By Jordan Poll
August 26, 2016
Irma Cruz, first-generation college and law student, has always taken an interest in issues of social injustice. Indeed, it was this very interest that motivated her to not only apply for law school but to participate in the
Michigan Access Program (MAP).
“Being raised Latina and low income has shaped the person that I am, so it was very important for me to be here—in MAP—to learn more about these issues and be able to talk about them with someone.”
MAP is an innovative social justice leadership program at Michigan Law in which a group of 24 students who are entering their 1L year explore issues of social justice, identity, conflict resolution, and diversity during a four-day program. MAP, which is open to students of all ethnicities, also includes workshops throughout the academic year. “Our major goals were to encourage students to explore their thoughts and beliefs about identity and diversity while creating a community across differences,” said Darren Nealy, director of student services. “We also wanted to help students become intercultural leaders within the Law School and, eventually, the legal profession.”
This year’s MAP students feel they have achieved these goals and more. “I have always had an interest in social justice and social justice issues, but in my undergraduate education hadn’t had very much opportunity to become a leader in that area,” said MAP participant Megan Brown. “[MAP] was clearly designed to foster strengths in that area and how to be a leader interculturally, amongst the community, and in the Law School itself.”
For Michigan Law’s newest students, the program also offered valuable community building. “Honestly, I am kind of terrified about 1L—a lot of people are—so I think coming here a little early, meeting people already, getting a sample class was really helpful,” said MAP participant Gregory Young. “A lot of 1L year isn’t just the classroom. It’s about getting a support network of people, and having that already, before I am even starting classes, is crucial. You hear a lot of people getting overwhelmed with law school. I have read it, and I have seen it with some of my friends, and already knowing that I can talk to people about that is important. Another really important benefit of MAP was realizing how to appropriately address and resolve conflict in the classroom about social justice issues. That was something that the MAP leaders had very specific and smart advice about.”
For Cruz, the stimulating environment created by the program gave her the opportunity to discuss sensitive matters she was passionate about and to form close bonds with her peers in a way she hadn’t expected.
“The community that we built here, where people are willing to talk about issues that matter to them or are just willing to share their stories—whatever those stories are—was incredible. Because they were vulnerable, it allowed me to be vulnerable as well. It really made me a lot more excited about law school and sharing my time with other students here.”
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