By Ariana Lopez • June 10, 2020•Careers, Nonprofits and the Public Interest, Law School, Internships and Clerkships
My first day at the University of Nebraska College of Law changed my life forever- I know that’s basic but it’s the truth. I was nervous, anxious, and excited for this new chapter of my life to commence. As I stepped into the auditorium filled with my colleagues, however, I quickly realized that I was the only Mexican American woman in my class. I knew that students of color were underrepresented in law school, but I never expected to feel so out of place in that moment.
I come from a background where attending college, let alone law school, was merely a dream. I grew up in the San Pedro Government Housing Projects in San Pedro, California. A place where gang violence, heinous crimes, and racial tensions were normalized. Poverty was rampant. Many kids dropped out of school to join gangs. It was a never-ending, vicious cycle that kids from our area rarely escaped. My parents, unfortunately, fell into this cycle. They both dropped out of high school and were affiliated with gangs. As an older sister of two siblings, however, I wanted to set an example, not only for them, but also for the rest of my family and the community around me. I desperately wanted to spark a change and I took it upon myself to break the cycle. I wanted to give both my sisters and the community hope for a better future. I wanted to show every single African American, Mexican American, and Puerto Rican that no matter where you come from or how you look you can achieve your dreams. I was determined to end the cycle and so I did.
Graduating from high school, however, just wasn’t enough. I knew that I needed to go further if I wanted to set an example for the possibilities of change. I continued my education at a university and received my bachelor’s degree, but that still was not enough. I wanted to help my community far more than merely setting an example. I wanted to aid in the dismantling of the unequal treatment and injustices that lie within the criminal justice system, especially for people of color. Police brutality, for example, continues to be a pressing issue within the system, yet there is little that has changed. From the Rodney King riots in 1992 to the George Floyd protests in 2020, history seems to repeat itself. I, along with many other people, have had enough. The poor, the marginalized, the underrepresented, and the oppressed deserve representation. This is why I decided to attend law school. I wanted to effectuate change within the criminal justice system.
As I previously mentioned, I felt out of place throughout my first year of law school. It was not until I landed a job at the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office as a law clerk that I began to feel a sense of belonging. I projected all my passion at the PD’s Office over the course of my 1L summer. I got to help my community in monumental ways. That is when I realized ‘this is exactly where I was meant to be.’ The fire within me began to ignite. The leadership qualities I had gained in that summer carried over to my second year when I became the President of the Multicultural Legal Society.
As the President of the Multicultural Legal Society (MCLS), I, along with other MCLS board members, planned ‘Diversity Day ‘, an event that invited high school students of color from the surrounding area to attend a preview day at the law school. This day consisted of discussions about the challenges students of color encounter, a mock law school class, and information about admission into a four-year university and law school. The overall goal of this event was to empower young minority groups to pursue higher education. We had 150 high school students attend and by the end of the event we accomplished our goal.
This summer I have chosen to continue working with the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office alongside the most passionate attorneys I have ever met. I am honored to have the opportunity to continue to grow as a leader. The passion that I have to work within the community where I grew up continues to burn brightly. My hope is to be a public defender that contributes to a better and equalized tomorrow.