Major: Environmental Science
CFS Program: Legal Field Studies
When working in public interest, one existential crisis inevitably crops up: “Why am I doing this?” The crisis came pretty early for me at my internship at the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, where I conduct legal and policy research on ways to reform the Cook County court system. Granted, through my internship I have learned so much about the justice system, the problems that beleaguer it, and how it can be improved. This experience has encouraged me to think about issues I don’t normally think about, like how politics affects the judiciary, or the administrative structure of the court. But when confined to a desk, understanding the significance of the work I do becomes difficult.
In the past month, I have come to appreciate the meaning of public interest work. It is important for the individuals and communities it benefits, the offenders and victims it engages with, and the lives it changes. Conversations with my supervisor about the need for court reform have shed light on why I am doing the work I am doing. However, I find that much of the meaning comes from the Legal Field Studies class. Each class, a new speaker discusses a different aspect of the legal system. We have talked about the death penalty, wrongful convictions, the prison system, and restorative justice. The real and sustained interactions with academics, advocates, victims, and family members spur me toward instituting change and inspire me to continue my work.
If I have to name the single-most important lesson I have learned thus far, it is this: human interactions define everything we do. Too easily do we forget that sometimes. One of our speakers ended class with this quote by Desmond Tutu, and I will pass it on: “A person is a person through other persons; you can’t be human in isolation; you are human only in relationships.”