Minnesota student changing the face of the law: BTN LiveBIG

University of Minnesota Women's Center Blog

Minnesota student changing the face of the law: BTN LiveBIG

Although Minnesota has a large and robust Ethiopian community, it can, to outsiders, seem cloistered. While not unique among immigrants groups, this insularity tends to produce within its members a feeling of being removed from society at large.

Compounding this is the fact that there are precious few members of the community in the kinds of positions that would make them role models to the younger generation, particularly in legal professions.

University of Minnesota student Lydia Negussie is looking to change that.

A recent recipient of the university’s Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity (SEED) Award, Negussie is a campus mentor. The Emerging Leaders in the Law program introduces students from underrepresented communities to lawyers, judges, probation officers and paralegals from diverse backgrounds in an effort to shake stereotypes.

“This program shows us what’s possible and the changes we can make in our communities,” said Negussie, speaking with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

A first generation Ethiopian-American, the UMN senior came to the US from Addis Ababa at the age four. While her family was always aware of the opportunities that came from resettling in the United States, it became apparent to the young Negussie that there were disparities between her experiences as a member of the Ethiopian community and those of others.

“I never saw people like myself on the news or as legal advisors,” she said. “I watched my parents more afraid of what the law could do to them than aware of how it can help them.”

This is often the case, according to Negussie, for people who come from countries or areas where authorities can’t be trusted. That feeling of distrust of the systems of power is only strengthened by enmity towards immigrants and people of color. But Negussie wants to change those systems of power and make them more reflective of the people they serve.

Now, as the first member of her family to go to college, Negussie is giving back to the campus community as vice chair on the board of directors for the University Student Legal Services clinic. The group connects students in need of legal aid with area attorneys.

After graduating, Negussie plans to take time off to work within the Minneapolis Ethiopian community and conduct research on a variety of legal issues within minority and immigrant groups.

Her subsequent plans match her ferocious ambition: she’ll be pursuing both a doctorate and law degree concurrently.

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