists and curated workshops for children using art as a tool for holistic learning. Now in law school, I endeavor to continue with this commitment to the community through my involvement in pro bono initiatives. I really enjoyed working as a Legal Services Coordinator with the Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts last fall. I found it an immensely gratifying way to immerse myself in the community and give back; an opportunity to advocate for creatives and inventors in the community. I worked with an often marginalized section of the society that can make a significant contribution to our economy if their ideas are harnessed through appropriate legal representation.  It is this immersion in the community that has helped me make friends from all walks of life and ages. Over the years, I have also found myself naturally gravitating towards taking care of the elderly in the community, and have lived most of my adult life in living arrangements with senior citizens. I would take on responsibility for companionship and care for my elderly friends and it is through sharing in their experiences that I have grown as a person. I wish to combine the learnings from my diverse exposure to develop myself as an empathetic advocate for my clients. As a fresh immigrant to the United States, I am beginning to find my voice as I assimilate into this new culture. I expect that I will have to continue speaking up for myself through my career and hope to lend a different perspective through my work. I hope to work in technology policy and innovation and bring in the perspective of countries like India and China as we consider transnational trade agreements, hence speaking up in the macro context. In the micro context, I hope to speak up through my pro bono work, in representing the needs of the elderly, artists and inventors in the community. I will be working this summer at a public interest internship with the Department of Labor’s Solicitors office in Philadelphia. I am excited as this would be the first of many baby steps towards my goals.

aleska0514

Hi Ms. JD blog. In response to the prompt:
There have been multiple instances in my life that I had to speak up for myself and take a firm stand in order to be heard.
Being a first-generation Latina that knew from a young age she wanted to be more than what her family expected her to be, speaking my mind became essential to my development. I knew from a young age my heart was not set on what my family wanted for me, which was to settle down in my early 20’s and have children. I remember constantly speaking up for myself and saying that I wanted to go to school and excel in my class and that is exactly what I did. I remember always getting compared to my male cousin of the same age and being told that I should leave the hard work to the men and I should worry about looking pretty so one day I can have a nice man take care of me. They would feed me the fairytale story, but I did not want a prince charming, I wanted much more than that. I wanted to guide myself to reach what no women in my family had reached before, a law degree.
We as women are taught from an early age to keep our heads down, to be agreeable, to not be the cause of any controversy because “god forbid” we are seen as being difficult. When these ideas get engrained in us from a young age it is hard to see beyond what your upbringing has taught you. But as you get older the real-world hits and reality shows you the endless possibilities out there for you to become. I learned as I grew older that I could be anything I wanted to be. One teacher in particular is the one that set me on the path that I am today, of becoming a lawyer. She gave me the opportunity to intern with a judge and that experience made my life take a different direction. It made me see the potential that we as women possess and are underestimated. It helped me understand the power of hard work and consistency. We as women, if we rise up together by supporting one another’s dreams and aspirations we would be able to do so much, because by building from one another we would be able to achieve greatness. Alone one single woman can be broken but with a sisterhood of hundreds or thousand it would be impossible for anyone to break us. The goal is not to replace voices but help echo those voices that have a hard time being heard.  By listening and echoing the voices of women all around the world we could become an unstoppable force. We should not stop there but also create movements that could bring young ladies to realize the massive potential we all have and by just channeling it to the right setting the sky would be the limit.
Public sector work is extremely rewarding and fulfilling because I do not only get the opportunity to help women but also minorities that are marginalized and do not get the attention that they deserve. Change needs to happen but it not going to happen over night and the more help the industry can receive the faster we will get there. When you speak up this gives you the ability to relate and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives. That is what working in the public sector does for me. It gives me the opportunity to connect with people and relate to them for the purpose of echoing their voices and giving them the strength to empower them and live their dreams.
Lastly, I want to thank Ms. JD for letting all these stories be heard. It is not only liberating to be able to write it all down and share with other amazing women. But when you read their journeys it is inspiring. Thank You to all the hard working women who shared their stories and have motivated me to continue my journey.

SDeniseJames

Ms. JD, Thank you for this opportunity to apply for the Public Interest Scholarship. While in law school, I took a class in Civil Procedure. During this time I was also having some medical issues which caused me to miss two classes (the maximum allowed). I attended all other classes and made sure to participate in class discussions as Class Participation and Professionalism accounted for 25% of the class grade. I also received mid to high scores on all class assignments. However, when I received my final grade, I was beyond shocked to find that I had failed the class. When I requested a meeting with my Professor to understand my grade, I learned that because of the two absences, I received a zero for Class Participation and Professionalism (again, 25% of my grade). As you know, grades in law school are based on the Bell Curve Model, so as a result, I was placed at the bottom of the class. I then met with the Academic Dean because I could not understand how the Student Handbook and the Class Syllabus allowed for two absences, yet, the Professor was allowed to fail me because of those two absences. The answer I received back was basically, “Professor discretion”. Well. I found that answer to be very troubling for a few reasons and I decided to challenge both my grade and the school’s policy in a written complaint. The basis for my complaint was (1) Students are told that the Student Handbook and the class syllabus are controlling authority; there was no mention in the Handbook or the syllabus that absences, even within the allowed limit could cause a student to fail a class upon the Professor’s discretion. (3) The absence of such a notice violates a student’s due process because, had I been aware, I likely would not have been absent or I would have withdrawn instead of receiving a permanent F on my transcript and a lowering of my GPA. For my supporting documentation, I submitted the Student Handbooks from 12 other law schools around the country including those located in San Diego where my school was located. I also included the Handbook from the law school where the current Dean had just resigned from. The Handbooks from the other 12 schools stated that “If a Professor has the authority to lower a students grade due to absences or tardies within those allowed in the Handbook, the Professor must give written notice in the syllabus and verbal notice during the first week of class.” The remedy I sought was for my grade to be reevaluated and for the Student Handbook to be amended to be in line with other law schools around the country and with the ABA Requirement of Due Process and good faith in academics for students. After an investigation, I received notice from the Dean of Student Affairs that the Board agreed with me and had voted to amend the Handbook the following semester. However, they declined to overrule the Professor and give me a passing grade. Instead, they allowed me an alternate method to the class the next semester. Obviously, this was a partial victory because although I had proven my grade was unjust, the school still held all the power and chose to protect my Professor instead of me, the lowly student. I could have continued to fight it but it was very stressful and quite honestly, the school was not making it easy; so, I reluctantly accepted the decision. This was a very eye-opening experience for me and I think a very necessary one that is directly on point with the career path I have chosen as a public interest attorney/advocate. I know many times those who have been wronged by the “big guy” (corporations, the school system, employers, or the government) often say, “I just want an apology.” They just want someone to look them in the face and admit they were wrong and fix it. But, it is often just the opposite. Those with power will do anything to keep it and that includes withholding an apology and righting a wrong. Because of the school’s failure to properly write out school policy, it allowed a Professor to violate my rights of due process. And, as a result, I have an F on my transcripts and it lowered my Cumulative GPA. As for the Professor, she was promoted from an Associate Professor to a permanent one with tenure; it hardly seems fair. But, all in all, I’m thankful for the experience and the satisfaction of knowing that I succeeded in correcting a school policy that will help other law students in the future even if it didn’t help me. That feeling is why I wanted to become a lawyer. I want to be the one who a person comes to when they know they are being mistreated but no one will listen. Well, I will listen, I will fight for you, and I will win! Thank you, Stacy J. Lacroix

Tahvia Jenkins

As an African American woman, seeing the social determinants of health directly affect myself and my family left a lasting impact and set the course for my career. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at ten years old. Having a disease has been the hardest battle of my life, as it is persistently enduring, and refuses to be compartmentalized. However, I am thankful for my disease, as it has sparked a strong desire to help the disadvantaged as well as create and foster a climate that works for us and not against us in our pursuit of heal.th and life. My disease has given me an extreme focus and drive in pursuing not only my own health, but the gain of freedoms and resources for others to pursue health as well. Through my personal experiences, I have learned that health takes precedence before all else and that you cannot succeed or survive without it. I have mastered my disease with hard work, grit, and persistence, but not without resources, access to medication, community, and monetary support. I understand how important resources are to patients who lack them, as I have lacked them, and have been empowered to act to assist others.
At 11 years old I was writing to my state representative so often regarding insurance denials and stem cell research that I was named the youth advocate of Illinois for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in 2002, an organization I continue to volunteer for. My family had been denied health insurance due to my pre-existing conditions and we struggled to pay for my life saving medication. Though I did not see the fruits of my efforts at that time, I was determined to press forward doing what I could to improve our circumstances as well as the circumstances of others. In high school I conducted cancer research with hopes that our work would change and extend life expectancies. In college, I assisted several nonprofits in community health and wellness fairs and conducted free lead testing’s in Chicago while concurrently working as a paralegal for an environmental law firm. The firm practiced environmental, insurance, personal injury, and medical malpractice litigation. Though I was organizing client documents, responding to discovery, and handling calls and correspondence, I was also actively working to increase the number of clients of color. Fortunately, I did see my efforts come to fruition and see minority women and men receive the representation they deserved with our firm.
I was also involved for three years with the Cities Mentoring Project. This project was a mentorship initiative created by a faculty member of the DePaul University Psychology Department. We worked with an elementary school on the south side of Chicago to mentor children who have experienced trauma. Our goal, in conjunction with tutoring and mentorship, was to teach children coping mechanisms for the adverse experiences that come with living in an underprivileged and violent neighborhood. I mentored two children, assisted them in dealing with personal issues, and tracked their academic data. I also organized data for all the children in the program which expanded to three elementary schools. This experience was extremely rewarding. I believe that early intervention is the key to setting in motion aspirations that lead to imperative diversity and inclusion in professional fields, because early mentorship set me on my current path. 
Though I have done a lot of work that has affected the lives of others, I see parts of myself in all of the people that I help and meet, and am inevitably working to improve the lives of people who are in situations that I have either been in or have been touched by. A year ago, I was still struggling to secure health insurance in between jobs. Though my aspiration is to, every day, assist in advancing even just one person’s goal towards life, liberty, and happiness, I know that my actions can and will never be enough. Still, I will do my best to assist those that I can in our pursuits of life.  It is my life’s goal to be a key influencer in bringing our nation to understand how important community health is as well as aid in the service to all Americans. I will be moving this summer to Washington D.C. to intern with the Office of the General Counsel of Health and Human Services full time for ten weeks. As an intern, I am looking forward to being able to assist in any way that I can to achieve those goals.  I am hoping that my work, dedication, and passion in both health care and law will show my true dedication to public service. Thank you so much for your time and consideration! Sincerely,  Tahvia Jenkins

Joy Parker

My grandparents embodied the voices of our ancestors and passed our stories and teachings on to me. During childhood however, my non-Native father separated us from my mother’s relatives and attempted to “cleanse” us of our culture and purify us into his fundamentalist views. We were terrorized and beaten into what he hoped would be submission. He allowed a few controlled visits a year with my grandparents, and my grandmother would hold me. She’d speak into my ear, “just hold on a little longer.” She imbued me with her strength and the resilience of our ancestors. I knew I was seen. I felt beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was being carried by love. I watched my grandfather stand tall and shake my father’s hand, looking into his eyes with a poise and dignity that I still marvel at today. I know now that these were lifelines. That my grandparents and aunties knew that they had to wait for the right time to speak up. That if they spoke too soon, they’d never see us again. Trust in social services had long ago been decimated, and they were under threat at all times of my father severing all ties completely and taking us even further away. I know now that when my grandfather shook my father’s hand, he was keeping his grandchildren within reach. It was us he was holding on to. They knew they had to pass on teachings and hold us in the love of our ancestors without words expressly spoken for the time being. My grandparents held my life, my cultural identity and my voice in their love for safe-keeping while I survived. When the time came that I literally needed to speak up to save my life and to save my siblings, my voice was there. I had to spend no time trying to muster it up or find it. It was strong and it was clear and there was no hesitation, for the love and power of my ancestors had been spoken to me without words and I knew it in my bones. They knew it had to be my voice, and when it was my time to speak, they were a fortress of protection around me, covering me in the stories and teachings of our people and empowering me to speak my truth. There was never a speaking for me or a speaking over me or a single moment, even at my most terrified, that I felt invisible. There was only love and power to keep my voice alive within me and to lift me up when it was my time to speak. Carrying these teachings into my work as a midwife, I knew that my job was to humbly see and care for every woman who came to me without judgement. My job was to serve in the interest of building trust and creating a safe space for her to do the work she needed to, all the while listening carefully. My advocacy work was infused with the knowledge that each had her own beautiful, powerful and clear voice and that when it was her time to speak, it was then my job to pull out all the stops to keep her safe and to ensure that she was lifted up and heard. I know that my walk in life, no matter what form my work takes, will always be to humbly see and care for each person in front of me without judgement. My work as a midwife, now as a law student, and soon as a lawyer will be infused with the knowledge that each has their own beautiful, powerful and clear voice and when it is their time to speak, my job is to pull out all the stops to keep them safe and to ensure they are heard. As an Indigenous woman carrying the trauma of our people and of my own childhood, I know that my advocacy work for others will always include the necessary work of healing myself and facing my own fears. I know that in speaking up for myself, I am speaking up for others because we are all connected. I know the work of advocating for Native people necessarily includes the hard work of understanding our history and the complexities of Federal Indian law. I know that speaking up sometimes means having the courage to be patient, to listen and to gather information and tools for when the time is right. I envision integrating my past experiences, my academic training and my desire to advocate for others into my work as an Indigenous and human rights lawyer and am grateful for this funding opportunity to assist to that end. 

Brooke Kasoff

The summer following my sophomore year of college I accepted my first internship at a law firm while simultaneously working part-time as a waitress.  Lisa served as my first mentor in the legal world, and she quickly became the epitome of a strong female lawyer I aspired to become.  Her fearless attitude in difficult divorce cases combined with her tenacious nature encouraged me to mirror her assertiveness in my own arduous battle that summer.
The small family-owned Italian restaurant was an opportunity to supplement my unpaid summer internship.  At first, the dishwasher and three of the kitchen employees’ flirtatious comments appeared harmless; however, the innocent nature of their remarks evolved into an unsafe environment colored by sordid and lewd behavior.  These four men consistently requested sexual favors and ignored me as I exclaimed “no” when their hands groped my body.  My rejection of their advances lead them to retaliate against me, making work even more hostile than before.  After weeks of complaining to another female co-worker, who had been experiencing the same harassment, I knew I had to speak up.  In fact, we agreed to speak up together.
When I approached my manager about the situation, he appeared understanding and sympathetic, but then he asked me to find someone to cover my shifts as he believed I should immediately stop working there for my own protection. At the same time my co-worker changed her mind, and retreated from her promise to speak up with me.  Although I was distraught at both my manager’s response and my co-worker’s decision, I knew I had to advocate for myself and fight against this egregious acceptance of sexual harassment. 
I was angry, the four male employees were not held accountable for their behavior, but moreover, were knowingly allowed to continue abusing their power by harassing other female employees.  I quickly assured my manager that his actions were not only unjust, but also illegal.  I was then asked to meet with the owner, and during that meeting he discredited my accusations, wanting to protect his business’s reputation.  He feigned having no knowledge of any wrongful behavior on the part of the male employees.  Nevertheless, without much of a choice, the owner allowed me to continue working there. 
When I returned to work I soon realized the hostile environment endured, because of my male co-workers’ negative reactions towards me for refusing to acquiesce to the restaurant’s “social norms.”  One boy I had befriended asked me, “why did you have to make such a big deal?”  However, each of the three female employees I worked with on the day of my return thanked me for being the first female to no longer tolerate this behavior.  They each shared stories of similar experiences, but felt silenced and unable to speak up because this was their full-time jobs and they could not afford to risk losing employment.  Although I was already an outspoken nineteen-year-old at the time, I gained an even greater alacrity for speaking up on behalf of others who were not ready or were scared to take the risk to speak up for themselves. 
Despite feeling anxious, alone, and resented, I did not allow myself to become discouraged from fighting for justice.  The restaurant’s approach to sexual harassment was no longer tenable, for at least that summer, because of my knowledge and application of the law, but most importantly because I was not afraid to keep speaking up despite others wanting to shut me down.  Through this hardship I exemplified my true mettle of character, my inherent need to fight against unjust situations, and my ability to verbally communicate.  I believe these characteristics will aid me in my public interest work.
This summer I will be spending my time working on criminal cases with the Office of the Public Defender, advocating for justice, protecting civil rights, and preserving liberty.  I strongly believe that not only does every individual deserve quality representation, but moreover, each client is entitled to dignified treatment.  Public interest work quickly became my passion, and I especially enjoyed reading Michelle Alexander’s novel, The New Jim Crow.  Michelle Alexander believes that mass incarceration is “a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow,” while pointing out that rates of incarceration don’t accurately reflect the rates of crimes.  The injustices happening in our society incite me to continue speaking up.  Although I have only completed one year thus far of my legal education, I am developing the analytical and research skills and writing ability that are crucial attributes in successfully speaking up on behalf of clients.  I envision myself gaining the respect of my clients while showing them respect, as I work to ensure their constitutional rights are not violated.

Alicia Johnson

Thank You Ms. JD for this opportunity. Being an African-American woman in any space is uncomfortable. We are usually the only ones in the room or one of few minorities in a room. This is especially true in the legal community where I barely see examples of people that look like me in law firms, judicial chambers, and legal academia. Because of that discomfort, I found it hard to actually advocate for myself in prior settings. Women are conditioned to feel inferior in all environments and second guess themselves. The truth is, I would rather advocate for others than for myself. I would rather speak up for someone else who has been wronged than for myself. In fact, every time I have spoken up against something, it was to benefit another. In college, the administration tried to prevent my organization from holding a signature cultural event. I spoke up on behalf of my organization and demanded that we be treated like other student organizations. This resulted in us being able to bring Caribbean culture and tradition to campus. At my former job, my boss tried to fire a few associates because of immaterial things. I spoke up for them and reminded my boss the value of coaching associates to improve their performance. This resulted in the same associates staying with the company and being promoted later on. At my law school, the administration is trying to take over a “safe space” that was originally created for minority students to mingle and hang-out. I spoke to numerous students and faculty about the situation, and we are currently in talks with our Dean to prevent this intrusion. Some of the proudest moments of my life are when I have used my voice to uplift others, not necessarily myself. If I see a problem, I always try to think of a solution. Currently, I am working with my school to start a Criminal Appeals clinic. The goal of the clinic is to help indigent defenders with their appeals in the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department and the New York State Court of Appeals. This would be the first time my school would have a clinic of this nature. I submitted my proposal to the administration, and now I am working on partnering with a law firm so that this clinic can come into existence next spring. I am looking for a law firm that has an active appellate practice to teach current students the ins and outs of appellate advocacy, while working on pro-bono cases involving defendants who cannot afford legal representation. Oral advocacy is the key to speaking up for others. My goal is to uplift the voice of those that society has deemed second class and unworthy. They deserve to tell their stories and I want to make sure that my law school is providing legal support to those in our community.
I came to law school so that I could help others. I am fueled by the injustices that African-American citizens face every day. Mass incarceration disproportionately affects Black people, and it is a problem that I am driven to find a solution for. Fairness and justice are supposed to be integral elements to our legal system, yet I struggle to find justice and fairness for the offenders that look like me or come from similar neighborhoods as me. Through zealous advocacy, community legal education, and promoting diversity in the legal field, I aspire to improve my community’s relationship with the law. My future career as a prosecutor will allow me to be the one offering non-violent offenders other options than prison. There is a greater benefit to a defendant and the community if offenders participated in programs that helped them finish their education, get jobs, learn a trade and new skills. Throughout my time in law school, I’ve learned that advocating for others is not only accomplished orally but can be done through writing briefs and memorandums. This summer, I will be interning for Honorable Analisa Torres in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York. This experience will allow me to enhance my legal writing and research skills as I will draft bench memorandums, judicial orders, and opinions on a variety of substantive matters. The better I know the law and understand it, the better I can advocate for others. This internship will also allow me to see oral advocacy in motion as I watch attorneys argue their motions in front of judges. I can take notes on what skills and techniques work well in a courtroom. In the process, I hope to gain skills that will help me be an advocate for myself, as well.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

rachrlg

Ms. JD, Thank you for the opportunity to apply for this grant. In response to your prompt: “Cute,” “small,” “little,” “bossy,” and “smart for a girl.” I regularly heard all these phrases to describe me in professional environments. Prior to law school, I worked as a community organizer, mentor and direct services provider for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, and a social worker for teenagers experiencing foster care and homelessness. In order to best serve my clients, I was first and foremost an advocate who worked alongside and collaborated with the populations I served. I took my advocacy work seriously and it is ultimately what led me to pursue a law degree. However, the way my clients’ other providers often treated me showed they did not initially take me seriously, which they demonstrated through frequent comments on my body, gender, and age. For example, I was at a meeting with a client experiencing homelessness to advocate for them getting into a housing program when their caseworker interrupted me and in front of the client and several others, including my boss, said, “You are just so tiny and cute, how old are you?” She continued to dismiss the plan our client and I had extensively discussed and carefully laid out, explicitly questioning my ability to support our mutual client in securing housing. This was not an isolated incident with this caseworker, or with other clients’ providers. Another client I worked with had a mentor through a different nonprofit who would contact me on my work phone frequently, texting and leaving messages calling me “cute” and attempting to make plans outside of work. After I let him know these messages were inappropriate, whenever I would contact him to advocate for our client, he would brush me off and say I was “bossy” or “naggy.” Clients’ foster parents would open the door and see me for the first time, and almost always, the first thing they would say was, “How old are you?” Providers would laugh or roll their eyes when I advocated for clients and encouraged providers to actually listen to our youth. They told me I would lose my passion and my fire. They were wrong. These frequent experiences allowed me to develop strong advocacy skills—not just for my clients, but for myself. It became apparent that as long as my clients’ other providers refused to take me seriously or continued to underestimate me, the youth we served would be negatively impacted. I learned to navigate these moments where comments were made regarding my appearance, age, body, and academic or professional qualifications, so that I could effectively support my clients in the ways they deserved. No one instance of speaking up for myself stands out above the rest. Rather, doing so as often as I needed to made it a critical part of my job.  I had to remain calm and professional. Never defensive, but firm. I would assure my clients’ other supporters I was qualified and experienced. I learned to shut any such comments down immediately and quickly bring the focus back to the client, where the focus should have been the entire time. I have never been one to stay silent when I or someone else is being pushed around or disrespected. I was raised by a single, working mother who taught me that being a woman did not mean I was any less strong, powerful, or smart. Over the years, I have been told or treated as though being a woman is a weakness. I reject that. I know my worth and have worked hard to get to where I am. I will always choose to speak up. I thought I would be a social worker forever. The reason I chose to pursue a career in law is solely because I wanted to be a better, stronger advocate. I plan to always be client-focused, collaborative, empowering, and compassionate as an attorney. I will continue the work I was doing with marginalized populations and work towards dismantling systemic injustice during and after earning my law degree. I have worked tirelessly and fiercely to advocate for myself and others, which I will continue this summer at a nonprofit’s legal department working with young people who are former foster youth or experiencing homelessness. I look forward to where my legal career will take me and do not take for granted my privilege in being able to access this degree, which I will always use to work hand-in-hand with communities to empower, provide needed legal representation, and fight the injustice that many face as a result of societal and systemic oppression. Thank you for this opportunity and I look forward to hearing back.

Dawalcott

Hello Ms. JD, thank you for this wonderful opportunity to apply for this grant. In response to your prompt: When I was nine years old, my brother sent me to the store to buy bread for dinner and the shopkeeper sexually molested me. He offered to give me the bread for free if I helped him move a heavy bucket to the back of the store. I was very naïve, so I agreed, and he held me down and forced himself on top of me. At first, I blamed myself for trusting him because my parents warned me about him. Consequently, for about a week after the abuse, I avoided the store and never told anyone about what happened. I suffered in silence.
Then, later, I realized it was not my fault when my little cousin confided in me about a similar experience she had with the same shopkeeper.  After she told me her story, I decided that I was not about to let him hurt any other little girl in our village. Thus, I persuaded her to come with me to tell our parents about what he did to us. She agreed and went with me to speak up about the abuse, but before our parents were able to react to the situation, news came to the house that the shopkeeper had committed suicide that same night. As a result, we never actually had a chance to tell our stories. Instead, we were told that nothing could be done of the situation and that nobody would believe us now that he was dead. 
After my parents and I moved to the United States, I started taking classes to go to law school to pursue a Juris Doctorate because I wanted to prevent others who were abused from being silenced. Thus, I made it my goal to help give a voice to the voiceless by doing everything in my power to make sure that they have an opportunity to be heard and that they can use that opportunity when they do decide to be heard. Throughout my undergraduate career, I have participated in numerous social justice opportunities doing just this. 
Also, this is why this summer I accepted an advocacy position with the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) on their advocacy and community education team because I intend to do the best that I can to help the refugees that I will be working with by facilitating a safe and open space for them to tell their stories.
Furthermore, this opportunity and all of my future public interest opportunities are preparing me to be a good lawyer by allowing me to practice my listening and advocacy skills. Thus, being selected as a recipient of the Ms. JD Summer 2019 Public Interest Scholarship would mean everything to me.

Grodriguez826

Hi Ms. JD!
Have you ever had to ask your boss for a raise? I found myself in that situation during my second year of work. As is customary in our office, I met with my boss for my year end evaluation. I was told I had done an excellent job and was given an end of year bonus. I was excited but forgot to inquire about an hourly raise. I followed up with my office manager and was told I would not be receiving an hourly raise because I had been given a year-end bonus.
I was grateful for the bonus but did not understand why I was not given an hourly raise. That specific year my responsibilities had increased dramatically. I went from doing minor administrative tasks, drafting complaints, conducting intakes and translating to managing service of process for the firm, training incoming paralegals and incoming attorneys and drafting motions. I was also sent to different mediations and court hearings to translate, verify translations taking place and continued to handle administrative tasks, draft complaints and conduct intakes.
I requested a meeting with my employer. I was nervous because asking for a raise was not something I had done before. But, I was also frustrated that I put in so much of my time and effort into the new responsibilities I had been assigned. I was not receiving more pay for the increased responsibilities I had been given. I spoke with my employer and laid out the reasons he should reconsider his hourly pay for me. He heard my plea, we dialogued and he told me he would have a decision for me later that week.
I was called into his office a few days later and he decided to increase my hourly rate. He even assigned some of the administrative tasks I was handling to an incoming secretary. He wanted to alleviate some of the pressure I mentioned I had been feeling. I was pleasantly surprised by the result. I had questioned whether or not I should ask for more pay. I even talked to my mom about it, who told me not to question the status quo. But, I knew that if I did not fight for the work I was doing, no one else would. I also knew I would be unhappy and dissatisfied because I had not attempted to address something that was bothering me. I am glad I did.
The opportunity to advocate for myself, showed me that I should not be afraid to speak my mind. I was fortunate that the result was in my favor. The one thing that kept playing in my mind as I went through this process was: “If I cannot advocate for myself, how can I advocate for others?”. Advocating on behalf of others is what I long to do with my legal career. That was a perfect opportunity and I am proud I rose to the occasion.

Rebalh

Speaking up for myself has been something I have worked to improve. I was the quiet one in class, afraid to speak my mind, yet, when it came to speaking up for others, I had no trouble. After graduating from UC Davis, I worked at a civil litigation law firm for about two years. During these two years, I faced significant amount of turmoil in my personal life and learned something new about myself: my body and mind work differently than what we are taught is “normal”. During this time, I struggled with anxiety and I knew I needed help to work through it. My friends and family were there for me, but I knew that I needed to seek help from a professional. I was afraid to go see one because within the Lebanese culture it is seen as taboo.
Due to the cultural differences I felt like I had to hide my struggle and need for help. However, I knew that I should not have to hide something that I knew would be helpful for me. I brought this up to those close to me, some told me that I needed to do what was best for me while others were not supportive. This was when I first started began to truly stand up for myself. I explained that seeking professional help is nothing to be ashamed of, it means that I am aware of what is going on with my mind and that I needed help.
I am proud to be a Lebanese woman, but growing up with cultural differences such as this meant that I knew there would be times that I would disagree with my culture. However, this was a time where I would not allow myself to stay quiet. I had to make a choice: abide by my culture or choose me. I chose myself, and it was tough, but every time I opened up, was another opportunity to learn to advocate for myself.
In the end, those close to me stayed close. With the help of a professional, I discovered I have a learning disability that I never knew about. I completed my testing and was able to receive accommodations when I attended law school. I worked with the Dean of Student Affairs to ensure that I was getting what I needed for my disability. However, after my first year of law school, the school made significant changes to its policies around granting accommodations. As a result, I was not receiving the accommodations I needed in my second year. I was nervous to speak up because I did not want the faculty to perceive my complaint as disrespect of them, because the faculty do an amazing job and are supportive of students. Again, I was faced with the choice of choosing to “go along” with the school’s changes or to advocate for myself. I chose to do what was best for me to succeed in learning the material which is of course what the faculty want for students as well. I worked with the Dean of Student Affairs to ensure that I was allowed the accommodations that I need to succeed.
As the 2L Representative of McGeorge’s Student Bar Association, I worked closely with the Dean of Student Affairs to help other students ask for and receive accommodations, an ongoing project. In fact, another student and I are in the process of starting a student association for students with accommodations, which will welcome not only students with accommodations but also anyone who is willing to help advocate for those with accommodation or who are having a challenging time with learning methods during law school. When people talk about diversity, they fail to mention those with learning disabilities. Our hope with the association is to bring students, accommodated students or not, together within the diverse community.
Everything that I have been fighting for with my accommodations has helped me to prepare for a life of advocacy. Every client has a voice and they just need help to amplify that voice by listening to what they need. During my time at the Sacramento Public Defender’s Office, I continuously fought to ensure that my clients received the treatment they needed to complete their programs in either Veteran’s Treatment Court or Mental Health Court. I hope to continue this line of work post bar which includes speaking up for my clients by gaining their trust and having them know that they have control over their case. I am thankful to have opportunities to continue to learn to advocate for myself, my family, my friends, and my clients. Helping others is a way we can help ourselves but sometimes to advocate for others, we must find our own voices and advocate for ourselves first.

katieamendez

Hi, Ms. JD! Thank you for this fantastic opportunity. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I was mostly ignorant of my island’s political status under the United States and the way it impacted every aspect of life on the island.  That changed when I went on a Girl Scouts trip to Culebra, one of two Puerto Rican islands with beautiful ocean shores covered in military tanks and seas plagued by bombs left behind by the United States Navy.  Much of the time during my Girl Scouts trip that I should have spent playing in the sand and enjoying the water, I instead spent wondering about the military tanks on the shore and the areas of the beach that were closed off because of radioactive material left behind. 
I moved to the continental United States when I was twelve years old.  Even though I was still a child, I was often approached by teachers who commented on their surprise that I could fluently speak English and would ask me if I was a legal citizen, if my parents could vote, whether I needed a passport to enter the country, and other questions I was unsure how to answer.  I was repeatedly mocked for being “an illegal resident” by people who believed that Puerto Rico was a Mexican island.  I was repeatedly sexually harassed by boys who had heard that “all Puerto Ricans were freaky in bed.” Though these comments required that I learn about the political issues surrounding Puerto Rico’s status as an American territory–and how to advocate for myself–from an early age, it was not until my freshman year of college that I learned of the urgent need my island has for Puerto Ricans residing in the United States to speak up on their behalf, since they are not to vote for President or voting Congressmembers.
During the summer of 2015, the then-governor of Puerto Rico announced that the government was unable to pay its debt.  It was then that I realized my passion for international law could be used to advocate for my island and the friends and family that lived there.  After months of seeing and hearing opinions that Puerto Rico was fully responsible for its debt, I decided that I would write my undergraduate honors thesis on how the political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States paved the way for the debt and other human rights issues in the island, such as the military tanks and bombs left behind in Culebra and the lack of voting rights. 
During the writing and research process, I educated my friends, professors, and even family members on the intricacies of Puerto Rico’s political status and how it resulted in the debt Puerto Rico was facing.  I educated them on how the value of Puerto Rico’s dollar (the Spanish peso) was lowered when the United States acquired the island even though they were worth the same, spearheading a recession in Puerto Rico; I educated them on how the Jones Act that granted us citizenship was passed a month before the United States declared that it would be joining the First World War and sent Puerto Rican soldiers to fight first; I educated them on a different Jones Act, which requires all goods imported into the island be sent on American ships, and how it has made things more expensive and delayed the arrival of aid during times of hurricane-caused emergencies, as was the case during Hurricane María; I educated them on how the United Nations had consistently demanded the decolonization of the island; I educated them on how the Navy bombed Vieques for decades, causing the higher rates of cancer in all of Puerto Rico and killing a security guard, David Sanes Rodríguez; I educated them on the forced birth control experiments and sterilizations that likely led to a large incidence of reproductive issues in Puerto Rican women such as myself. In the end, I taught my thesis committee, classmates who read my thesis, and those who attended my presentation about the struggles Puerto Rico faced, the responsibility the United States shared, and the moral duty to assist the island given the long-mounting hardships the United States had been a part of. I have continued my advocacy of the island by recently guest-starring in a podcast.
As a first-generation law school student, and one of a handful of Puerto Rican women in my law school, I am aware that I have both benefitted from my white privilege and faced discrimination as a result of Puerto Rico’s political status and discrimination against ethnically Latinx people overall.  Because of this, I intend to use my passion for international human rights both to elevate my voice on behalf of Puerto Rican women like myself and to create spaces where more Puerto Rican women and other women of color can join me. 

Naomi Rodriguez

Hello Ms. J.D.!
Thank you for this opportunity, here is my response to your prompt: As a younger member of the legal community, I am an avid believer in giving all perspectives, particularly those of marginalized and minoritized peoples the space to voice their opinions for themselves. In the next few decades, my generation will be the movers and shakers of the world, an in order to make lasting social change, we must be given the opportunity to speak about issues that matter to us and, if not given the opportunity, take the microphone for ourselves and speak up. An instance where I had to speak up to advocate for myself was during my undergraduate career as the President of the Black Student Union. The BSU has finalized a scholarship that was designed to make higher education more accessible for students of color at the University of Washington . Because education is a human right, every individual on this planet has the capacity to learn and teach, and must have the opportunity to do so. To alleviate some of the growing pains of an education system rooted in racism, sexism, and marginalization, this scholarship currently provides one $1000 scholarship to a student of African descent who is committed to social justice. This scholarship is one of the first (if not the first) student-led and student-run scholarship tailored exclusively to Black and African students on campus. However, it was not as easy to accomplish this feat as it sounds. As part of the executive board for BSU, I worked directly with university administration to create and finalize this scholarship. The work for this scholarship started before the first Soiree and before I even matriculated to the university. When the torch was passed to me to continue to create this scholarship, the school administration was determined to comply with a state initiative that banned affirmative action by not even allowing a scholarship to be specifically for Black and African students. Even as a “liberal” school, my university used the systems in place to continue to leave minoritized students out to dry: if this scholarship wasn’t successful, neither would the countless other scholarships for other marginalized identity groups. Over the course of an entire school year, I, along with other BSU members work with administration (and pressured them) to find a solution and allow for a Black and African scholarship. There were several dead ends, issues with management of the fund, the selection process for candidates, and especially with the makeup of the committee set to oversee the scholarship fund. The vision of this scholarship was “for us, by us”, and we wanted that vision to come to fruition. Eventually, we were successful. I made sure that administration knew how important this scholarship was to me and to the black community at the University of Washington. The selection process was amended to allow for the Black Student Union to select the prompt for the scholarship essay and to send a list of approved candidates to the committee to choose from so that the community raised money would go to a student from the community who also was doing work to better it. With the money raised, the scholarship was awarded to its first honoree this year. I intend to take the lessons I have learned from this experience into my public interest legal career to bring more of my generation into the legal profession. I have been a strong supporter of mentorships and “sheroes” for every person. Throughout my life, I have been privileged to look up to women in academia with leadership positions. With this foundation, I hope to take what I have learned and become a mentor for younger girls during my legal career. Mentorship allows both the mentor and the mentee to learn more about themselves and about others, which in turn gives an individual a more holistic and expansive worldview. I feel as if it is my duty as an educated woman of color to advocate for and protect the marginalized communities that I identify with as well as those with whom I do not. It is more important than ever that we nurture more young lawyers who will fight for a more equitable and just society for all peoples. I want to be a part of the new generation of lawyers and legal advocates and be on the frontlines for civil rights, human rights, and the rights of the most marginalized.

CMcQ

“Please stop yelling at me,” I would implore whenever he was belligerent. It rarely made a difference. I wrestled with the idea that I could leave, trying to anticipate all the unintended consequences, how I could explain to the inevitable cynics and critics how I had carefully crafted the presentation of a toxic relationship to appear idyllic to outsiders for the sake of keeping the peace behind closed doors. Everything changed the day I realized I could appeal to my own voice—the timid one—telling me the only way forward was to get out. The timing was terrifying. I had just completed the first exhausting year of law school. I had three daughters. I had no local family support, no guarantee of employment or income, and the overarching concern –one that had anchored me in staying put before–that by leaving, verbal and emotional aggression would transfer to my daughters. But I also knew, largely as a result of the skills I was learning in the classroom, that waiting for another person to change was going to keep slamming a proverbial door in my face. “And so I appeal to a voice,” a line from A Ritual To Read To Each Other by William Stafford played on loupe in my mind as I made preparatory plans to assert my decision to leave an abusive marriage.
When I finally told him months later, to my surprise, he did not yell at me. He did not believe I would go through with the decision. But a few weeks later, as I was leaving the house to return to the law library to prepare for class the next day, the familiar weaponry was unsheathed. I was just stepping through the front door, after kissing my girls goodbye that he said, “See girls, this is what it looks like to watch a mom walk out on your life.” I froze in that moment. I knew I needed to speak up, but I also knew that how I chose to proceed in that instance would cement the image in the minds of my impressionable children forever. I could be controlled or in control here. My legal training kicked into high-gear. I wheeled around, approached each of my daughters, hugged and kissed them again, told them “I just need to go work hard to be ready for class and I will see you in the morning, okay?” and calmly left the scene.
It was a seismic shift. He would no longer have the benefit of exciting an impassioned response in me. I was in control now.
Speaking up, I have learned, does not mean being the loudest voice in a shouting match. It does not mean using words of aggression. Speaking up requires quiet resolve to assert truth and to draw firm boundaries. Speaking up means taking a risk without always knowing the outcome and hanging on hope for vindication in the future. Speaking up is a fundamental skill of good lawyering.
I believe in the power the rule of law can provide for those who have reason to speak up. I believe I have lived experiences that carved out an increased capacity to counsel with clients who face difficult decisions in a variety of contexts. I hope I will be able to share with them examples of how my decision to speak up for myself changed the course of my life—including how the law provided me legal protections in spite of angry threats that I would fail to provide for myself and for my children. For me, I surrendered economic and social stability by speaking up. Because of my own experience, I will be sensitive to those clients who may legitimately need to speak up but who may not yet be comfortable facing the firestorm that can come when one does.
Because I at times had to walk a lonely path, paralyzed by fear of failure, I hope that my legal education will continue to empower me to walk alongside others as they develop the courage and resolve to appeal to their own voice and to speak up—perhaps at first, to speak up to me in my future capacity as a counselor of law, and then to speak up, together if needed, for their own rights. I hope for this and I work hard to show others—including my impressionable daughters—that they too can leave any situation that requires them to remain silent in the face of injustice. That to speak up is a requisite to effect progress in the ongoing battle for equal protection under the law.

akoneill

Being the older sibling usually means that you pull rank. You are the leader that the younger one looks up to. This was not the case in my family. My little sister ran the show. At a young age she was diagnosed with several mood disorders and the smallest issue could set her off. We were raised by a single mother so I tried to be invisible; I wanted to balance out my sister being difficult for my mom by being as silent and easy-going as possible. If my sister wanted something, she usually got it. Many people thought she was just spoiled, but to us it was easier to acquiesce rather than see and experience her in a bad mood. Her mood disorder meant every mood was an extreme: she would have extreme lows and extreme highs. Overtime we learned her triggers and unfortunately, I was one of her biggest triggers. I saw the struggles my mother faced as a single mother, balancing a career and my sister. I did not want to complicate things for her, so I thought it would be easier to let my sister get her way, regardless of the circumstances. I was used to my sister being the dominant personality. She had control over me and knew that she would always get her way. I was the quiet one that never spoke up or advocated for myself. I wanted whatever she wanted,whether that was actually true or not. As we grew older, my mother encouraged me to stand up to my sister and have a voice. I never listened to her advice because in reality, we all knew the wrath we would endure if things did not go my sister’s way. I eventually realized I was enabling her at my expense and I could not sacrifice myself. I began to push back slightly, which gave me confidence; however, the biggest turning point was during a family vacation abroad. While on this amazing trip that our mother treated us to, my sister hit a low, and with her mood disorder, she has no sense of awareness or concern who is witnessing her breakdown. She loses complete control.  She was yelling absurd things at my mother and began to hit her. Seeing tears roll down my mother’s face at the way she was being treated and her embarrassment of the public humiliation, was the motivation I needed to speak up not just for me, but for my mother as well. I intervened and was able to de-escalate the situation, partly because my sister had never heard me speak up against her before. She was shocked and thrown off guard because her quiet sister who never speaks up, finally did so. It was a tremendous relief and a pivotal moment in my life, as I finally found my voice. From that moment on, I grew more confident in myself and vowed not let others make decisions for me; I stand up for myself. Today, my sister is stable as she has accepted her condition and is medicated appropriately. We actually like each other and we equally have a voice and have learned how to compromise. Personally experiencing the positive results that transpire when you advocate for yourself and for others is rewarding. This summer I will be interning at the Marin County Public Defender’s office, where I will be visiting both the jail and San Quentin Prison to help with their cases. I will be conducting interviews of clients at the jail as well as visiting crime scenes, if at all possible. It will be rewarding to help defend our clients by helping them voice their sides of the stories in a system that usually silences their voice.

Olivia Ortiz

On May 1, 2014, the Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for mishandling sexual violence complaints. Some alumni and classmates were shocked to see that my alma mater was one of these fifty-five. I was not surprised; I was one of the complainants. Filing my complaint and speaking to reporters sparked systemic change at my university. In addition, I started my own student organization that brought survivor advocates together to fight for these changes.  Consequently, my university overhauled its sexual assault policy and instituted mandatory Title IX education for all students, faculty, and staff. I fought for change not only at my university but also nationwide. I researched Title IX, which led to giving presentations nationally and co-authoring a law journal article. I aimed to center all survivor voices and not just my own, conducting research on Title IX’s applicability to survivors in prison and vocational schools. My voice evolved from speaking out against my individual challenges to systemic obstacles survivors face. As I fought and spoke, I relied upon the advocacy of my pro-bono lawyers, and their support inspired me to go to law school. My lawyers always emphasized that I was the one who was in charge. Although they had to work within the limitations of the legal system, their law degrees did not entitle them to a superior voice. Instead, they listened to my needs and presented my options. Even when these limitations blocked ideal courses of action, my lawyers shared in my frustrations, modeling how to empathize with clients while maintaining boundaries. They took on the tasks I could not, like negotiating my return to school with the university’s lawyer and liaising with the Department of Education. This summer, I will be serving victims of crime. The survivors I will serve are all low-income, and many are immigrants. Like my own lawyers, I endeavor to empower the survivors I will serve rather than to exercise power over them. Each survivor has their own story and their own voice, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to support them. After this summer, I look to advocate for survivors as a career. Although I spoke out in presentations and through the media, my most powerful act of speaking out was walking across the stage on my graduation day. I was one of many students earning their degrees from that day, yet that moment was a unique manifestation of something that took years to internalize: I am capable of learning. Similarly, the meaning of speaking out differs widely, from testifying in court to confiding in a family member to asking a professor for an extension. I would be honored to receive the Ms. JD Summer 2019 Public Interest Scholarship to support my summer serving fellow survivors as they speak out in the ways they know best.

Taylor Lauren Frazier

      What I now recognize as diversity was simply a fact of everyday life when I was growing up. I lived in what was then a mixed-income neighborhood in New York City, and I was constantly surrounded by people of different races, ethnicities, faiths, and languages. For this reason, the concept of diversity was not a conversation piece. It never occurred to me that my African American and Latina backgrounds made me different, much less that I ever would have to speak up to defend my choice to identify equally with both groups.       My participation in Princeton’s Pan-African graduation planning committee during my sophomore year of college fundamentally challenged this perspective. While serving on the committee, I learned that Princeton also held several other affinity group graduations, including a Latino graduation, and that the ceremonies all were held at the same time. When I asked about the possibility of attending both the Pan-African and Latino graduations, I was told that I would have to pick one. Even though it was more than two years away, I knew that choosing between Pan-African and Latino graduations would not be an option for me. The celebration of my graduation, especially from an institution like Princeton, was not only about me. It was a milestone for my entire family – both the African American and Latino sides.       After many debates with fellow students and meetings with University administrators, I successfully advocated for Pan-African, Latino, and all affinity group graduations to be held at separate times the year that I graduated. They have remained at separate times since then. As an alumna, I continue to create dialogue about multiculturalism as a part of the greater conversation about diversity and social justice on Princeton’s campus. Most recently, I spoke on a panel about intersectionality and Latino identity at Princeton’s first ever Latino alumni conference in March of 2017.       These experiences gave me the confidence to speak up in my professional work. As one of the youngest staff members and the only woman of color managing and serving on a statewide health care consumer advocacy organization, I lead initiatives to make health equity a more explicit part of the coalition’s work to improve access to health care for all New Yorkers and successfully advocated for the coalition’s steering committee to add another organization of color to its membership. I was also a part of the team that successfully advocated for continued Medicaid eligibility for New Yorkers with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the event that the program is rescinded. My work in health policy and advocacy ultimately inspired me to pursue a legal education in order to maximize my ability to use my voice to make meaningful, lasting change in the lives of others and to work toward the amelioration of inequities and injustice in our society. This summer, I will continue on this path as a law and policy intern at Children’s Defense Fund-New York where I will work to uplift the voices of low-income children and families across the state and advocate for their health and social service needs.       My personal and professional experiences also have allowed me to take on leadership roles at Washington University School of Law including, Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for Women’s Law Caucus. Although many student organizations at my law school are conscientious about ensuring all voices are heard, I purposefully chose to be a part of the Women’s Law Caucus, an organization that in the past has struggled to include the voices of the wide range of women that comprise its membership, as a part of its inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Committee. As Diversity and Inclusion Chair, my goal is to create an environment in which the voices of women from all backgrounds are not only represented, but one in which their different perspectives are valued and celebrated in order for us to improve the organization and our law school together.       Speaking up is now part of what makes me who I am. I do not and cannot quietly acquiesce to the way things have always been done, but instead I promote and encourage others to challenge, grow, and improve as I continue to do myself in every community of which I am a part. This is an important legacy that I hope to be able to carry into my post-graduate legal work and that I hope to be able to continue as a part of the Ms. JD community.

ravenamo

My mom always encouraged me to stick up for myself. To her, that meant not holding back my opinions or letting anyone trample over me with their words. She taped one of her favorite Audre Lorde quotes to the inside of all of my folders and notebooks when I was in elementary school. She didn’t want me to forget the importance of defining myself for myself. I soon learned this required doing something that I didn’t do very often: using my voice. I was twelve when I first found it. My sixth grade English teacher had my classmates and I debate the pros and cons of the death penalty. In a classroom of thirty-two kids, I was the only one against it. I remember that day clearly because it was the first time I spoke up about something I felt strongly about. My palms were sweaty and my heart felt like it was running a marathon in my chest. I was afraid but I didn’t allow myself to mumble. I pushed my shoulders back and made my arguments proudly. Whenever I think of that moment, I am in awe of how brave I was when I was twelve.  I drew from that bravery years later when my high school was on the verge of shutting down. It started with asking my mom to take me to school board meetings. There, I told school board members what I thought about their decision to close public schools in the inner city, because I felt it was important for them to hear a student’s perspective. I also worked with two attorneys from the ACLU and the Women’s Law Project respectively to file an injunction against the school board, hoping that it would be enough to stop my school from being closed down. It wasn’t. However, in advocating for myself and other people I further solidified what I already knew: I was going to make a career out of speaking up for what I believe in. As a first-generation law student, I am still shy and introverted but I no longer bite my tongue whenever I have something to say. My palms still get sweaty when I am talking in front of a large group of people but I recognize my privilege even as a person with many marginalized identities. There are not that many black attorneys in the country or in my hometown. It is for this very reason that I can never be about the injustices that the black community faces every day. I want to use my law degree as a microphone to give people a chance to define themselves for themselves. My future public interest career will facilitate this by allowing me to represent indigent people in court every day and reform the criminal justice system at the policy level. 

Nicole Gabriel

“Oh, I forgot, we can’t tell those kinds of jokes anymore.”
Six sets of male eyes immediately look in my direction, silently assigning blame from across the conference room.  My presence as the only woman in the room is apparently the reason my boss is no longer allowed to make jokes about taking the team to a “gentlemen’s” club as a team building event—and yet, make the joke he did.
It is easy to identify sexism in explicit “girls can’t be engineers” statements.  It is much more difficult to convince someone, including yourself, that sexism is present in the gray area.  The sentiment that girls cannot (or at least should not) be engineers has followed me through my academic and professional career for the past six years, yet rarely is it said in such obvious terms; rather, it generally takes the form of small comments that make you question your own reaction.
Am I overreacting?  Did he mean it that way?  Does it even matter how he meant it?  And maybe the most important question:  what should I do about it?
Learning to navigate the muddy waters of sexism, subtle or not, is a process.  There is a daily choice of whether to keep your head down or to rock the boat, and each decision comes with its own consequence.  The unfortunate truth is that every choice you make reflects back to all women.  In an ideal world, if Jane is bad at math, it should mean only that Jane is bad at math.  Instead, as Randall Munroe illustrates on the popular web comic XKCD, it means “wow, girls suck at math.”  There is pressure to excel in all aspects of career and family because if I do not, my personal failure could be held up as a failure of all women.
I laughed at the strip club joke.  It took me by surprise and everyone else in the room was laughing.  I was still fairly new to the team and wanted to be accepted as part of it, and to be honest, I actually did think the joke was kind of funny.  Was there a better reaction I should have had instead?  Maybe.  My hindsight is not 20/20.  I am still learning.  There are some days when I feel as though I have it all figured out and can change the world; there are other days when it feels as though the deck is stacked against me.  What I have learned is to make the best decision I can in the moment and forgive myself when necessary.  I believe that we as a society are on the right track.  More and more young women are choosing careers in STEM, and there is a push for more women in the executive levels of government and corporate America.  The going may be slow and it may be difficult, but equality is on the horizon.
I hope to bring us closer to that horizon.  I plan to use my law degree to help entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, with an emphasis on those that are women- and minority-owned. White women still earn 80 cents for every dollar white men earn, and that number only gets worse as ethnicity changes.  A person’s finances play a huge role in decision-making.  Being well-situated financially gives you power: the power to risk losing your job if you come forward with sexual harassment claims, the power to negotiate salary without fear of being labelled “difficult” or a “b-word,” the power to walk away from a company if you feel you need to.  Many women are afraid to rock the boat because they fear retaliation; helping women gain financial independence would allow them to speak up for themselves.
Money will not solve all of our problems. There’s still a long road ahead to gender and racial equality.  But if we can empower women financially, they can stand up for themselves.  Maybe if I had been more financially stable, I would have spoken up about the strip club joke at work.  Maybe if I can help another woman become financially stable, she will.

Nicole Williams

“Nicole, although your year-end review showed that you were among the top producers for the Georgia Families 360 program, we are unable to offer you a salary increase.  We hope that you will continue to advocate for the adoption assistance, foster care, and juvenile justice population as you have done this year so successfully.”
Wow.  There I was, the third year in a row, not receiving the salary increase that was “guaranteed” to me when I interviewed for the position.  As an outreach care specialist, I was tasked with calling healthcare facilities, juvenile correctional facilities, and families to ensure they were taking care of children’s’ needs.  Between making calls, I would receive calls, emails, and letters asking me to set up the appointments that parents and group homes were supposed to be setting up.  Did I mention I was also a graduate student working on a master’s degree?  The Master of Public Administration program I entered was a fourteen-month program, but because my job was taking so much out of me, and I was living with my alcoholic boyfriend, I made a “C” in my final class, the class I was required to make a “B” in.  At this point, I feel like my world is falling apart and I don’t know how to reel it in.  So instead of sending out graduation invitations for December 2015, I have to register for this same seminar…again.  This time, however, I have nine weeks to write an entire thesis.  As challenging as it was, I did it.  In March of 2016, I submitted my eighty-eight-page thesis and was set to walk across the stage in May. 
Months after graduation, I thought my life would be different.  I thought I would have found a new job, a new career, as a City Administrator perhaps.  I thought the drinking would slow down, and I thought my supervisor would appreciate her subordinate obtaining a new degree and presenting her in the best light.  What’s funny, however, about the way we think is, we always think one dimensional, always in our own selfish ways, with our very limited capacity.  November was a turning point for me, and I can only imagine It being because my birthday is in the month of November and that is when I tend to start my “New Year’s Resolution”.  After speaking with my grandfather who thought that having my Master’s now meant I was a lawyer, and having friends that are attorneys, I set my sights on something that had been a dream of mine since I was a little girl watching Angie Harmon in pencil skirts on Law and Order.  I was going to law school.
Fast forward, past the LSAT that I took twice, I had a decision to make.  I could go to Mercer School of Law, which means I would live at home, University of Tennessee College of Law, or Texas A & M.  the reality was, Texas A & M was the best offer, and Mercer was close to home and I would not have to accrue as much debt living with my boyfriend.  But, in the back of my mind, I heard two voices, the first was God, and the second was my own.  I told myself that Texas was entirely too far from Georgia, but that Mercer was entirely too close if I wanted to make a change in my life.  So, I chose the University of Tennessee.  While most were genuinely excited, there was my boyfriend.  As a functioning alcoholic, he found many ways to manipulate situations to his benefit and make me feel terribly guilty if I ever chose me.  This time was different, this time we were three and a half years into a one-sided relationship, I had already stood up for myself at work by resigning and deciding to go to law school, it was time for me to choose myself, it was time for me to build Nicole, in ways that I did not while pursuing a Master’s, in a way I had not even in undergrad.  I chose the University of Tennessee, not just for proximity, but for my life, for my dreams, and even for him, because I knew, had I stayed, the cycle would have continued, and he would still be drinking rather than a recovering alcoholic.  He has been sober for fifteen months, and I have been advocating for myself, for my peers, and for the community for nearly two years now. 
I have been an under-represented black woman, I have known vulnerable people, and I have served in organizations whose goal is to serve “the little” guy, and because of that, I will serve as a voice for myself and those marginalized. 

Chika Ojukwu

Growing up as a first-generation child of immigrants has driven me to advocate for these communities through academia and community involvement. Growing up in Los Angeles, the impacts of environmental policy and law were hotly contested yet directly affected the lives of those living in a city plagued with air pollution and overcrowding. Environmental injustice is a human rights violation that affects people’s health, lifestyle and access to justice. The severe consequences of environmental injustice informed my social worldview and empowered my ambition to advocate. Coupling a longing for social justice with an interest in environmental and human rights law, I developed an honors thesis: Environmental Injustice: A derivative of the effects of institutional racism. I was able to envision environmental law policies from a nuanced perspective revolving around social and economic inclusion and a regard for fundamental human rights. I began to understand how the law remedied situations of social injustice. I am drawn to the challenges found at the intersection of class, law, and the environment. I long to be able to staunchly advocate against the miscarriage of justice that routinely affects communities across the world, much like the ones in which I grew. I want to immerse myself in an environment dedicated to the ideals of community partnership and justice, and it is this sort of education that I know will guide my future success. This summer, I will be working at the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), an NGO based in Lagos, Nigeria. I am drawn to organizations that works tirelessly to prevent abuse and advance human rights, social inclusion, and environmental justice. I envision a future career in public interest that includes the implementation of corporate accountability for human rights violations and environmental harms affecting communities of color. I welcome the opportunity to serve my community by addressing underlying barriers to health for low-income individuals of color. This requires an evaluation of environmental racism along with the social structures and legal systems that contribute to poor health. I want to grapple with complex public health and social problems, and find creative strategies to improve the health of marginalized communities. I seek to translate my legal training into international human rights advocacy, while considering the field’s dominant forms of action, methods, and critiques. I welcome being challenged in a field that calls on my communication skills, affinity for learning, and devotion to justice. While in law school, I speak up by actively seeking out initiatives aimed at serving underrepresented communities. I am a member of the Rikers Island Book Club, a civic engagement that allows the community to share space and literature with incarcerated individuals. This initiative has been my most memorable experience thus far, re-igniting my passion for advocacy and community-building. As president of a vibrant student law school organization, First Generation Professionals (FGP), I am highly receptive to community building. FGP is an inclusive community that works to provide support to working class, low income, and first-generation college or graduate students at Columbia Law School. During my first year in law school, I was plagued by feelings of inadequacy and isolation. I knew that finding a community in which I could not only meet students who shared these sentiments, but also contest and challenge these feelings with them would be critical to my success in law school. FGP realizes that law students of color, who come from underrepresented backgrounds, who identity as LGBTQ+, and/or who are low-income or first generation often have less access to the information and professional networks that would help them learn about the legal profession that they hope to pursue. FGP’s goal is to ensure students do not just survive in law school, but succeed as leaders by empowering students who are in law school representing the hopes and dreams of their families. These experiences have refined my personal and professional development skills and driven me to become a proactive leader for first generation communities. I am prepared to think critically and creatively about resolving issues, skills that will be crucial in future practice. This award opportunity will significantly contribute to my professional identity formation and growth as a reflective lawyer. Thank you so much for your consideration.

Sophie Sylla

Hello, Ms. JD blog. Thank you for this opportunity! In response to the prompt: I have a longstanding interest in education, art, social justice, and the law. As a Fulbright Scholar in Durban, South Africa, I sought to gain a global understanding of the impact of systemic racism on education. My experiences as an educator both domestically and internationally reinforced my deep-seated desire to dedicate my life to fighting for equal education and social justice. As an intern at Global Citizen, I worked to raise social awareness both internally and externally. It was there that I first advocated for myself as one of two black people in the office. I had the opportunity to engage in challenging conversations involving racial justice and the importance of diversity in the workplace and met with the CEO to express my concerns regarding their lack of diversity. It was not an easy conversation to have, but I realized that I could not rely on others to start the conversation, especially in such a homogeneous setting. I continued to work towards raising awareness, and in addition to writing the veteran affairs and education policy sections of the 2017 U.S. Policy and Advocacy playbook, I was the first person ever to write a racial justice section. I was also a contributing writer for the Global Citizen website and published articles involving education, veteran affairs, and the refugee crisis. This work exposed me to education policy and inspired me to apply to law school. During my time in South Africa, I taught visual arts to high school students in Cato Manor, a township in Durban. I partnered with a local non-profit which provided art supplies and also raised funds to organize a culminating mural project. I quickly realized that hidden talent must exist in so many communities around the world. My students had little access to art education and supplies but were extremely gifted artists who practiced whenever they could. I did little but provide supplies and mini-lessons, their natural artistic talent far exceeding my own. Upon leaving, I led a teacher training in an attempt to work with young local teacher and tutors who hoped to continue to provide art education in their community. When I arrived back in the U.S., I continued to teach art in Queens, N.Y. There, I saw students who possessed a natural talent and were lucky enough to have the opportunity to pursue their dreams. I also saw an extremely diverse student population learning from almost exclusively white teachers. Many of my lessons focused on empowerment, global awareness, and inclusion. This included a unit on superheroes, which included class discussions on the lack of representation in superhero movies and ended with a viewing of Black Panther. Not only was this unit fun and uplifting, but students also began to speak up about their experiences as people of color. In particular, one black student noticed that in the dean’s office all of the inspirational quotes posted had been said by white men. We talked about why he thought that was and although my first instinct was to speak with the school leadership about this issue, I asked myself what it might do for my student to learn to advocate for himself at such a young age. We talked about him going to talk to the dean and how he might go about expressing his concerns. It is this ideology that I hope to apply to my future career as an attorney. Art education is not a privilege; it is a right. In the U.S., art is often the first program cut in struggling schools. By cutting such programs, not only do we deprive our students of developing skills that may allow for future opportunities, but we also deny them the ability to express themselves in unique ways. Art can provide those in pain with an outlet and a chance to heal, learn, and grow. It is critical that we advocate for continued art education in all schools because all students deserve the opportunity to learn and to find success in their own way. As a teacher, my goal was not to be a voice for my students; rather I hoped to empower and inspire them to use their own, to be their own advocates. This summer I will be a legal intern at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the Education, Student Rights, and Juvenile Justice, division. I hope to be involved with attorney’s who are currently engaging in art education advocacy so that I can continue to work towards empowering our youth to use the voices that they already have.

Eden Fere

There have been numerous times where I not only felt compelled to speak up but did so passionately. In my Junior year of high school, I was enrolled in a high-pressure A.P. English class taught by an irritable older male teacher. In this class, we often were required to submit writing, and the teacher utilized the Socratic method to call upon students to read their essay’s in front of the class or answer various questions. This teacher would often make deprecating remarks about each student if they incorrectly responded to a problem. These demoralizing criticisms extended to the whole class as well if he was collectively unimpressed with us - if we submitted essays that didn’t meet his expectations, for example. The teacher would tell us that we would fail the class, not graduate high school, and be forced to work an unpleasant job based on the quality of our work or in response to quiz scores. “You’re going to end up flipping burgers at McDonald’s,” he would often say. I was shocked, not only that the teacher would act in such an unprofessional way towards the students, but also that many students simply responded with laughter and did nothing to speak up on the other students’ behalf.
Over the year, these comments continued in various forms, all publicly, in front of the class, and incredibly dehumanizing. I, nevertheless, worked extremely hard in the teacher’s class, desperately hoping to avoid his public humiliation. Continued treatment by this teacher lead me to actually believe that I would fail his class, high school, and not make it into college. I developed severe anxiety and panic attacks as a result. These developments lead me to struggle in my classes before my counselor got involved. My school counselor’s only resolution for me was to drop out of high school and enroll in an alternative school where I could have a less stressful environment.
I was not going to allow that to happen. I did not work so hard thus far to throw it all away because of this one teacher and one class. I vehemently refused to allow the counselor to force me out of the school. I marched into my English teacher’s office and informed him that his irresponsible behavior had negatively affected me so severely that it impacted my mental health. I wish I had not waited until the end of the school year to finally stand up to him but hope that my speaking up to this teacher stopped him from treating subsequent students that way.
This experience taught me that forces that could be lurking around any corner will try to suppress your voice. Not only do you have to be prepared to face these forces, but you must also have the courage to raise your voice when necessary. You must have confidence in the fact that your voice holds power that can change your life and the life of those around you. I learned that speaking up may not always be successful but knowing that I did what I could gave me a sense of peace and validity.
When I reflect on my decision to become an attorney, I often wonder what could have been different if I had someone then to uplift my voice. If I had a better support system in my past, could my present be better as a result? This experience and many like it influenced my decision to advocate for others who need a helping hand, to be lifted up, and help to make their voices heard. For the past three years and counting, I have worked with a nonprofit legal hotline as a tenant advocate. I provide free legal advice and information to renters. This work of informing renters who do not know their rights and helping them to advocate for themselves has bolstered my passion for this kind of public interest work and showed me just how vital this work is.  This summer, I will also be interning for a human rights nonprofit that advocates, educates, and affects public policy in the U.S. and internationally. Here I will be making a direct impact on those most marginalized, researching the worst violations of human rights and providing this information directly to the legislature and the United Nations to affect public policy. This public interest work is directly in line with my future career goals of impacting human rights legislation on an international scale. I envision I will always have to stick up for myself in my career whether that is defending my intelligence, capability, or competence. I know that my personal experiences and passion will help me speak up for the rights of others in my future career and be a zealous outspoken advocate.

Hholtum18

I have spent years unpacking the concept of advocacy. On both a professional and personal level, this concept has always been a point of great intrigue for me. I am first generation law student and a queer woman. The challenges I faced in my life have made self-advocacy a necessity. However, advocacy for myself did not originally come as easily to me as my desire to advocate for others did. It has taken some time, but I have finally learned that only when I am comfortable defending myself will I be able to reach my full potential as an advocate for others. It is my socialization as a woman that has likely led self-advocacy to be such a challenge for me. All of my friends who have been assigned female at birth share similar struggles. 
Throughout high school, I attended an all-girls Catholic High School. I came out at a lesbian during my junior year. By the time senior year came, I had my first girlfriend. As prom approached, we were told that we could not go together in any official capacity. We had to go under the guise of being “friends”. Upon coming out, I had been the topic of much gossip around school, and I had struggled with ample turmoil coming out to my family. For some reason though, being rendered invisible at my own prom hit me hardest. I reflected for quite some time about what I should do. I was tempted to just “let it go” and “not make a fuss”- exactly what we are taught to do as women. Eventually though, I wrote to the administration that I would not settle for going with my girlfriend as a “friend”. Our relationship was just as real as all of my classmates who went with their boyfriends. The principal, a frail old nun, called me into her office the next day. She said that she had never realized that the current policy was as discriminatory as it was. She apologized profusely to me, and told me that she could not change the policy single-handedly, but would allow an exception for us- my girlfriend and I were to fill out the registration form as a “couple” just like all of the heterosexual couples did. From that experience onward, I have always valued the power of effective advocacy in the face on injustice, for both myself and others.
As an undergraduate student, I attended the University of Redlands Johnston Center for Integrative Studies. This unique Bachelor of Arts program allowed me to craft my own major which I titled: “Interrogating Activism: Organizing, Media, and Law”. I eagerly soaked in the tenacity of Angela Davis, the biting wisdom of Kimberlé Crenshaw, and the ease at which Audre Lorde turned the personal political and vice versa. It is throughout these classes that I discovered the power that law can carry as a tool for social change. When applied with an apt awareness of its potentially oppressive nature (as I learned through critical legal studies), the legal system can advance the voices and interests of those who are often rendered invisible or are devalued due one of several aspects of their identity.
Today, as I conclude my 1L year and look forward to a summer clerkship with the Los Angeles County Office of the Public Defender Compton Juvenile Unit, I understand the symbiotic nature of authentic advocacy. I will learn just as much from the clients I come in contact with as I will from my supervisors and fellow clerks. In short, the clients have just as much to offer me as I can hope to offer them; it is up to us as clerks and lawyers to recognize that.

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