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Category: Social Justice and Politics

The Law School Personal Statement

I first decided to go to law school in 2007. At the time, I was deeply entangled in an ultra-conservative, evangelical church that relied more on control and manipulation than it did the gospel of love. I had been raised conservatively from the very beginning so that religion wasn’t just something we did on Sundays or the salve to get us through tough times. It informed every facet of our lives. I was devoted to denying myself in the service of others – a noble cause, yet one that is easily abused. My misguided application of this value meant that I shouldn’t pursue anything that was personally fulfilling or could be construed as selfish ambition. The suppression of my needs, thoughts, and feelings in order to accommodate the needs and fulfillment of others defined my life. My declaration to attend law school was my sincere effort to impact the world in a tangible way. But there was a problem. My ambition threatened the control church leadership wielded over my life. Attending law school would have been an exercise of empowerment, a demonstration of my ability to think for myself. This threat was compounded by my gender. Women were not created to lead. The male authorities who were responsible for my spiritual well-being reminded me of my obligations to the church. Because I was naive and impressionable, I let their discouragements realign my priorities and resigned myself to staying where I was.

I finally gained the courage to remove myself from this body of believers and in its place chose a church that provided more autonomy, or so I thought. In my new church home, censorship of any idea that was a departure from the “unity statement” was necessary to protect the church family. Expression of liberal ideals (such as the equality of women) was judged to be unhealthy, even dangerous. When I realized that opportunities fitting for my gifts and passions were off-limits simply because god made me female, I became a feminist. For the first time in my life, I seriously considered the possibility that the church wasn’t always right. Shocked and bewildered, I discovered how patriarchy and misogyny are deeply embedded in so many faith traditions and how I had unwittingly contributed to the destructive consequences of these ideologies.

I began listening with empathy to the stories of those outside of the church with as much passion and investment as I had given to the church. I read stories of racism and violence towards women. I read about the Syrian war and the worst refugee crisis our world has ever encountered. Knowledge of these issues demanded a response so I began utilizing social media, writing on my personal blog, and donating to specific causes. Yet the inadequacy of what I could offer to improve these situations compelled me to find more effective solutions. As I devoured these stories and meditated on them, I lost my timidity and inclination towards “keeping the peace.” I also found my privilege and the motivation to use it.

All my life, successful people were like gods. I took for granted that they were smarter, more talented, and most certainly had been granted their positions in life just as randomly but irrevocably as I was granted my red hair, blue eyes, and freckle-prone skin. If you were going to be the president, it was in your DNA – like destiny but not as romantic. The arrival of my daughter put this fallacy to rest for good. This future woman whose well-being and education are in the palms of my hands has made me live. Her very existence brought clarity and purpose. When I replayed personal moments of oppression and imagined them happening to my daughter, the manipulation and spiritual abuse were undeniable. This perspective vanquished the guilt and obligation that kept me dutiful, quiet, and “good.” Now, empowered feminist, mother, triathlete, I live my life by this motto, “I am who I want to be” – a person worthy of my daughter’s admiration and respect – someone who, if she did turn out just like me, would be honorable, compassionate, and strong.

Having stepped onto the slippery slope that my past faith communities identify feminism to be, I have happily slipped completely off that slope and consider myself to be a non-religious, human-affirming individual who is happy for the good fortune to be alive and the ability to contribute to the world. I’m a writer, problem-solver, and optimist. While I’ve encountered some of the darkest yet socially accepted aspects of the Christian faith, I’m thankful for the many Christians who represent a faith that is empathetic and affirming towards those with differing beliefs. I’ve processed my anger towards the people and churches who hurt me and channeled it into passion for others experiencing oppression. I want to empower those who are disenfranchised and advocate for their legal right to freedom, equality, and justice.

When I first decided to go to law school, I didn’t have the focus, self-determination, or confidence to keep me from being derailed. And yet I’m thankful that it didn’t work out the first time around. My evolution into a person who validates the experience of every human being, seeks justice for those unable to advocate for themselves, and fights for freedom for the oppressed will define the change I strive to make as a lawyer. Now, I make decisions independently based on my values and desires rather than religious obligation. I set my sights on an ambitious goal and work for it without feeling selfish. I seek out the beauty and strength found in the stories of others without fear of their influence. These qualities demonstrate my transformation into a person who is ready to tackle the challenges of law school with all of the grit and gumption necessary to succeed. So I return to my law school dream – eyes wide open, fully empowered, knowing my own mind, and believing that if I work hard, stay focused, and keep learning, I can offer something to the world.

-Rebecca

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Coping Strategies: Hide It, Turn It Off, Disengage

It’s safe to say the election has been rough on all of us. I’ve heard many people express how sick and tired they are of the media, hatred, division, and vitriol and I totally agree. It has been mentally and emotionally exhausting. It has put pressure on relationships to the point that even some long and cherished friendships have ended. It’s forced us to talk about controversial topics while confronting words and actions that violate our moral conscience. To say it’s been uncomfortable would be an understatement.

Many people have been looking for ways to cope. Some coping strategies are more individualized than others. I’ve heard of everything from play-doh parties to hiking. But self care is all about you. We can do so much more when we aren’t mentally or emotionally drained so do what you have to do to stay sane.

One common coping mechanism has been to unplug either from the news or from social media entirely. On the road to disengagement, many have decided to ignore all things political. They’ve changed the channel, hidden posts from their social media feeds, or chosen to unfollow/unfriend those who share political content. This is a valid option. While I have yet to confirm this information, I even read that a recent study observed reduced stress levels in people who quit Facebook. It’s a tempting option. But before you decide to call it quits, it may be worthwhile to evaluate both the benefits and consequences of this decision. Let me make it explicitly clear that I do not intend to tell anyone what to do. I simply want to offer up some thoughts for discussion and consideration.

Disengagement from controversial issues is definitely a prerogative of every individual. But in addition to being a right, it’s a privilege available only to those who are not directly involved in some capacity. All people have control over their level of social media/news engagement. But for many, no matter how unplugged they decide to be, the issues themselves don’t disappear. The ability to get away from the topics that cause discomfort, stress, or even anxiety is not an option for those who’s lives and choices are up for debate in the public sphere. They LIVE controversial issues every single day.

I’m talking about immigrants (both documented and undocumented), religious minorities (Muslims), racial minorities, and the LGBTQIA+ community, among others. Imagine how it feels for something so connected to your personal identity to be discussed ad nauseam everywhere you turn. They can hide things from their news feeds and ignore the TVs, but that doesn’t change the fact that, as a minority, their lives are being debated and judged by people all over the country every moment of every day. From snarky memes, to sassy blog posts and click bait news articles, the commentary never ends. I wish that were an exaggeration, but the topics of this election cycle have left no stone un-turned when it comes to social issues.

Not only are lives and/or choices up for debate on the internet and cable TV, but minorities have to face the possibility of personal confrontation constantly. Sometimes that confrontation threatens to become or does become violent. As a result, fear is very real for many right now. The fear minorities feel is not an over reaction or made up by the “liberal media.” It’s reality. And it’s not something they will ever have the choice to turn off or avoid, [apart from disappearing to live on a deserted island – count me in!].

It may seem like disengagement would do minorities a favor. If we all stop talking about it, the debates will end and peace will return to our lives. But there are two methods to peace – avoidance and confrontation. The first only offers an illusion of peace. I think that’s why so many, including myself, were shocked by the election results. Rather than openly confronting oppression and championing the rights of minorities, I let myself remain naive to the ongoing discrimination that permeates our society. Avoidance results in being uniformed and blind to what’s actually around us. Rather than making progress, we lose progress. On the journey to peace, only confrontation results in actual change. Confrontation doesn’t have to be rude or offensive. It’s just the opposite of avoidance. By being well-informed, engaging with those who are different from us, and then sharing our experiences and what we’ve learned with those around us, we confront harmful ideologies that threaten the safety and freedom of our neighbors and friends.

So here’s the deal: before you decide that you’ve had enough and you’d rather just be done with politics and controversy altogether, consider your neighbors and friends who are relentlessly challenged regardless of whether or not they chose to unplug. Maybe you still feel like time away is what’s right for you. If that’s what you need, I encourage you to take those steps. But please, don’t stay away for too long. I need you! Your family and neighbors need you! Our nation needs you! The world needs you!

In the coming months, I’m going to be posting some stories of my minority friends. They are beautiful people who have been willing to share their lives with me. I believe in the positive changes that can result from connecting with people outside of our normal sphere. I hope you’ll read their stories and be open to learning about their lives. Thank you reading.

-Rebecca

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To My Conservative & Christian Friends

Many individuals in my life, many who I love and believe are wonderful people, voted for Donald Trump. You are the ones I am writing to today. In the weeks following the election, I’ve done my best to listen and learn – to understand your motivations. And I have learned! Thank you so much for being willing to share your thoughts with me. I empathize with some of those motivations and I echo some of your concerns about our nation and government. I do not believe that everyone who voted for Trump is racist or xenophobic. In fact, I think many would champion the cause of minorities they know personally and would fight for them were they to experience violence or outright discrimination. I believe that to be you, my friends.

That is why I want you to stay with me – to not disengage or avoid the news. You may have heard the term “alt right” included in discussions of the election or Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist for his administration. Before being hired as CEO for Trump’s campaign, Bannon ran Breitbart – the primary news platform for the alt right. Over the weekend, the alt right movement hosted a conference in Washington, D.C. It has been debated whether the alt right is synonymous with white-nationalists/white-supremacy. The debate is over.

On Saturday, Richard B. Spencer, a primary leader of the movement, spoke to a conference room full of primarily young men. Here is an excerpt from a NYT article covering the event:

“America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Mr. Spencer thundered. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

But the white race, he added, is “a race that travels forever on an upward path.”

“To be white is to be a creator, an explorer, a conqueror,” he said.

More members of the audience were on their feet as Mr. Spencer described the choice facing white people as to “conquer or die.”

Of other races, Mr. Spencer said: “We don’t exploit other groups, we don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around.”

As I read those words, my mouth hung open. These words are shocking. And yet there were more:

Mr. Spencer said that while he did not think the president-elect should be considered alt-right, “I do think we have a psychic connection, or you can say a deeper connection, with Donald Trump in a way that we simply do not have with most Republicans.”

White identity, he said, is at the core of both the alt-right movement and the Trump movement, even if most voters for Mr. Trump “aren’t willing to articulate it as such.”

If you are conservative, and this shocks you, please, say so! Make it clear that you do not and will not support these ideologies. Don’t let this movement define your party or your politics. This. Is. Important. We cannot procrastinate addressing these issues. We cannot avoid them. We must be vigilant now. Or before we know it, what has already made astounding progress as a growing movement will continue to grow.

Read the full article. Stay informed. Speak out. We must work together to ensure that our nation will continue to be a safe place for all citizens – where “liberty and just for all” does not include an implicit [white people] at the end.

This is the common ground we are looking for. Let’s work together.

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