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Ellis Injury Law Diversity Scholarship Winners

diploma, cap, and booksEllis Injury Law is pleased to announce the winners of our first scholarship award, created to promote increased diversity within law schools and the legal profession. The 3 impressive winners for 2015 will receive $1000 each to be used for university tuition, books or housing as they advance toward their goal of a career in law.

We were deeply gratified and encouraged by the large number of diversity scholarship applicants and the extremely high quality of the essays they submitted. To be eligible applicants were required to be a member of an ethnic or racial minority, or have demonstrated a significant contribution to diversity issues within their schools or communities.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ban on affirmative action in college admissions, candidates were asked to submit a 1500-2000 word essay on their response to the Court’s decision and their opinion as to whether any viable alternatives exist to ensure diversity in schools of higher learning.

With so many thoughtful and illuminating essays submitted, it was hard to choose three winners. We would like to thank all of the applicants for their time and hard work, and wish them the very best of luck in their future law careers.

2015 & 2016 Ellis Injury Law Scholarship Winners!

ellis law scholarship winnr

Keema S. Givens

Keema S. Givens – $1,000 scholarship winner (2016). Ms. Keema S. Givens, of Williamstown, New Jersey, has just entered her first semester of studies at Howard University School of Law in Washington D.C. During her undergraduate experience, Ms. Givens was fortunate to have celebrated various displays of ethnicity, age, religion, talent, and political views. She is honored to pursue her legal studies at Howard University School of Law, and hopes to someday join other trailblazers who are paving the way for meaningful and lasting change.

ElaineElaine Ejigu – $1,000 scholarship winner (2015).  Ms. Ejigu is set to begin law school in Fall 2015 at Southwestern Law School, after graduating with honors from University of California, Santa Cruz with a BA in Feminist Studies and Legal Studies. She writes, “Affirmative action is necessary for U.S. colleges and universities because discriminatory housing and school funding policies leave low ­income minorities at a disadvantage academically in comparison to their white peers. Affirmative action is currently the only method in place to remedy this wrong.” Ms. Ejigu accepted her scholarship award at Ellis Law Firm’s El Segundo law office.

riki burroughs - 140x120Riki Burroughs – $1,000 scholarship winner (2015)
.  Ms. Burroughs just completed year one as an undergraduate at Grambling State University in Louisiana: “Affirmative action was seen as good racial discrimination. Good or bad, it is still racial discrimination. No student should have to feel they are being judged based on their race/ethnicity. Affirmative action is not a way to correct racial discrimination; it hurts minority students more than it helps them.”

catherine hoangCatherine Hoang – $1,000 scholarship winner (2015).  Hailing from Wilmington, MA Ms. Hoang is heading to New York City later this month to begin her first year as an undergraduate at Barnard College, Columbia University. She writes, “There is no system or person in America that is truly ‘race-blind’; as such, it would be a gross injustice to support initiatives like race-blind college admissions. Affirmative action seeks to regard the applicant pool for its realities: that each and every student comes from a unique educational background and living situation, and has received different levels of access and privileges based upon factors such as race, socioeconomic class, gender, etc. As Justice Sotomayor expressed in her dissent, ‘The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race.'” You can read the rest of Ms. Hoang’s thought provoking essay below.

A Case for Affirmative Action; Ellis Injury Law Diversity Scholarship Award Essay

As seen in recent arguments from right-wing conservatives pertaining to the Confederate flag, the Charleston terrorist attack that tragically took nine lives, and the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, America so often loves to separate its history from its present. Forgetting, altering, and glorifying our nation’s past has taken hold over critically examining and learning from it, especially when America’s complicated relationship with race is at the center of this historical discussion.

Our violent legacy of colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, slavery, and segregation is hopelessly ignored, irresponsibly forgotten, wholly replaced by our present-day fervor for American nationalism and the American dream, by our fallacious notions that we live in a “post-racial” society and a “meritocracy,” by our contempt for race-conscious and class-conscious initiatives like affirmative action and our welfare system. Those who criticize these initiatives – which seek to heal, but not redress past racial injustices, as nothing could ever do that – are guilty of possessing this selective, romantic American memory. And the most dangerous aspect of this crime, perhaps, is that Americans are seldom aware that they’re committing it.

Of these fallacious American ideals, the myth of the meritocracy finds itself at the heart of arguments opposing affirmative action. Closely related to – but not to be conflated with – the American Dream, the myth of the meritocracy is invoked whenever opponents of affirmative action seek to highlight the “unfairness” of it all. People will passionately, groundlessly invoke the notion that America, the land of opportunity, is a meritocracy, where hard work is rewarded and laziness is not. Such an idea has been touted since our slave-owning Founding Fathers established America as a nation of the free and the brave; indeed, the meritocratic myth is endlessly ironic in how it is, at once, entirely devoid of historical reasoning and fundamentally rooted in our country’s past.

The ideal of the meritocracy is, at present, a complete and utter myth because it denies the very real systems of power and oppression operating within our legal system and our society at large. Income inequality is greater than it has ever been before, thus creating further disparities in who has access to resources like health care, education, job networks, political capital, and so on; these real disparities also play out heavily in the college admissions game, the competitive world of SAT tutors and application fees.

Race, of course, further complicates the meritocratic myth, as manifestations of white supremacy – in economic, social, and political capital – completely undermines its existence and invades nearly every aspect of American life. Race provides an additional conflict in that Americans don’t want to talk about race – that is, the Americans who can afford to not talk or think about race, opt not to. While the political current has progressed in many ways regarding public discussions of race, the fact remains that many Americans still believe that they’ve been living in a “post-racial” nation the moment that Barack Obama was elected. In a post-racial society, they claim, there is no need for affirmative action – or any race-based initiatives for the matter.

But there is nothing “post-racial” about our system of mass incarceration; about our rampant police brutality; about our primarily white, primarily male, government and justice system; about our de facto segregation in inner city schools and neighborhoods; about any realities of our present-day America, in which the median household wealth is $91,405 for whites and only $6,446 for blacks. There is no system or person in America that is truly “race-blind”; as such, it would be a gross injustice and utter lie to support initiatives like race-blind college admissions. Affirmative action seeks to regard the applicant pool for its realities: that each and every student comes from a unique educational background and living situation, and has received different levels of access and privileges based upon factors such as race, socioeconomic class, gender, etc. Affirmative action pursues truth, about applicants and their diverse experiences; race-blind admissions seeks to conceal it, and conceal history.

Rationalization devoid of history renders itself even more threatening when it influences the legal and sociopolitical atmospheres of the present-day. In 2013, when the Supreme Court avoided the responsibility of upholding affirmative action in Fisher v. Texas – remanding the case, instead, to a lower circuit court – it failed to uphold the very ideals which the American justice system holds dear: equality, justice, and reparations for injustices. And while the fatal flaws of our justice system are known to many, that can and should never stop Americans – citizens, activists, lawyers, and leaders alike – from putting faith into justice and demanding it in times of severe injustice. That a case like Fisher v. Texas – in which a white undergraduate student named affirmative action as the reason for which she was not admitted into the University of Texas at Austin – would even be considered worthy of the Supreme Court’s attention is most certainly a setback in the racial and historical justice that affirmative action seeks to enact. That Abigail Fisher’s name is still known to so many, that her case is still considered ongoing and that the Supreme Court will hear her appeal once again, moments like these do indeed count as times of severe injustice.

In 2014, the Supreme Court weighed in again, upholding a Michigan constitutional amendment that banned affirmative action (with dissent from Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg). Affirmative action is so much more than correcting a historical wrong, a fact that many people cannot seem to get past. As Justice Sotomayor expressed in her dissent, “This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination […] As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.”

While an alternative to affirmative action could be proposed, the logic to replacing affirmative action remains unclear, given the fact that arguments against it continue to fall in sound logic and proper historical cognizance. The problem is not affirmative action itself; it is with the ways about which people attempt to come to terms with it.

Americans – several of our Supreme Court Justices included – cannot grapple with the fact that affirmative action confronts, acknowledges, and challenges the very systemic and societal injustices that they are trying to deny. Many cannot fathom the thought that, despite the centuries of racial privilege granted to whites in America – a racial privilege that is still very real today – many cannot comprehend how affirmative
action is not “discrimination against white people.” In our “post-racial” fervor, we have tried so desperately to “wish away” the racial inequalities of our world today. Rather than analyzing the Constitution, as Sotomayor suggests, with a complex understanding of its relationship to race in American society, we opt instead for a selective sort of consciousness. In this new American consciousness, many (falsely) claim of notions like “reverse racism” and deny the tangible every day consequences of race for people of color.

In this new American consciousness, the ideal and value of diversity are also forgone. When we try to ignore the systems of oppression that impact our lives every day based on our race, socioeconomic class, sexuality, gender identity, etc., we then lose the complex understanding of how these facets of identity shape ourselves, and the ways about which we perceive, dissect, and walk the world. All of these different combinations of privileged and oppressed identities mold themselves in wholly unique and invaluable ways; spaces of progress, such as academic spaces, cannot afford to lose such nuanced and invaluable perspectives. When thinking critically about the world’s issues today, it’s essential to be analyzing them through these divergent lenses of gender, race, class, et cetera. These lenses give direct insight into the systems of power and oppression that pervade our lives, systems that so insidiously deny people of their fundamental human rights each day. No college or university can rightfully claim to prepare students for the world – and for understanding its issues – without uplifting the voices of historically oppressed groups to better reflect the diversity of the real world. It simply wouldn’t add up.

Above all, these oppressed identities matter not only because of the unique perspectives these students may offer; these identities matter, first and foremost,because they are possessed by people. They matter, because we risk losing our humanity when we dehumanize others. They matter, because we violate each other’s personhood when we deny people of the human rights we so desire ourselves – like access to education.

To echo the cries of many activists in recent months, Black Lives Matter.