I’m from the Bronx, New York, a community where two in every five children grow up in poverty. Unlike most of my classmates, my legal education began as a child: First, in housing court, where my family was nearly evicted from our apartment because of my aunt’s criminal background. And later, as a teenager, when I was routinely stopped by NYPD for “looking suspicious.”
The internet was a safe space when reality sometimes wasn’t. I got my first computer through a public school program that gave away older PC units, and from that point on, I was able to engage with communities that felt thousands of miles away from the Bronx through platforms like Google, Facebook, and YouTube.
After college, I found myself working in tech. First, as a cybersecurity consultant for the federal government, helping to secure web apps at the IRS and air gapping networks at nuclear power plants. Then, as an online trust & safety practitioner at some of the platforms I grew up on.
At Facebook, I was an analyst focused on mitigating hate speech and terrorism on the platform. Most of my time was spent performing online and offline research on public figures who met the criteria for being de-platformed for dangerous and/or hateful speech on the site. Later, at YouTube, I tried my hand at penning policy and enforcement guidelines for Harmful & Dangerous content – a process I truly enjoyed –and partnered with groups like Graphika to model and combat COVID-19 misinformation on the site.
My time at these companies compelled me to question their governance. Specifically, it was managing part of the fallout from Christchurch, and later, the US 2020 election that made me realize that these new governors are ostensibly unaccountable bureaucracies that regulate freedom of expression at the scale of billions across the globe.
I think we expect more from them than we do from our own governments. I decided to go to law school to learn how to begin managing these tensions.
I arrived at Harvard as a 2L transfer student after an excellent first year at UC Berkeley Law (huge shoutout to Profs. Pam Samuelson and Paul Schwartz). I transferred largely because of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society – the university’s premiere center on tech policy and governance. And I have to say, the opportunities have been endless.
During my first year, I basically lived at Berkman. In the fall, I had the opportunity to work with excellent clinical instructors at the Cyberlaw Clinic on issues ranging from ethical vulnerability disclosures to helping the clinic decide whether it should write an amicus brief supporting the platforms’ First Amendment rights (some of which was even reported on in the Boston Globe). In the spring, I worked as a Research Assistant to the Institute for Rebooting Social Media, coordinating research on Section 230 before the Gonzalez and Taamneh cases were argued at the Supreme Court and helping fellows develop a crisis hotline to Facebook for journalists in authoritarian regimes. This year, I’m a Fellow at Berkman, where I’m focused on the First Amendment and the US Government’s role in regulating online speech.
As a third-year, I’ve been reflecting on my path to HLS. In some senses, I’m filled with immense gratitude.
Harvard Law School is the one place I know where you can plan an (almost) event with President Obama. Sit in on a fireside chat with Attorney General Lynch in the afternoon, and attend a talk with Ambassador Susan Rice in the evening.
Take a reading group headed up by Dean Manning and Justice Breyer on statutory interpretation. Go back and forth with Professor Feldman on how we should adapt First Amendment doctrine to meet the challenges of the digital age. And even randomly walk into an elevator with people like Evelyn Douek or Sherrilyn Eiffel.
HLS is truly Disney World for law nerds like myself.
At the same time, I know the doors of this institution are not always open to so many others who are equally, if not more, deserving. Whether it’s in my capacity as a Fellow at Berkman, an Editor of Harvard Law School’s flagship journal, or as a Board Member of various student groups, I see my unique value-add to this community as leaving it better than how I found it. For me, that means holding those doors open, and making sure folks from underrepresented backgrounds have proper access to these amazing opportunities.
If I can offer any advice to first generation students seeking admission to HLS, it would be this:
- Tell a story that is uniquely grounded in your passions and experiences
- Be daring and vulnerable in your Written Statements (a.k.a. swing for the fences!)
- Show (don’t tell) the admissions committee that you belong here.
And while that may seem daunting, if you’re even considering applying to HLS, I know you’ve done this before. I’ve got 100% faith that you can do it again.
If you have further questions about my journey to HLS or my experience as a first-generation, student of color on campus, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
–Dylan Moses, ’24