Addys Castillo and Akia Callum, both social justice activists who have long dreamed of going to law school, are in their first year at UConn School of Law thanks to a new scholarship.
Castillo and Callum received a scholarship from the Constance Belton Green Diversity Fund, which supports diversity, racial, and social justice initiatives at UConn Law.
“This fund is important because it recognizes that students of color belong here and will be successful here,” says Karen DeMeola, assistant dean for diversity, belonging, and community engagement at the law school.
Both Castillo and Callum hold master’s degrees, work full-time as anti-racism leaders, and attend the school’s part-time evening program.
Castillo is the executive director of the Citywide Youth Coalition in New Haven, an anti-racist sanctuary for youths. She says the scholarship opened the door to law school by making it affordable.
“I have a son in college, so I am paying tuition at two different institutions while I am also working full-time and trying to go to law school part-time,” she explains. “My biggest fear in this process was that I would not be able to go to school because I wouldn’t be able to afford the actual tuition. So, this scholarship from UConn has been a blessing beyond measure. It has made this year completely affordable for me to be in school.”
She views law school as the next step in her fight for social justice.
“I came to law school to augment my organizing,” she explains. “We organize, we fight the good fight against systems, but quite often we don’t really know what we’re up against because we don’t understand the legal ramifications of the work that we do, whether it’s policy development or policy interpretation. So, for me, law school is the next step that’s necessary to really propel the work of organizing to change systems.”
Callum, the other scholarship recipient, is the director of people and culture at the Waterbury Bridge to Success Partnership, a nonprofit that focuses on racial equity and education. She also has held local and national leadership positions at the NAACP and the ACLU, where she has worked to ensure that people of color have access to resources in criminal justice, education, and healthcare. Like Castillo, she realized that her next logical career move was to become a lawyer.
“For me to truly make a change, to be a systems change-maker, I have to understand the complexity of the legal realm,” says Callum, who hopes to pursue public interest law once she graduates.
DeMeola says the fund helps take some of the pressure off students to take out exorbitant loans. In addition to the scholarships, the fund provides a stipend for the students to pursue summer fellowships and supports social justice programming at the law school.
“We are so grateful for the support of the Constance Belton Green Diversity Fund, which is named after the first Black woman to graduate from UConn School of Law in 1972,” says Eboni S. Nelson, law school dean. “This fund enhances the excellence of the law school by allowing us to provide transformational scholarships and sponsor important social justice and diversity programming.”
These kinds of scholarships not only help students of color financially but give them a sense of belonging, Castillo says.
“I hope that this will inspire alumni to support scholarships like this because there’s a plethora of people coming behind me who are looking to get into law school but fear the same thing: Can I afford a legal education? Will I be buried in debt? And, most importantly, will there be a space for me as a person who’s been historically marginalized?” Castillo says. “These kinds of funds, especially funds that are renewable for every year of law school, not only make a pathway for folks like me to be here but also create a legacy for other folks coming after me.”