Were it not for the Latinx Law Students Association (LaLSA), Alexis Alvarez ’20 says that she would not have enrolled in NYU Law. After she received her acceptance to the Law School, a student from LaLSA reached out and offered to host her for the weekend. Without that student, Alvarez says, “I would not have been able to afford to visit and see the school—and I would not have come to the school had I not visited.”
That support continued when Alvarez arrived on campus for her 1L year. “I came into law school not knowing any lawyers, not knowing anything about how law school worked, and not having any friends, because I’d just moved here from Florida,” she says. “I joined LaLSA in the hopes that they would provide some of those things for me, and they did.”
This past year, Alvarez served as co-chair of the group alongside Juan Martinez-Hill ’20. “Because of how much LaLSA gave me as a 1L, I knew I needed to pay that forward and make sure that the incoming 1Ls had as great of an experience as I did,” she says.
Much of LaLSA’s activities are built around creating a sense of community for Latinx students on campus, starting with a retreat in the first month of school. 1Ls in LalSA are also paired with 2Ls and 3Ls, who serve as mentors as they adjust to the pace of the Law School.
LaLSA also hosts professional development events throughout the year. Martinez-Hill notes that the group often works with other affinity groups at the Law School, recognizing that many LaLSA members participate in multiple organizations. In the past year, LaLSA co-sponsored events with groups including the Black Allied Law Students Association, the Women of Color Collective, Law Women, the Disability Allied Law Students Association, and OUTLaw.
Alvarez and Martinez-Hill say that they are especially proud of their efforts as co-chairs to expand LaLSA’s public interest and political engagement on campus. This year, the group hosted mixers with lawyers doing pro bono in the private sector as well as at public interest organizations. LaLSA's Political Action Chair, Michelle Rosales '20, worked with the nonprofit organization LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund to hold “Street Law,” a series of “know your rights” trainings in the Bronx.
“It’s necessary for us to fight for the rights for our community here in New York, especially given the current political circumstances and how marginalized many of our community members are,” says Martinez-Hill.
Incoming co-chairs Jesica Tenaglia ’21 and Ashley Dean ’21 have a robust agenda for the 2019-2020 academic year. Dean emphasizes her desire to ensure that LaLSA remains inclusive of the many identities that overlap with Latinx identity. “It is really beautiful, and a teaching lesson for someone like myself who was a first-generation immigrant and who speaks Spanish, to recognize that to be Latinx comes in many, many forms,” she says. “To the extent that we consistently engage in inclusive and welcoming behavior, we are all better served by that.”
Another priority is to increase engagement between current students and alumni of the group. “I’d like to be able to share with alumni all of the exciting projects that LaLSA is doing and to foster meaningful relationships with alumni that I'm sure will be personally and professionally beneficial for our members,” says Tenaglia.
The annual alumni banquet is already a tradition. At this year’s event, LaLSA honored Dave Inder Comar ’05, managing partner and legal director at Comar and executive director of Just Atonement, and Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno ’01, executive director at the Drug Policy Alliance, with the LaLSA Alumni Recognition Award. The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, a group that provides direct services to LGBTQ gender-nonconforming, and HIV-positive detainees, received LaLSA’s Community Organization Award.
Nicolas Duque Franco ’18, a LaLSA alumnus who recently completed a fellowship with the New York-based Center for Appellate Litigation, says he has made a conscious effort to stay connected to the group and attended events on campus during the past year. For him, the core value of the organization is a commitment to racial equality and the desire to break down barriers for the Latinx community.
“I think people choose to participate in LaLSA because they appreciate and value the significance of moving the Latinx community forward in the law,” he says, “and of making the legal system—and world—more accessible.”
Posted July 5, 2019