Ms. JD’s 2020 Public Interest Scholarship: APPLICATIONS OPEN

Ms. JD is pleased to announce that applications are now open for the 2020 Summer Public Interest Scholarship Program! 

The recipients of the 2020 Public Interest Scholarship Program will each receive a scholarship 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.  


  • 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 2020.
  • Applicants should be planning to work at least 30 hours per week for a minimum of 4 weeks over the summer of 2020.
  • 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 June 2020.


  • 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. Editor's Note: If you are experiencing technical issues with registering, please email your application to Katie Day at day@ms-jd.org 
  • In addition to posting the application essay directly to the blog, please send your essay and resume as PDF attachments to day@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 Friday, June 12, 2020.


This year Ms. JD celebrated our annual conference with the theme “When Women Lead.”  Please describe a time in your personal or professional life when you have stepped up to take on a leadership role, and how you envision your future public interest career allowing you to grow your leadership opportunities and experiences. 



Before law school, I worked for a few years as a Process Engineer. While in that position I was faced with the difficult reality that management does not always listen to the concerns of the common worker, even when the anxiety is safety-related. Because I cared for the operators and their safety, I felt as if I had to step up and be the intermediator between plant management and the operators. Although it was not in my job description, I listened to what the workers needed and then implored on their behalf to management. Even though the operators had begged on numerous occasions before to have safety equipment fixed, it was not until I had the conversations with the safety manager that their concerns were heeded. As time went on, it became commonplace for the operators to utilize me when they had safety concerns. By the end of my time working as an engineer I was being included in round table discussions with corporate management regarding what the plant operators needed. Taking a leadership position does not always look like being the president of an organization, or loudly calling the shots. Arguably, a true leader takes the role not because they were placed in that position, but because they recognized a void that others were too scared to fill. I believe that you must live your life, finding the opportunities to stand up for others who are not in a position to help themselves. In my future career as a public interest lawyer, I will apply the same drive and determination I used when fighting for the rights of my co-workers to be employed in a safe environment. I have a passion for those who are marginalized and lack the bargaining power to help themselves. I see the point of being a public interest attorney as being a voice to the voiceless and preventing abuse of power, whenever possible. My goal is to continue to fight where I perceive injustice no matter how long it takes. The wheels of justice turn slowly, it is of utmost importance that they continue to move forward in the right direction away from apathy and toward action.


In April of 2017 I was elected President of the League of Social Sciences. LSS is a student organization at my undergraduate university, Minot State University. At the time the club was barely recognized on campus and few students outside of the Social Sciences department knew it existed. I set out to change that. Over that Summer I planned upgrades for our membership drive. I got approval to use club funds to make an official banner with the club’s name, humorous buttons to hand out as advertisements, and a game to show new students the fun side of the group. At the campus club-fair the next Fall, instead of our usual bare folding table with a handmade sign, we looked and felt like an official student organization. I also worked to grow our membership by having current members speak about the club in all their classes. I also had new t-shirts designed to promote the League. From there on I wanted to make the club feel like more of a member-run organization. Before, the president basically handled everything and members simply showed up to events without feeling included in the process. To do this I made it a point to actively delegate more responsibility than previous presidents had. For our fundraising events throughout the year the LSS put on regular chili cook-offs where students and professors competed to make the best chili on campus. This year, every member was responsible for either signing up a competitor, making the cornbread, buying the drinks or paper products, and volunteering to run the tasting booth. As President, I handled the campus advertising, receipts for supplies, and set up/take down duties.
I noticed this level of involvement from the members led to more excitement in the department. They had more fun with the project than they had years before because they could feel responsible for the fundraising instead of just passive beneficiaries. To reward them for the work, and to have more “just for fun” events, I worked with the Vice President to host taco + trivia events, lunchtime Cards Against Humanity meetings, and campus movie nights. These events let the current members have some fun as well as added to the list of attractions for prospective members which further grew the organization. As my year as president neared its end, I wanted to ensure that the future leaders were equipped with guidance on anything from campus bureaucracy, to poster templates. I asked all of the outgoing officers to put together a folder and flash-drive of useful information, ideas, and paperwork templates for the incoming officers. Before the last meeting of the year the entire club met to go over successes, pitfalls, and ideas for the future. I am incredibly happy to say that the League of Social Sciences is still going strong and improving every year.
After law school I plan to work with survivors of domestic violence. During law school I plan to explore this field in both civil and criminal venues. This summer I am working with a civil organization called the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation: Safe Families Office.  In the Fall I will participate in an externship with the Fulton County District Attorney’s office in their DV unit. I am hoping this comparative experience will enhance my work as a prosecutor and inform my policies as a District Attorney later in my career. Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Abuse cases involve so many other types of crimes such as theft, trespassing, drugs, fraud, and violence against animals. I believe having a career focused in the area of DV/IPA will best prepare me to see the impacts of my decisions on all avenues of criminal activity and how they relate to each other. Further, I hope this experience will help me become a Judge and create an accessible environment to ease the stress victims feel upon entering courtrooms. I believe having the experience of working with DV/IPA, the knowledge of impacts made by DA decisions, and the comparison of civil and state practices will allow me to be as well rounded of a Judge as possible. It is my goal to deliver just and logical sentences to maximize the deterrent effect on the defendant while minimizing the victim’s stress and fear of the court system.


I just completed my first year law school am a member of our Criminal Law Association (CLA). Last fall, elections were held for section representatives. Each section in the 1L class gets a CLA representative. When CLA officers asked who would represent my section, a male classmate of mine authoritatively stated, “Yeah, I got it.” I was triggered and immediately raised my hand. “Actually, I’d like to be the rep” I said, as I kindly smiled at my section-mate who so quickly assumed a leadership role. The vote tied and we both became section leaders. One year later, I now hold the secretary position for CLA and plan on running for president next year.
Now here’s a disclaimer – from the outside, being a section representative does not seem like a huge deal. Duties consist of sending mass texts and uploading Facebook posts to inform the school of upcoming meetings. However, to me, it is a much bigger deal than that. I am woman pursuing a legal career in a man’s world. I feel like I need all of the leadership positions I can get, like I need to work just a little bit harder than the man next to me to even be considered equal (on paper at least). So, while being a section representative may not be that big of a deal, being a woman running against a man for a leadership role is. 
This simple but significant incident set the tone for how I envision my future public interest career. I would like practice criminal defense, specifically, defending incarcerated persons on death row and those who have been wrongfully convicted. When I think about this field, I think of strength, assertiveness, boldness, and courage. These are not qualities that have been historically attributed to women, especially in the legal field. Nevertheless, I am proudly striving to embody those characteristics.
I envision myself being respected by my clients – a majority of who, based on statistics of people on death row, are men. I envision myself being an effective advocate who understands racial and gender inequality and makes that the core of my work. I envision myself setting an example for female law students, students whose parents are also immigrants, students who work extra hard to feel equal.
I envision myself holding a leadership position wherever I end up working. Whether that means a public defender’s office, a district attorney’s office, or even starting an organization of my own. I want to be a strong advocate and a powerful voice not just for the oppressed and forgotten incarcerated people, but for women pursuing their goals. My greatest role models are women. My mom, my sister, my law school mentors, my professors, etc. These women have illustrated resilience and perseverance – they have created bold voices for themselves. I hope to model that picture of “girl power” for younger women – especially those trying to thrive in the legal word.


Silence has always been a defining factor of who I was. I knew that I had a voice, but I did not think it deserved to be heard. As a Jamaican woman, my society ensured that our voices were only relevant in circumstances that did not address the discrimination or abuse we endured. I was allowed to have a voice in the classroom and the board room, but not when confronting misogyny or violence perpetuated against me. My society created a bubble where women were made ignorant to the very issues that hurt us by invalidating our experiences. How were we to speak up against something we did not understand? I finally broke my silence when I was in college. In 2016 I accepted a position as a Title IX peer educator. While in this position, I realized that the majority of situations that we were taught as women to ignore or not to “overreact” to were wrong. In that moment, a veil was torn from my eyes and when I thought about what myself and many other women endured and was silent about for years, I had to make a change. For two years, I underwent a journey towards uncovering what contributes to our silence and how we can go about changing that narrative. In 2019, I started a blog and held several formal and informal discussions addressing the systematic and physical violence against women, specifically women of color from the Caribbean. I even confronted my own fear of vulnerability by presenting a capstone on my experiences as a Jamaican woman who was forced into silence for most of my life. My goal was not only to normalize these conversations, but to also spread awareness on how concealing this pain can oftentimes lead to a life of unresolved mental issues.

I determined that most of us are scared and silence seemed to be our only means of survival. We are scared that if we speak up about our abuse our abuser would come back to hurt us, which is common in my society. There was also the fear of being told that we were lying or victimizing ourselves, resulting in isolation from our families and friends which is difficult in a communal society like Jamaica. To make things worse, for those who did have the privilege of breaking their silence, the lack of public interest attorneys in Jamaica who primarily focused on issues affecting women meant that most of these cases went unheard and ultimately unresolved. Although there is progress being made with more women breaking their silence on what they have been forced to endure, there is something within the system that needs to be shifted. My decision to go to law school was based on the necessity for this shift. I am on a road towards advocating for women who are victims of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence within the United States and Jamaica. My goal is to focus on the communities that were built on the silence of women, which are primarily communities of color. I refuse to continue to live in a society where women are continuously invalidated. I refuse to continue to live in a society where our silence is seen as a choice after years of being forced into complicity. The future of these women is dependent on my future as a public interest attorney to fight against their oppression. Someone fought for me, so it is my duty to fight for some


Someone fought for me, so it is my duty to fight for someone else.


When I first began law school in 2018, I had not planned on being very involved in campus activities. At the time I was 26 years old, and I believed that most of my classmates would be younger and more connected to the city where I had just moved. I quickly found that my interest in the law was more akin to a passion, and I found myself volunteering to participate in any organization that seemed remotely interesting. Shuffling between classes and meetings for different clubs almost daily, I decided that I wanted to focus my energy on furthering the causes that were the most important to me. While I was a rising 2L, I was asked to serve as the secretary for the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and the Domestic Violence Awareness Chair for the Women’s Law Association (WLA). By serving dually with these organizations I was able to interact with amazing women leaders within my city and simultaneously promote intersectionality within these communities. One of my proudest moments during my law school career was hosting events at my university in October 2019 for Domestic Violence Awareness month. I partnered with our school’s administration to ensure that there was programming running the entire month. With the help of other WLA members, we were able to commission “silent displays”’ which were wood cutouts shaped like people, with anonymous stories of abuse survivors attached. These displays were placed around campus, and signage was put up to encourage students to take a moment and reflect on these stories. We also passed out information about domestic abuse and resources for survivors every day. Our major event was a panel comprised of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Directors of women’s legal aid organizations, and professors versed in criminal and family law. We were able to have a candid conversation about domestic violence and the many forms it comes in, while also addressing the discrepancy in access to justice for some survivors. The event was considered so successful WLA received a grant from our school to host the event on a grander scale in the future. At the end of my 2L year, I was asked by the outgoing President of WLA to serve in her position for my final year. I was happy to accept and use the connections I had made to further promote our organization. Currently, I am working with the Women’s Bar Association in my area to plan events for the upcoming school year, and I hope to host more public interest-oriented events. While I am not sure of where my career path will end up after graduation, I do intend to serve the community around me. I am currently working at the non-profit organization CALI (The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction) which serves law schools around the country. My project is to help increase access to legal assistance to all individuals, regardless of their ability to obtain an attorney. The unexpected pandemic and required shift to mostly online services have shown that there is a glaring gap in technological access in America. Individuals who relied on in-person, public services, to receive legal help have been forced to either try to work through their issues alone or wait until social distancing is no longer an issue. Our goal is to determine where these gaps exist within state court systems and legal aid organizations and help these groups apply for grants to ensure all citizens can easily file forms in simple cases. I appreciate that I am privileged to not only have a college education, but I will soon be a Juris Doctor recipient. While I may have easy access to legal advice, and any required technology, I also understand that this ease of access is not available to all. I believe that it is my duty to use my privilege to assist all individuals around me and continue to fight for equality for everyone.


Before attending Law School, I worked as a community organizer in various non-profit organizations. As an AmeriCorps Vista for the city of Las Vegas, I was able to collaborate on many projects including the Corridor of Hope Courtyard in downtown Las Vegas. The Courtyard provides many resources including a safe place, food, and medical resources to those in need. I worked with the Department of Community Service to create events and helped adjust the resource budget to meet the courtyard’s needs. The numbers we collected have enabled the City to grant a large budget to fund a new courtyard that is currently under construction. This experience allowed me to collaborate with other nonprofits to provide resources to those that are underserved.
Additionally, during my time as an AmeriCorps Vista, I was allowed to be a community leader and was appointed to strengthen relationships between underrepresented communities and their council representatives. As a first-generation Latina, I had experienced the divide and mistrust between disadvantaged communities and local government, but through experience and education, I grew to understand the importance of this relationship. Communication between underrepresented Americans and their local government empowers low-income communities and provides them with deeply needed resources.
After my work as an AmeriCorps Vista, I realized that the only way to reform city issues is to get the community involved and to hold local government officials accountable. I knew early on that I would not be able to accomplish this objective on my own, so I started by attending local community meetings, school meetings in city wards that were notoriously underserved communities, and Las Vegas Metro Police meetings. Las Vegas is a transient city so finding community leaders to uplift was my second goal. In these meetings, I met with community leaders and started actively listening to their issues. I met a group of parents who lived in a predominantly Latino area with an inactive neighborhood association. These parents were concerned with safety in their neighborhood and wanted a safe space for their children to play. I started to work with parents and religious leaders to create new community meetings. I arranged the meetings so that Council representatives and Metro police could listen and understand the community’s issues. Once enough neighbors joined, the city created a new neighborhood association (Cedar Neighborhood association) and allowed them to apply for neighborhood grants. At this point, I wanted to go further than just bridging the communication between city hall and the neighborhood association. I wanted this group of parents to become independent community leaders. They were at first hesitant to apply because they all had a language barrier and felt uncomfortable with presenting in English. I helped them navigate the application process and the proposal to the city grant board for a neighborhood grant to fund a neighborhood watch. Not only did they receive the grant, but the neighborhood association also started to attend more city events and developed a better relationship with the local city government.
During this project, I realized that for me to be an effective community leader, I need to uplift other people and make them into leaders as well. Even if they had certain barriers like their language, I was fortunate enough to be in a position to empower them and give them additional resources to get the same opportunities as more affluent communities. Currently, as a Public Interest Fellow for the William S. Boyd School of Law, I am reflecting on my past experiences to continue helping and empowering my community. Having the privilege of being a law student has given me opportunities to help organize and amplify my community’s voice.


Too often, the academic careers of high-achieving, low-income students are cut short by surmountable barriers: lack of information, inaccessible financial resources, and insecurity/fear. 
I almost became a victim of these surmountable barriers. Questbridge saved me. I owe my entire academic and professional career to this non-profit organization.
Questbridge and I envision a world where low-income communities are provided the necessary opportunities to transcend their socio-economic status and thrive in higher education. I stepped up to take on a leadership role when I volunteered to be a Questbridge Ambassador.
As a Questbridge Ambassador, I confront those surmountable barriers. I put together presentations for my former high school and other public high schools in my community. I provide valuable information about the College Prep Scholars Program and the generous National College Match scholarship.
During my presentations, I share my story as a Quest Scholar and first-generation college graduate of a Questbridge partner, University of Notre Dame. I exemplify Questbridge’s national mission to rally an underrated population of ambitious, indigent students. Most importantly, I extend my hand to invite these deserving, low-income students to proudly take their seat at the undergraduate table. I welcome them with my alma mater mantra, “let no one ever again say we dreamed too small.”
I lead with the conviction that our futures will not be predestined by our socioeconomic status. We are worthy of opportunity. We are worthy of our dreams.
This is what I have learned about leadership: true leadership is not passive. I am not a leader simply because I am a first-generation college graduate. True leadership requires authentic representation and initiative. A true leader takes the initiative to authentically represent his/her community through passionate community outreach, effective communication, and accessible mentorship. 
Leadership is not just about opening the door.
Leadership is more than holding the door open and expecting others to follow.
Leadership is extending a hand to invite others to follow in your footsteps with affirmations that they, too, deserve to walk through that same door. Growing up as the child of immigrant parents, I had very distorted notions of the legal profession. I believed that lawyers were either mystical and elite creatures like unicorns, or charming but deceptive like sirens. These sentiments of cynicism and distrust resonate in immigrant communities. I dare to dream that a child of immigrants like me could be a lawyer. With my public interest career, I aspire to be a prosecutor that facilitates transparency, trust, accountability, and healing between our public servants and the communities we serve.
As a first-year law student, I became a volunteer interpreter for Southwestern Law School’s Immigration Law Clinic. I began working directly with the Los Angeles immigrant community to assist with U nonimmigrant visas. There, I realized how many of our vulnerable clients were women who had been neglected, abused, and victims of serious crimes. I gained first-hand knowledge as to how language barriers and immigration fears lead to a lack of justice for female crime victims in the immigrant community. This clinic experience strengthened my desire to ensure that justice is never inaccessible.
After my first year, I worked as a law clerk for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office in the Justice System Integrity division. In this division, we reviewed criminal allegations against judges, attorneys, law enforcement, and other justice system professionals. There, I realized how many of our victims of excessive force complaints, officer-involved shootings, and in-custody deaths were young men of color. This clerkship strengthened my desire to ensure that justice is never contingent.
Together, these experiences ignited my dream of being a prosecutor.
As an aspiring Latina prosecutor, I receive “how could you?” remarks by members of my own community. These remarks reflect the machismo in my Mexican culture: I am an audacious Latina daring to be more than a mother. These remarks also reflect the profound erosion of trust in our criminal justice system. Nevertheless, I persist.
Prosecutors are guardians of justice. As a prosecutor, I want to encourage marginalized victims out from the shadows of justice. I want to affirm that they are worthy of being heard; worthy of justice.
When justice is contingent, the injustice is absorbed by families, communities, and generations. I will use my platform as an opportunity to acknowledge the generational trauma that has been disproportionately inflicted upon communities of color.
Aspiring prosecutors, especially audacious women leaders from underrepresented communities, can revolutionize the justice system from the inside out. Passionate public interest work is hard work, but it is righteous work.


    When I was a community college student, I found it challenging to get involved in my school community while balancing a full load of classes and working. However, when I saw an opportunity to get involved in student organizing around higher education funding, I immediately knew I had to step up and take on this leadership opportunity. As a student organizer, I helped start a student group on campus called Students Organizing for Success. The mission of this group is to educate and mobilize California community college students around the issue of community college funding and the ever-pressing issue of budget cuts. As a new student group and a member of the leadership board, I had the responsibility of reaching out to my peers and organizing town halls with elected officials. However, this was not always an easy task and many times I was met with apathy from my peers. I remember one student in particular who said that he was working full time and trying to transfer to a state university. Unfortunately, the one class he needed to transfer was always full. The college had cut the remaining sessions of the class because of a lack of funding. I understood his struggle. I was also working while attending school full time and planning on transferring.
    When I asked him to join us on a lobbying trip to Sacramento, he declined. “Politicians won’t listen to me. I’m no one,” he said. It was the first of countless instances of political apathy I would encounter as an organizer. “Come to one of our organizing meetings,” I suggested. After a lengthy conversation where he shared his background with me, and I shared the goals of our organization, he said he would think about coming to our next organization meeting.
    A few days later, he showed up at our next meeting. Everyone at the meeting was passionate about the issue of community college funding. We all believed in the importance of education. After the meeting, the student I had invited said it was inspiring to see classmates plan a lobbying trip and organize other students. He asked how he could get involved and thanked me for inviting him and listening to his story. I understood after that conversation what it meant to be a good leader and the importance of listening to and engaging with others.
    Once I transferred, I continued to seek out leadership opportunities and ways to make a positive impact in my community. I worked with various labor unions and worker’s rights organizations on everything from voter registration to wage discrimination. In my professional experience, I have had the opportunity to volunteer and mentor new employees. As a first-year law school student, I have continued to seek out leadership positions. I joined the 1L Executive Board of the American Constitution Society (ACS) chapter at my school and served on the Careers Committee of the Public Service Advisory Board (PSAB). As a member of these leadership boards, I organized and assisted with various events, including a Prosecutors Panel, where we brought in various prosecutors to discuss their careers with students. As a rising 2L, I am the Co-President of PSAB and on the Executive Board of our school’s ACS chapter. As Co-President of PSAB, my goal for the coming school year is to find and create more opportunities for students to embed public service into their careers, whether they plan to work at non-profit or for a big firm in Manhattan. I also plan on externing with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Spring 2021.
    Currently, I am a summer legal extern for the United States Air Force JAG Corps. I am learning about military justice and will be assisting the legal office with legal research and their preparation of criminal and civil law cases. After law school, I plan to continue to pursue a career in public service as a JAG. Public service is extremely important to me, and I believe serving my country will allow me to further develop my leadership skills. Being an officer in the United States Air Force will allow me to not only be an attorney but to be a leader and gain hands-on skills mentoring and serving others. Whether I become a career JAG or pursue a civilian side attorney position, I will continue to seek out leadership positions and serve my community. As a first-generation attorney, a non-traditional student, and a woman, I hope I can serve as a mentor to other young women and continue to be a trailblazer for women in leadership.

Naomi Rodriguez

Prior to law school, I demonstrated my leadership ability during my undergraduate career as the President of the Black Student Union. Under my leadership, the BSU finalized a scholarship that was designed to make higher education more accessible for students of color at the University of Washington. 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. Eventually, our lobbying to the administration was successful. The selection process was amended so that the community raised money would go to a student from the community who also was doing work to better it. This scholarship now awards $1000 each year. I have had the opportunity to be a leader during law school as well. As a coordinator for the Howard Human and Civil Rights Law Review’s annual C. Clyde Ferguson Symposium, I was able to help bring great legal minds on the forefront of the reparations conversations to Howard Law and continue that important discussion. As the Logistics Chair for the annual Howard Public Interest Law Society’s Public Interest Auction, I was able to quickly and effectively post items for our community to bid on so that students doing important but underfunded public interest work could be compensated for their service.  In helping coordinate and run these two important events, I was able to utilize my organizational skills, my task management skills, and my affinity for collaboration to help make these two events a success. My future public interest career will allow my to foster more leadership opportunities and experiences through upholding the various civil rights statutes and legislation that are essential to protecting our civil and human rights in the United States. My short term goals are to work in the government to protect the human and civil rights of the most vulnerable, marginalized, and underrepresented communities. I aspire to work in the civil rights and human rights sectors of the federal government after graduation and make an impact through national policy and litigation. My experience with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights and Federal Coordination and Compliance Section have given me the network to start on this career path during law school and after graduation and the bar. This work will give me more opportunities to lead within the federal government to protect the rights of the most marginalized on both a national and local scale. My future public interest career will also allow me to be a leader to incoming generations of lawyers. My long term goals are to return to academia to teach, critical race theory, gender and sexuality studies, and civil/human rights law at both an undergraduate and law school level. Because of the extremely influential experiences that Howard Law has given me, I feel it is my duty to give back to future generations through their education. I believe that role models and leaders throughout a person’s legal education are foundational to continuing traditions of civil rights lawyers and leaders.


During the two years I taught English in Tokyo, I learned how to take initiative and lead in order to develop a new English speaking curriculum for a senior high school.  I entered the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program the same year Tokyo underwent English education reforms.  Prior to my time teaching, college entrance exams predominantly tested English reading and writing and made English speaking tests optional.  In preparation for the 2020 Olympics, the Board of Education made speaking tests mandatory.  My primary task as a JET was to implement new programs that would reflect this reform.  As expected, the teachers at my assigned high school were at best skeptical of the reforms and were reticent to implement any changes to their teaching style, which never included conversational speaking practice. I quickly realized that if I wanted to make any changes to the English curriculum at my school, I would have to take the lead on every single initiative.  When I first started working, I was only allowed fifteen minutes out of a fifty-minute class period to conduct speaking practice.  The speaking practice largely consisted of students repeating English phrases after me.  For the rest of the period, the Japanese teacher would teach English grammar using Japanese.  At first, I introduced small changes, such as conversational English drills, only to be brushed off.  After all, I was a young woman and a Vietnamese American foreigner.  I naturally faced cultural barriers when I tried to pitch these curriculum changes.  Most Japanese workplaces had a strict gender and age hierarchy.  Younger women, let alone foreigners, were not expected to lead meetings or introduce new programs.  Many of my Japanese coworkers believed that I would pose a threat to their job security, dismiss their qualifications, or introduce ineffective changes that would negatively impact their classrooms. Rather than becoming disheartened by the response, I adjusted my approach to persuade teachers to adopt my proposals.  Because teachers were concerned about losing time during class, I created after school tutoring programs to prepare seniors for college entrance exams and hosted an English Speaking Club.  I started a Model United Nations team, a club activity most teachers thought no student would be interested in joining.  However, as I continued to run these programs largely on my own, teachers began to warm up to my teaching style and invited me to teach for longer periods.  By the time I left Japan, JET teachers were permitted to conduct the entire class period with only minimal involvement from the Japanese teacher, speaking tests were conducted several times a semester, and the MUN club had competed in their first prefecture-wide competition.  My experience teaching in a foreign country taught me to think creatively about how to lead and how to effect changes, despite dismissive or skeptical superiors and peers.  I realized that leadership could consist of building foundations that can be improved upon later.  My successor at my assigned high school, another woman of color, has since continued and expanded upon the programs I started.  I continued to seek leadership roles with this outlook in mind: growing leadership experiences is based not so much on the title or rank, but on looking for opportunities for change and for the best position to get meaningful work done.  For example, I joined the boards of affinity groups like Womxn of Color Collective, OUTLaw, and Asian Pacific American Law Student Association not so much for a line in my resume, but because I wanted these affinity groups to provide more programming geared towards underrepresented groups (such as the transgender/non-binary community).  Next fall, I will be part of the International Human Rights Clinic and will directly advocate on behalf of victims of human trafficking.  As I have in the past, I will look for opportunities to lead by looking for chances to change and to build upon the foundations of leaders who came before me, whether those opportunities manifest in my direct advocacy with my client or through collaboration with peers in my clinic.  I believe that my future career as a public interest and human rights lawyer will only expand these leadership opportunities, because to me, public interest law draws in people looking for the next step, the next foundation to build, and the next chance to create change.


CW: gun violence, dv, trauma
A few weeks ago, the day after Mother’s Day, my cousin was gunned down in broad daylight. His loss was sudden, and unexpected. He was caring, and he was kind. When I came out, he was one of two family members who never shamed me, and never shunned me. I do not begin to express what that feels like to lose part of your support system when your system is already small. He was the second family member to be shot in less than a year. My father was shot on Fathers Day, 2019, and while he survived, the scars remain. I now channel those experiences into the spaces I lead. I consider myself a trauma-informed leader, and I constantly challenge those around me to follow that approach. Trauma and I are good friends. As a law student who at times has been told to be quiet about my mental health, I feel a point of pride in being able to share that last fall I was diagnosed with C-PTSD. The impacts of sexual abuse, domestic violence experienced as a child, domestic violence experienced as an adult, gun violence, and the day to day microaggressions of homophobia and racism on my life are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and I am able to celebrate my resiliency due in part to access to mental health care as a law student. Every single day I walk out of my house, standing on my own two feet, completely living my truth, I am a leader. I lead by living my life. I am resilient in my leadership. This summer, I will carry that resiliency into my work in Children’s Law. I am interning with one of the country’s most progressive Dependency divisions, in their Commercially Sexually Exploited Children division. I see resiliency in this court. I see resiliency in these kids. I want to be a part of their resiliency, just as people over the years have been a part of mine. I am tired of perfection being pitched as the avenue to dream internships. This summer, while unpaid, I have my dream internship with an agency I hope to one day work for, and none of it involves perfection. On the contrary, it is the imperfections of my life that have equipped me to excel. I hold various leadership positions in school, and I am proud of the awards I have won as a law student, including Ms. JD’s Student of Inspiration award. I have been very proud to serve in my leadership roles as a student, and I would be proud to list them all. But the truth is nothing gives me the same level of pride as when I share my story, my truth, which includes my trauma and my diagnosis, with another person, and they share they feel emboldened and uplifted as a result. I want my resiliency in leadership to spawn the same.


“The toughest job you’ll ever love.” That is the unofficial slogan of the U.S. Peace Corps. Peace Corps volunteers are expected to serve where they are placed, to accept the unknown about their communities before arriving in-country, and to do this all with flexibility, grace, and without a single complaint. Luckily for me, my husband and I were serving together. The support we were able to provide to each other during the application process and throughout service was something that single volunteers did not have, so I often tried my best to offer support to other volunteers throughout my service.
Adjusting to a different culture, language, and foods comes with its own unique challenges. Most Peace Corps volunteers accepted all these changes with a smile and seldom spoke up about something that potentially could have endangered their safety or health for fear of being labeled a “complainer.” As a volunteer, there is a sense of normalcy when one contracts a mosquito-borne illness, becomes sick after trying new foods, and constantly sweats. But some changes take more time to understand and navigate, especially feeling safe in a new community. One of the schools I taught at was located three miles away from where I lived, often requiring me to wait for the bus to return home well into the evening. These incidents left me feeling extremely anxious about getting home. After sharing my fears with other volunteers, who were located in different parts of Nicaragua, I realized that many of them were also often left waiting alone in the dark for a bus that never came to take them home. I became very concerned.
When I spoke to my associate Peace Corps director about my fear, she promptly told me that I should never feel afraid to speak up for my own safety and I was given an extra travel stipend to pay a reliable taxi driver (which, in Nicaragua, was the cost of about $5 a week extra to my monthly allowance) to take me home each week instead of waiting for the bus. After realizing we had access to such recourse, I reached out to other volunteers I knew were facing the same situation, encouraging them to voice their concerns. Slowly, I began to receive calls from other volunteers, not just placed close to me, but from all over Nicaragua, asking for advice. I helped volunteers think through their dilemmas to determine whether their concerns were simply a matter of discomfort or a real issue of safety. Afterwards, I learned that many volunteers changed their schedules to avoid waiting for the bus at night, or the volunteers told their co-teachers about their fears, who then offered to walk with the volunteers through a different part of town so that they could arrive together at the school to teach. A few volunteers received travel stipends (as I did) after deciding their own safety was at risk and could not change their teaching schedules.
There are many ways to demonstrate leadership. The most inspiring leaders I have encountered tend to be those who give others a sense of agency to initiate meaningful change on their own. Through my experience serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, I found that by listening to others and disseminating information, many volunteers were empowered to make changes or use my experience as an example when requesting the same remedy. Stepping into a leadership role during my time as a volunteer was a natural transition from the work I had done previous to joining the Peace Corps, advocating for refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. My experience motivated me in my subsequent post-Peace Corps positions to recognize leadership “gaps” and use my skills and knowledge to help others by encouraging them to advocate for themselves. Cumulatively, these experiences prepared me to approach my time in law school with a different perspective and actively seek opportunities that allow me to step into the ultimate leadership and advocacy challenge: being a lawyer.
Since entering law school, I have committed my time to furthering the legal interests of indigent immigrant communities and aspire to continue pursuing this path. During my first year, I was permitted to observe an upper-division Immigration Policy course. Next year, I plan to participate in the Immigration Clinic at University of San Francisco School of Law, where I have been accepted as a student clinician to assist individuals seeking asylum. My previous public interest experience has left me feeling fortunate to have played a small role in the lives of those who have come to the United States and I look forward to representing and advocating for more individuals who seek protection from persecution and harm.

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