Pursuing the Dream

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Inside Higher Ed

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Several years ago, I agreed to serve as faculty adviser to a newly formed student organization, the Multilingual Legal Advocates. The group’s mission is to explore and promote the use of foreign languages in the practice of law. Its members, most from immigrant homes, offer their bilingual skills to the St. John’s University Law School’s Elder Law and Child Advocacy clinics and other nonprofit groups. Each spring, I meet with the recently elected and always enthusiastic members of the multilingual group’s board to discuss their plans. This year, that discussion came on the heels of an immigrant march on Washington along with organized pleas to place undocumented college students on a path to citizenship. Juxtaposing my student meeting against the touching news stories of young lives “on hold” gave me pause. I could not help but note the difference immigrant status makes for young people pursuing the American dream.

Just to clarify, the law school where I teach is located in Queens, New York, one of the most multi-ethnic counties nationwide. Not surprisingly, the school has a large population of bilingual/bicultural students of immigrant background. As law faculty, we are particularly familiar with the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger. There the justices deferred to the judgment of public universities, based on the value of student diversity, to consider race and ethnicity in university admissions. A diverse student body, the justices explained, not only contributes to a robust exchange of ideas in the classroom, but also furthers the mission of universities and law schools as training grounds for the nation’s leaders. As the Court made clear, the path to leadership must be open to talented individuals regardless of race and ethnicity.