Studying at UVA Law to Make Life Better Back Home
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, a housing crisis and a flawed welfare program have left tens of thousands of citizens living in slums. Cecelia Dieuzeide, an Argentine lawyer, human rights advocate and now student in the University of Virginia School of Law, is fighting to change that. Dieuzeide is one of 40 students seeking a master's of law, or LL.M., through the Graduate Studies Program.
In one of her largest cases for the Defensoria de Primera Instancia, the Argentine public legal advocacy program where she works, Dieuzeide represented some of the city's poorest inhabitants after someone set fire to a shantytown called Villa Cartón, destroying it. The fire displaced about 1,500 residents who counted on advocates like Dieuzeide to ensure the government supplied the promised aid.
She said the displaced populations still need services, and what she is learning in her classes will help her better advocate for her clients.
About 30 percent of Argentine citizens live below the poverty level and lack access to education, health care, water and proper sanitation.
“It’s demanding work because a lot of people are facing problems, but when you see that their lives are improving it is so rewarding,” said Dieuzeide, who works primarily on welfare claims.
Despite the progress made by her organization, the number of people seeking assistance has been increasing for several years, she said, which helped inspire her to expand her legal education.
The Law School’s LL.M. program provides a graduate American legal education to lawyers who have first obtained a law degree in their home countries. In addition to the LL.M. candidates, 16 students are pursuing a doctor of juridical science degree, or S.J.D., the highest degree in law. Together, the 56 LL.M. and S.J.D. students represent 20 countries.
Dieuzeide came to the Law School as a recipient of the competitive, merit-based Fulbright Scholarship. She is the sole Fulbright Scholar in this year’s LL.M. class and one of about 50 Fulbright scholars selected from Argentina in 2016 to study at academic institutions in the United States.
While at the Law School, Dieuzeide will take a wide range of classes to expand her knowledge of human rights and gain new insight on the legal issues in her hometown. She is a student in the International Human Rights Law Clinic and the Human Rights Study Project, and is taking classes in bioethics, behavioral decision-making, and legislation and regulation.
“I’m learning a lot and I get to apply all of it to Argentina once I go back,” Dieuzeide said. “Part of this program is not only learning things I can apply in my hometown, but also getting to know the law from another perspective.”
LL.M. students plan individualized courses of study to fit their personal interests and career goals. They also, unlike in many LL.M. programs, take classes alongside J.D. students, with both international and domestic students benefiting from the classroom interaction.
As part of the Human Rights Study Project, Dieuzeide will travel to Myanmar with her classmates to study human rights violations.
Dieuzeide said she was drawn to UVA Law for the prestige of the graduate program, as well as the Charlottesville scenery and small-town feel. Each year, several hundred international students apply for about 50 spots in the one-year LL.M. program, which began in the 1960s.
She said the selectivity of the program and small class size cinched the decision, since other top programs can have more than 200 students.
“I’ve formed a close relationship with my whole class,” she said. “We are like a big family.”
Like Dieuzeide, her classmates have all demonstrated prior excellence in the legal field. They come to the Law School from law firms, corporate and entrepreneurial settings, and public service positions across the globe.
“I knew I wanted to go to the U.S. to study,” said Dieuzeide, who first came to the U.S. as a teenager through an exchange program. “I was looking at UVA and saw a video where they show the trolley and pictures of Charlottesville. I fell in love.”