Juneko Robinson (3rd Quarter, 2006)

3rd Quarter, 2006
Law School Scholarship Winner
Juneko Robinson

A former paraprofessional psychiatric social worker, I used to work with the homeless population as well as case manage adults with chronic psychiatric symptoms and substance abuse issues. Currently, however, I am a third-year law student at the University at Buffalo, as well as a third-year Ph.D. student in Philosophy, with a special interest in continental philosophy. At the moment, I am working on a two-paper project for my Master’s Degree in Philosophy, on the Realist misinterpretation of Hobbes and the notions of death and technology in Heidegger’s thought. My interests in law center around international legal issues, particularly human rights law, public international law, and property rights and economic development, although I also have an interest in environmental justice issues. Consequently, I have worked as a clerk on the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal for the last three years.

In my spare time, I love to travel and try to make use of my language skills: I am conversational in both French and Spanish, read German and have a rudimentary understanding of Japanese. I love the outdoors, particularly camping, hiking, and motorcycling, as well as reading, art, film and music, and have been a free-lance artist for many years, having designed business logos, contributed illustrations to two books (one forthcoming), fanzines, and even painted a mural at a visitors’ center to a maximum security prison. Ultimately, I would like both to practice law, as well as make scholarly contributions to the field. It is my hope that my diverse interests and experiences will make me a both a better lawyer and a better legal scholar. The StraightForward Media Law School Scholarship has enabled me to take yet another step in realizing my dream.

A Portion of Juneko’s Winning Essay:

Juneko Robinson

Years ago, I worked for a test preparation organization and many of the clients I came across were studying for the law school entrance examination. At the time, I thought it was an interesting subject and the prospective law students I met were fascinating individuals.

After a few years of working as a social worker, I began to see how valuable a law degree could be for countering some of the problems that my clients encountered. Often as a case worker my work was hampered by my inability to affect more substantive change in the lives of my clients. Many of the problems my clients encountered were not merely interpersonal or familial, but were the end result of certain social, political, economic, and even organizational policies of the individual agencies charged with assisting them. My clients were disenfranchised with personal problems that were greatly exacerbated by large, impersonal, institutional forces which they only dimly understood.

As a result, I came to realize how fragile one’s rights were in the context of such profound economic and political disenfranchisement. Freedom of choice, the right to privacy from unreasonable search and seizure, the right to be free from arbitrary bureaucratic decisions that have life threatening consequences, freedom from prejudice and discrimination at work, in health care, and education, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect were rights that most of us probably take for granted, but for which my clients were routinely denied.

While I loved being a social worker, I found that my power to affect change in the lives of my clients was limited. In effect, I was attempting to help my clients adjust to living under circumstances many of which were in effect because of certain social policy choices we made as a nation and a community. Without changing the very institutions that governed the lives of my clients, I felt I was often unable to affect meaningful and long lasting change in their lives. Indeed, social workers as a group find it difficult to affect change within their own profession given low salaries and limited political and economic clout. While I believed in the ability to eventually affect large scale change \”one person at a time,\” I eventually became a bit impatient. I wanted to participate in change on a larger more institutional, even societal or global scale while keeping in mind the impact on the individual, the family, and the community.
Because of this, I came to believe that law could be a powerful tool for helping to prevent or ameliorate some of the worst human and civil rights abuses faced by such individuals–not simply through punishment and proscription, but through the kind of values clarification and affirmation that can occur in public debates about such matters.

As such, I see law not merely as a practical way of dissuading certain kinds of behavior and punishing wrongdoing, but as a way of articulating a kind of ideal that we as a society and as part of a larger global community can aspire towards. This may sound idealistic and yet, as a society, we ourselves have witnessed many such incidences whereby ideals became the fodder for deep, long lasting cultural change. The civil rights movement is just one such example. On the global scale, the language of human rights has gained far greater currency than at any other time in history since World War II.

Working in social services and cultivating an interest in international political and human rights issues allowed me to realize that the kinds of domestic social issues I confronted on the job were inextricably tied to larger global issues of human rights, economic self-determination, and environmental justice.

After several years of working with the homeless, chronically mentally ill, and substance abusers, I decided to enter law school as a dual degree student. Initially, I thought I would pursue a dual degree in law and social work, but then I decided to pursue a dual degree in law and philosophy because I felt that the philosophy degree would provide me with the tools to think more critically and in greater depth about these kinds of issues which necessarily have a strong moral and ethical component as their political and economic justification.

I believe that my previous experience as a social worker affords me a unique insight into people and the impact both culture and economics have on how individuals experience and cope with crisis and hardship. As when I was a social worker, law allows me to play advocate for individuals and, although the legal advocate’s interaction with their client is far more technical and dispassionate than that of the social worker, I believe that the best lawyers–at least in torts, civil and human rights–are those that can assume the role of their client with compassion and an awareness of the tremendous power and responsibility that comes with such a role.

As a future attorney, I plan to one day work for an international human rights organization with a particular emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa. Just as when I was a social worker, I am especially interested in the relationship between poverty/economic development, human rights/social justice, and environmental degradation/ sustainable development. I hope to make a lasting contribution to the development of international law in those areas and I am particularly interested in gaining on-the-ground experience in Africa by working to help better the lives of people here and now and on into the future.

Eventually, I would like to make a scholarly contribution to the field of international law, both by teaching philosophy and law and by engaging in research and writing scholarly books and articles. Experience \”on the frontline\” of international humanitarian organizations will, I believe, not only make me a better attorney, a better philosopher, and a better scholar and teacher, but I also believe they will make me a better person. For me, a future career in law means an opportunity to combine issues that I care deeply about on an emotional and ethical level along with the tremendously exciting intellectual stimulation that goes along with practicing, teaching, and writing about the law, and working and traveling abroad.”

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