A Year of Community and Collaboration: uRSA Turns One

by ursavoice

Jillian Cook
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law

On February 16, 2010, the underRepresented Student Alliance held its first meeting at UCI Law to “provide a forum for discussing race, gender and cultural issues in a legal setting.” uRSA immediately began planning its first project, a mentorship program between UCI law students and undergraduates. Since the program kicked off with a “speed mentoring” pizza party that created ten mentorship pairs, uRSA has expanded its programming to include speaker events, movie screenings, a monthly reading group, and Voice, the law school’s first newspaper. In celebration of uRSA’s birthday, I set out to discover the impact that the organization has had in its first year.

One of uRSA’s first missions was the creation of Pipeline, a program designed to facilitate access to higher education for traditionally underrepresented groups. I spoke to founding members of the undergraduate uRSA chapter about the group’s progress on this issue. Ben Ndugga-Kabuye, who studies criminology and anthropology, praised the mentorship program and believes uRSA has been successful in creating a “united vision between law students and undergrad students, [which] has opened up a multiplicity of avenues for growth, whether it is events that we invite each other to like guest lecturers at law classes or even mixers that create informal connections that are the foundation for all our formal work.” Keely Hanson commented that “uRSA has really become the main force that bridges the law school to the undergraduate side of campus” and that UCI “has long needed such dynamic people to collectively organize around issues of justice and equality.” Keely believes that uRSA has given her “much more insight into what the law school experience has to offer and the types of people who are a part of it.”

Outside of Pipeline, uRSA has similarly succeeding in working within the law school to foster an inclusive, supportive community focused on issues of social and educational equality. First-year Francisco Balderrama shared: “As a Mexican-American much of my understanding of the many issues that minority groups face has largely been informed by my own personal experiences. But uRSA focus events, reading groups, and general meetings have afforded me many wonderful opportunities to expand my horizons and help me understand the many problems that historically marginalized groups face in a legal context.” Dean Schroeder pointed out the importance of the uRSA-sponsored newspaper, noting that “the provocative and timely articles make The Voice a must-read on campus. The paper helps us raise and discuss difficult topics, and enhances our sense of community.” First-year Zeenat Hassan echoed Dean Schroeder’s thoughts about community: “Nothing has made me feel more at home here than being a member of uRSA.”

UCI Law students have been given a mandate to shape the law school’s culture and priorities, an opportunity that becomes even more important as we prepare to welcome the class of 2014. As we reflect back on the first year of student groups like uRSA, we should celebrate their contributions and thank the students and supporters who devote themselves to developing our law school. We must also realize that this is just the beginning and use the fledgling success of our organizations as inspiration to take a break from the books and take time for community.