From homeless services to immigrant rights, public service advocacy is paramount to each of UC Hastings’ four first-year California Bar Foundation Diversity Scholarship award winners.
Twenty-two first-year law students statewide received the award in 2013, and UC Hastings is honored by its students’ commitment to championing the underprivileged.
“Having students like this year’s California Bar Foundation fellows is what UC Hastings is all about as a law school,” says Mark Aaronson, emeritus professor and founder of the Civil Justice Clinic. “Especially because we have a diverse student body, we view as central to our educational mission preparing them to become responsive, high-quality, problem-solving lawyers who make pro bono service and striving for social justice a continuing and integral part of a lifetime in law.”
Immigration and education reform are important to Acosta, whose grandparents left Mexico for the United States and instilled in her a deep appreciation for education.
After interning for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and leading a university-wide scholarship fund for low-income students at USC, Acosta founded a learning center for mostly immigrant families in Hollister through the Cesar Chavez Foundation and AmeriCorps. She later received a Fulbright research grant to study education policy and developmental programs in Zacatecas, Mexico. Acosta received a master’s in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. After law school, Acosta hopes to continue advocating on behalf of immigrants and students. “My family worked so hard to get to this point; I feel a responsibility to make sure others have the same opportunities,” she says.
Arévalo’s experience as an immigrant and farmworker has also shaped her view on the law. As a high school student in Patterson, Arévalo worked sorting apricots and tomatoes alongside her parents, who fled El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s. “I saw the things they went through,” she says. “So I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, and now I have an opportunity to help others in similar situations.”
Arévalo spent six years working for the National Senior Citizens Law Center in Oakland before law school. She has degrees in sociology and Spanish literature from UC Berkeley.
Despite growing up poor in the San Joaquin Valley, Ballard turned down a lucrative job offer after college in favor of returning home to work for a nonprofit as a community organizer. At 23, he was appointed to the city of Wasco’s Planning Commission, becoming the youngest commissioner in California state history and his city’s first African-American chairman overseeing city development. Ballard saw that earning a law degree would help him better understand the legal complexities that govern the world we live in.
“Honestly, I am just trying to contribute,” he says. “Trying to contribute something meaningful to UC Hastings and the broader legal community so that one day the doors that have been opened for me will be opened for others.”
Coard’s life took a dramatic turn nearly 20 years ago when he slipped while sitting on a window ledge and fell seven stories, breaking his neck. “I lost my job, my insurance, everything. I got to experience—like many people in the Tenderloin—what it is to have nothing,” he says.
Coard began volunteering for organizations that assist people in need and is a founding member of the San Francisco Reentry Council, which coordinates support efforts for newly released prisoners. “This is what I wanted to do with my life,” he says. “And getting a legal education is central to my goals. Passing the bar is very important to me. I want to become an attorney so I can return the favor to those who have helped me, and especially to those who have the least access to the legal system.”
Editor's Note: This story is excerpted from the Spring 2014 UC Hastings magazine, delivering April 22, 2014.