Virginia Law Students Encourage Next Generation of Students, Foster Understanding of Law
A group of New York middle school students recently got a taste of what law school was like during a visit hosted by the Black Law Students Association at the University of Virginia School of Law. The visitors, participants in a Harlem lacrosse and mentoring program, also met Dean Paul G. Mahoney and heard from a panel of law students about what it takes to succeed in college and beyond.
"I think Virginia is a great school, and I might want to come here," said Tyler Bryan, who was one of about 25 students to visit in early March. "The law students told me to make sure I'm doing well in all my classes."
The visit was just one of the many ways UVA law students reach out to youth to help them better understand the law and learn what it takes to get into law school.
"It's easy to get wrapped up in the law school bubble and to forget about why you're here," said second-year law student and BLSA president Amanda Turner. "But as members of BLSA, we have a vested interest in helping more people obtain access to the opportunities we have been given here, particularly people who look like us. It's something we all take very seriously."
This year, the UVA BLSA chapter began mentoring a group of 24 undergraduate UVA students on how to increase their chances of being admitted to law school to. One undergraduate UVA student, who was mentored by BLSA Admissions Chair Amanda Oakes, has already been accepted to Virginia Law during the current admissions cycle.
BLSA also reaches out in the Charlottesville area in other ways, including through offering scholarships to a high school and an undergraduate student each year.
BLSA also partnered with Street Law in November to give local Albemarle High School students a tour of the Law School.
Street Law is another student organization at UVA Law that works directly with local public schools. At a teacher's request, members will prepare brief legal lessons for civics, social studies and history classes.
"The point is to teach the students information, but it's also to get them interested in law, and potentially interested in law school," said third-year law student Denise Letendre, the group's president. "A lot of times you'll get students who are really engaged and ask questions you never even thought of, which is really exciting."
Popular classroom discussions include First and Fourth Amendment rights, Letendre said, but lessons may be on any timely topic. This year, she said, first-year law students gave a talk on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Street Law also worked this year with high school programs for at-risk students and those who may be the first in their families to go to college. The organization also co-hosted a discussion last spring at the Law School for middle school girls in association with Virginia Law Women.
But not all of the law students' outreach focuses on law. Throughout the year, members of the student organization Action for a Better Living Environment mentor children aged 6 to 12 who live in Friendship Court, a Section 8 housing community in downtown Charlottesville.
"The emphasis here is relationships," said second-year law student Tunji Williams, president of the group.
Through ABLE, which is affiliated with the Boys & Girls Club of America, Law School mentors are paired with individual children and take them on excursions at least once or twice a month.
Williams said he mentors a 9-year-old boy named Tai'quan and often talks to him about what he can be when he grows up.
"We put a list together of [colleges] he likes and where he wants to go," Williams said. "I just want to elevate his expectations for himself. He was talking about football before, maybe being a cop, and I said, 'You know, you could be a lawyer.'"
Williams is also a member of BLSA and a board member of Harlem Lacrosse & Leadership, the nonprofit organization co-founded by second-year law student Simon Cataldo that facilitated the New York middle-schoolers' visit. In addition to touring the Law School, the students also shadowed UVA men's varsity lacrosse coach Dom Starsia, had dinner with the team and played a half-time scrimmage game, and visited Monticello.
During a panel discussion at the Law School, BLSA students advised the youths on their own strategies for collegiate success.
"I try to integrate myself into as many activities as possible," second-year law student Andrea Canfield said during the panel. "When you are in class, try to befriend people who aren't like you. It will help you feel comfortable later in life when you're in a professional setting."