The University of Washington Law School annually awards five students with full ride scholarships to the William H. Gates Public Service Law Program. The Gates Scholarship is somewhat unique in that it requires the recipients to work in the public service field for at least five years following their graduation. The Scholarship is designed to cover tuition, books, other normal fees imposed for University and UW School of Law enrollment, and costs of room, board, and incidental expenses.
Sarah Chaplin graduated in 2010 with a double major in LSJ and Spanish and is one of this year’s Gates Scholarship recipients. After Sarah graduated with her degree in LSJ, she spent two years working with the Peace Corps in a small rural town near the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. During her time there, Sarah worked with Haitian immigrants and helped them attain birth certificates, passports and other legal documents necessary for access to educational and social services.
As an undergraduate at the UW, Sarah said that she was initially drawn to the LSJ program because of the analytical challenges it presented. “The professors encouraged students to ask hard questions about a wide array of issues, about everything from our criminal justice system to international human rights,” she said. “We were constantly challenged to see the law, and the world, in shades of grey instead of in black and white.”
While Sarah had always thought of law school as a viable career option, she was not totally convinced that going into the legal field was necessarily the career path that she wished to take. Though for a time Sarah considered a possible career in education or academia, the one constant was a desire to include service or social justice in one form or another. Eventually, the possibility of joining the Peace Corps seemed like a great way to apply the knowledge of the LSJ degree and work towards social justice on the behalf of those living in poverty.
Sarah said that the analytical aspects of LSJ that initially drew her to the program, along with the knowledge she gained through her degree, were extremely useful during her time with the Peace Corps. “I repeatedly experienced firsthand one thing that I learned in my LSJ courses– that the law as it exists ‘on paper’ is often very different than the law as it plays out in the real world,” she said. “While working with government offices, lawyers, and other institutions to assist Haitian immigrants with registering their children, I faced many unexpected roadblocks that had absolutely nothing to do with Dominican laws as they appear on paper! I’m thankful that we discussed these issues in many of my LSJ courses, because they’re so applicable to this messy world that we live in!”
Through her time in the Dominican Republic, Sarah was able to experience a practical application of the knowledge she had gained in LSJ while seeing firsthand the power of the law and its usefulness in dealing with issues of social justice. While Sarah acknowledges that she could contribute to social change through other avenues, she said that, “Ultimately, it was my Peace Corps experience that showed me that I really have a passion for legal work—I realized that I wanted to gain the skills to work within our legal system to help change it and make it a system where everyone truly has a voice.”
Sarah used her time in the Peace Corps to shape her passions and her plans for the future, and now, through the Gates Public Service Law Scholarship, has the perfect avenue for realizing those plans. Her pre-existing passion for service and social justice were shaped by both her time with LSJ and in the Peace Corps, and she is now continuing to build upon that foundation with her Law degree and future service in the legal field.
The LSJ department would like to sincerely congratulate Sarah on all her success and wish her the best moving forward!
For more information regarding the Gates Public Service Law Scholarship click the following link: http://www.law.washington.edu/gatesscholar/
This article was reported and written by Chase Beauclair.