On February 26, the Center for Judicial Events & Clerkships (CJEC) welcomed Judge Christine Arguello, U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, for a fireside chat as part of its First to the Bench event. Last year, the CJEC in partnership with Fordham’s First Generation Law Students (F1GS) developed the First to the Bench event. Given the incredible response to last year’s inaugural initiative by the Fordham community, it was clear to the CJEC and F1GS that a First to the Bench speaker should become an annual capstone event in their community-building partnership.
This year’s event format was designed as a fireside chat to allow for dynamic discussion between the judge and first generation student attendees. Daniel J. Capra, Reed Professor of Law and CJEC Faculty Director, moderated the chat with Judge Arguello in which she touched upon her unique perspective as a low-income, first-generation high school graduate, how that impacted her career as a lawyer—a career filled with many firsts—her path to the bench, and her ongoing work with first-generation students.
“Judge Arguello’s inspiring personal story coupled with her commitment to diversity made her the ideal jurist to join us as our First to the Bench speaker,“ said Professor Capra.
Breaking Barriers — A Career Filled with Many “Firsts”
In short, Judge Arguello is a trailblazer. She was the first Latina from Colorado to be admitted to Harvard University School of Law, the first Hispanic to be promoted to partner at one of the then “big four” law firms in Colorado, and the first Latina to be tenured and promoted to full professor at University of Kansas School of Law before being sworn in as the first Hispanic U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Colorado in 2008.
Judge Arguello’s journey inspired in her a desire to lift others. One of Judge Arguello’s passions is mentoring students and young lawyers at all levels. Evidence of that passion is her creation of the Law School…Yes We Can law school pipeline mentoring program through which college students who are interested in becoming lawyers are paired with mentors, provided with skill-building and exposure programming, and participate in an intensive LSAT preparation course. At the University of Kansas (KU), Judge Arguello also founded the KU Law School/Lawrence High School Partnership program and was a co-founder of the Hispanic Network of KU.
Her tireless work doesn’t end there, Judge Arguello also developed the “Arguello Dream Team,” a group of lawyers who travel across Colorado to speak to students and parents about the importance of education, as well as encourage them to “Dare to Dream Big!”
Judge Arguello said: “Lady Justice is not blind. She is merely blindfolded. Her preference for sensory deprivation is meant to symbolize the ideal of impartiality that undergirds our judicial system. Lady Justice is a powerful reminder of the oath I freely took as a federal judge to render decisions without regard to race, gender, or creed. But while Justice blinds herself, we plainly see who Justice is. Our country grows more diverse each year, and if the lawmakers become less representative of the diverse communities bound by our laws, a doubt takes hold: does Lady Justice (unconsciously) lift her blindfold to favor a privileged few? “
“In posing the question, I see the dangerous road down which the answer can lead us. Because our laws are the glue that binds civilization, a legal profession that reflects the great diversity of our communities is critical to the health of the third branch of government. The perception of inequity in our justice system erodes the fundamental idea—etched in stone above the entrance to our highest court—that we can all expect ‘equal justice under the law.’”
“This is one reason that I believe it is important to inspire students with diverse backgrounds to consider law as a career.”
Building Community Through Connections
The First to the Bench event is a centerpiece initiative of CJEC’s community-building endeavors designed to foster a vibrant and supportive community for our first-generation students. Welcoming a prominent member of the judiciary to talk about their personal journey inspires and also demonstrates what is possible.
The CJEC was delighted to have Mike Landis ’11 and Aria Vaughan ’11, who both clerked for Judge Arguello, join the event to provide the attendees with insights into their work as a judicial clerk and how their clerkship experience helped them advance in their legal careers.
Current F1GS President Michael Morgan said hearing directly from a successful first-generation judge like Judge Arguello provided him not only a goal to strive for, but also reassurance.
“It is comforting for first-generation students to hear from someone with a similar background to their own in the prestigious positions that they aspire to,“ Morgan said. “Judge Arguello’s candor was refreshing and her advice was beyond informative.“
A central part of the law school community are the pre-law students participating in Fordham Law’s Increasing Diversity in Education and the Law (IDEAL) program. This pipeline program identifies motivated and talented underrepresented students in the New York City area and exposes them to the many facets of the legal profession.
This was the second year the IDEAL program partnered with the CJEC and F1GS. Jennifer Haastrup—who is the program manager for diversity, equity and inclusion at Fordham Law and manages the IDEAL program—said she enjoyed this year’s virtual presentation.
“Because it was very intimate, it actually allowed our students to feel like they were a part of the Fordham Law community,” Haastrup said. “Judge Arguello, as well as her former clerks, were very transparent and honest, which I and the students really appreciated.”
“Most of the IDEAL students are going to start law school in the fall, so this was like a launch for them,” Haastrup added. “The chat was very motivating and reassuring because they were able to see the trajectory of someone who has been in their shoes.”
“It was a clear choice to incorporate into the fabric of our annual event the IDEAL students,” said Suzanne M. Endrizzi ’96, CJEC Assistant Dean. “The First to the Bench event encapsulates everything that makes Fordham Law special—community—our alumni clerks reaching to our current students and our current students reaching to the next generation. A true Fordham dream team!”