Dear Future Colleague (DFC) is a national nonprofit that provides encouragement, mentorship, and guidance to underrepresented students applying to law school. We spoke with Nancy Fairbank (2L, HLS) and Melody Zargari (1L, University of Florida Levin College of Law) about how DFC was founded, what issues it seeks to address, and what’s in store for the future.
Nancy: The events of last year – specifically, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor – fueled a nationwide movement to advance justice. It was out of those tragedies, which highlighted longstanding and deeply entrenched racial inequity in the United States, that DFC was born. As DFC’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Kezia-Alean Osunsade, put it the lack of diversity in the legal field is not just wrong – it’s dangerous.
We believe it is essential for the legal community to build a more inclusive membership of lawyers, judges, and advocates. Diversity is not only about equity for our colleagues, but is critical to the legitimacy of the legal profession: ensuring fairer outcomes, instilling deeper trust in clients, and improving the quality of legal work – work which will have life-altering results for many who interact with the legal system.
When I first had the idea for DFC, I posted on a popular Facebook page for current law students (yes, it was a memes page). The response was overwhelming, with over 150 people volunteering to serve as mentors for underrepresented applicants within just a few days. It was a testament to how passionate law students are about addressing these issues of accessibility, equity, and diversity in our institutions & future profession.
A good portion of our current leadership team came out of that initial set of Facebook volunteers – we’re law students from all over the nation who have never met in person, but have been able to build this incredible program together. Some of our leadership team members were underrepresented applicants themselves, while others of us recognize the many layers of privilege that helped make our application processes easier than our peers’ and seek to help rectify that imbalance. As one of our amazing volunteers put it, “we’re building the program we wish we had as applicants.”
In just seven months, DFC has matched over 300 underrepresented law school applicants with current law student mentors. We’ve just begun fundraising in order to switch our program to a mobile & web app that we’re hoping will let us double those numbers for the 2021-2022 application cycle (enormous shoutout to HLS 2Ls Jaylia Yan and Becca Human for hand-matching all of our mentorship pairings this past cycle!!). We also want to work further with law school admissions offices, so that we can expand and improve the resources that we give our volunteers.
We are so grateful to our mentors, who are really the heart of DFC, for their dedication to making the law school admissions process more equitable. And we’re excited to see what the future has in store!
Melody: In the summer of 2020, I had just finished my third and final year of teaching high school math and was law school bound. In anticipation of the fall semester, I joined a Facebook page for law students. I was browsing (mostly) funny memes when I saw Nancy’s post looking for volunteers to provide application support to underrepresented applicants. I was already missing my students and craving a way to connect with people in a mentorship capacity, so stumbling upon this opportunity truly felt serendipitous.
As a public school educator, I saw opportunity gaps develop in real time. Education is glorified as “the great equalizer,” but an institution cannot promote equity when it itself is inequitable. After graduation, I hope to employ my legal education and experience in the classroom to write federal education policy that better serves students and teachers. But Dear Future Colleague has allowed me to begin that work earlier than I had hoped.
After my first semester of law school, I see the need for DFC even more clearly than I had before. When I look at my peers, I see future leaders, litigators, and legislators. I see people who carry the precious responsibility of inching the world closer to its potential. But meaningful progress demands a diverse group of change-makers leading the way, and we all share a responsibility to help foster that diversity.
No one organization can “solve” systemic inequity, but DFC can and will significantly change the landscape of higher education by increasing representation on law school campuses, therefore strengthening the legal profession, and by extension, the world around us.
Interested in getting involved with DFC? Check out our website and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Want to reach out or know someone that we should connect with? Send Nancy an email at firstname.lastname@example.org