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Social Justice Activist – Sample College Admission Essay – UNEDITED

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June 1987. Age 19. I was traveling by train. My destination: Refugio del Rio Grande, a cooperatively run Central American refugee camp on the Mexican border. For three months, I would be the only “outsider” living and working there. That summer, I taught English to refugees. I helped them prepare asylum applications. I sang folk songs, cooked tortillas, and drank with them. Machete in hand, I joined them in clearing fields, chopping wood, and planting corn. I listened to their narrations of political tyranny and economic subordination, and to their yearnings for change. I joined them in their attempts at democratic, communal decision-making. And at some point I stopped thinking of the refugees as “them”. For a brief time, their struggle became mine, and the distinction of who was helping whom became blurred. A turning point.

February 1992. Age 23. I was traveling by rental car (consciously American manufactured). My destination: River Rouge, a working-class suburb of Detroit. Map in lap, I drove in circles, my frenzied daily efforts again frustrated by a notoriously poor sense of direction. I managed to stumble upon my destination at 9:58 p.m., minutes before the nightly deadline for unannounced visits, parked and scurried to the door. This worker-my eighteenth of the day-offered several compelling reasons for not wanting to participate in a United Steelworkers’ Union organizing drive. I found myself unable to even attempt an inspiring “union rap”, trying instead to understand his dilemma, and leaving his home without even suggesting he sign a union card. I was not a great labor organizer.

These sketches are two examples of the various social justice-related jobs I have undertaken over the past several years. In choosing to work in diverse capacities over a range of issues, I have followed three objectives: first, to challenge my views on different problems; second, to examine the effectiveness and limitations of different strategies for affecting progressive social change; and third, to test my own aptitude, interest, and personal capacity for working in different professional roles. My attached resume thus documents a variety of issue areas (immigration, homelessness, civil rights, human rights, education, labor, and children’s rights) and roles (social worker, policy analyst, researcher, teacher, community and labor organizer, and legal advocate).

As the two episodes suggest, this process revealed my interests, abilities, and limitations. Above all, several work experiences fostered an interest in law as an instrument to, and obstacle of, social change. For example, my work with the NJ Supreme Court Task Force on Minority Concerns, on a study uncovering and proposing remedies to de facto discrimination within the legal system, underlined law’s potency for both perpetuating and combating injustice. My work with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR) introduced me to law’s potential for affecting change though creative, non-adversarial means. The results of the pilot parole project I coordinated at LCHR was cited in INS’ decision to change its national policy on paroling asylum applicants.

Yet it was working for The Alliance for Children’s Rights on cases of individual representation that ultimately convinced me to choose law as a vocation. As a founding staff member of the first organization in Southern California devoted exclusively to defending the legal rights of low income children, I had the opportunity to experience the excitement of creating a progressive law practice which served critical, previously unmet needs.
As Intake Coordinator, I had to quickly familiarize myself with legal areas ranging from dependency and delinquency to public benefits, family, housing, and civil rights law. As well, I developed a system for interviewing the children and assessing the cases for placement with pro bono attorneys. My relationships with the young clients gave me direct insight into the way in which law, practiced properly, can empower people to themselves take a stand against injury and injustice, and the difference this transformation makes to their self-esteem and individual fortitude.

Finally, I have tried, through my academic work, to complement action with reflection. College courses enabled me to begin grappling with broad theoretical questions of social justice, political morality, and jurisprudence. My current graduate course work in political theory is an effort to enhance my capacity to sort through these issues. I look forward to law school as a way to continue these theoretical explorations. More importantly, I am hopeful that studying law will ground the questions in a practical framework, enabling me to develop the technical skills needed to work toward progressive change: change which expands individual life chances, redresses historic inequities in well-being, and minimizes the subordination of some individuals and groups by others.

Note: This essay appears unedited for instructional purposes. Essays edited by EssayEdge are substantially improved. For samples of EssayEdge editing, please click here.

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