Cocoa Puff in A Bowl of Milk
“I didn’t know you were that smart!” This was a comment that was said to my fellow co-president as she told another student that she had received a clerkship in the Supreme Court of Colorado. We find ourselves feeling like a cocoa puff in a bowl of milk in our classes. Unfortunately as Latinos, our ability to succeed academically and competitively with other law students is always in question. Whether they think we were admitted through affirmative action, or remedial programs, our intelligence and abilities are sometimes not taken very seriously and can sometimes be compromised.
Latinos encompass 15% of the population in the United States. Only 2.2% are lawyers. From this 2.2% only 1.3% are Latinas. As Latinos in law school, I feel that our experiences tend to be different than some of our other class mates and colleagues. I don’t want to say that flat out racism exists but we work within a system that covertly and sometimes subconsciously works against our interests. At times we find ourselves struggling to understand why a professor stated certain comments to us, or why the Career Development Centers think that we are all Public Interest attorneys.
Recently, I was in an internship class and I had previously approached my professor at a workshop and stated my desire to clerk with a certain Federal Judge in Colorado. At the time I had stated my interests she was speaking to a Federal Latino prosecutor. At this initial meeting, she was very excited that I had shown interest and promised to follow up with me in our next class. So, as promised, I approached the professor after class and again affirmed my interest in being a clerk for this Federal Judge. At that moment, she cringed and looked uncomfortable. She then stated, “You know… there are some things that you need to know about this judge. Did you know he was raised in Southern Colorado?” To which I responded that I did. And then she continued, “Well, I don’t know how to say this, but I’m just going to say it. He has admitted to me that he racially profiles.” I looked at her puzzled at what that could mean, and then said, “Ok?” She then continued, “Well, he looks around our law school and he definitely believes that Latinos are underrepresented and that our system and classes should reflect the population. He grew up around Latinos, and I know he would love a Latino in his court room… but I worry because he’s a demanding judge.” I kept looking at her still confused as to what she was trying to say, and even more confused because when I had initially showed interests she seemed more excited than I was! Again, I nodded my head and said, “Ok…” She continued, “well I know that he demands a lot from his clerks, and again he would love a Latino in his court room, but I just don’t know how he would react to someone who might slip up and not be a good fit and be a Latino.” At this point in the conversation, I really wasn’t sure what was just said to me, if she had considered me unprofessional, or if she was trying to protect me from a judge that would judge me because I was Latina, and not based on my abilities. I was confused by her honesty and by her approach to the conversation. She then asked me if I had applied for the “diversity” clerkships and what my plan was for the following semester. I quickly responded that I hadn’t applied but that I was going to and that I had also applied to our Community Clinic. The clinic focuses on representing indigent clients in three areas: domestic violence restraining orders; housing issues (both eviction defense and housing discrimination); and wage and hour litigation on behalf of immigrant workers. They also focus on community projects designed to address larger systemic problems. She quickly responded, “Now that would be a better fit for you!” I then explained to her that although I love public interest work, I wanted to focus on other areas of law so that I could be as competitive as possible after graduation. Then she continued to explain why the clinic was still a better fit. I again reminded her of why I wanted a clerkship and that I was still interested in clerking for the Federal Judge. She looked surprised and promised to follow up last week. It is now the second week and I have yet to hear from her.
Scenarios like these happen daily to some of us, and sometimes it’s so overt that we glaze over it due to our hectic schedules and continue on until we can analyze it later. In my situation, I didn’t know how to respond because at some point, this professor might write me a letter of recommendation, and I didn’t want to upset her. It leads to my inability to address an issue within a larger power structure. I am at the mercy of this professor because she makes personal recommendations to many of the Federal Judges in the state.
It also left me wondering why I had to apply through our “diversity” applications, and wondered why some feel we wouldn’t be able to obtain our position through the regular pool of candidates. I know that these programs are meant to help us, but sometimes they can be more challenging and damaging because it allows us to question our intelligence, talents and abilities.
In the end, we all came to law school for a reason, and regardless of where we are we are intelligent enough on our merits to be here and shouldn’t question it. We move forward because we have faced these obstacles before, and these experiences make us stronger and more adept to handle these situations when they arise. But the obstacles we face make some days a bit more frustrating and a bit more difficult. We will continue to face these obstacles in our legal careers through entry, retention and advancement, and we will continue to surpass them and exceed the expectations laid upon us. I love cocoa puffs, and I know that eventually if the cocoa puffs sit there long enough the milk starts to turn brown. Stay positive, hold your head up high, and keep moving forward.