By Fajer Saeed Ebrahim, J.D., M.S.W., If/When/How Reproductive Justice Fellow at Legal Voice
I recently had a conversation with a 3L who found me on LinkedIn (kudos, seriously!) and wanted to talk about the If/When/How Reproductive Justice Fellowship. “You’re doing a second year with them, so figured you must love it!” she said. And I do; the last thirteen months have surpassed my expectations. Being on the front lines, doing movement work during an especially critical time, is anchoring.
The next thing the law student said is something I’ve heard far too often: “I don’t know that I’m what If/When/How is looking for. Reproductive justice is very personal to me and I’m worried I’ll come across as unprofessional.”
I’d like to break those two thoughts down for anyone out there who’s had the same concerns, in the hope that you will apply to the Fellowship!
People often think that the prestigious experience of law school boosts one’s confidence. After all, 1L orientation is primarily a huge pat on the back — something among the lines of: you’re the cream of the crop, countless folks wanted your spot, and hurrah for your bright future. The accuracy of these statements is more than enough material for another blog post entirely, but what I’ve noticed — and I’m not the first to do so — is that law school is often delegitimizing to those of us who identify as women of color. What should be an education in understanding and critically questioning our systems can turn into a toxic questioning of ourselves and our worth. I can honestly say that If/When/How, as a hub for reproductive justice lawyering, is the antithesis of that experience.
“I don’t know that I’m what If/When/How is looking for.”
If/When/How is looking for passionate students who are eager to join the reproductive justice movement! Passion manifests differently for everyone. Perhaps you exhausted every RJ opportunity at your law school — great! Perhaps your involvement has been in your local community, separate from your academics — awesome! But perhaps you’re relatively new to “RJ” in general and are just getting familiarized with what it means for you — that’s cool too! There are different ways of entering this work and all are valuable and valid. After all, part of If/When/How’s mission is to increase RJ capacity!
“Reproductive justice is very personal to me and I’m worried I’ll come across as unprofessional.”
I remember during one of my 1L classes, I talked about how differently constructed property rights are in Bahrain (my home country, where I spent the first 18 years of my life) and a classmate raised her hand and stated that everything I had shared was irrelevant. It was a good primer in one of the major tenets of law school — so-called “objectivity.” What we’re taught, either implicitly or explicitly, is that our personal stories have no place in the classroom or in the law, that our stories sully what should be universally true and applicable. What we know, of course, is that the law is anything but objective, and that our stories show not only the real impact of our laws, but also the gap between who makes the law and whom it impacts — and often harms — most.
There is a conformity that many law schools aspire to ingrain in us — a devout worship of a kind of dehumanized, cold rule of law.
If we’re being real, much of law school is an education in how to come as close as possible to presenting as a straight white American man. And for many of us, that was mostly who sat next to us in our classes, too. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not least among them the fact that it is impossible for those of us with visibly different, politicized, and othered identities to eschew those identities, and attempting to present as anything other than who we are is exhausting. And most importantly, our stories have value. Our families — chosen and inherited — and our narratives have led us to where we are today. There is nothing unprofessional about our backgrounds and our lived realities.
Being able to live this truth in my professional life has made the last thirteen months some of the most rewarding times of my life. Truly. So as you explore whether or not you should apply to If/When/How’s Fellowship, I encourage you to resist the urge to downplay your experiences and to undermine your worth — you are enough. Put an application in!