UND Law's Multicultural Law Student Association developed from the vision of two determined students
A year’s worth of conversation along with the determination and hard work of two law students culminated in the creation of the Multicultural Law Student Association (MLSA) at the UND School of Law.
UND Law students Patricia Castro and Cynthia Estebes, now in their third-year, met and became friends during 1L orientation. While working their way through their first year of law school they realized through the years worth of conversation, they had a shared interest in diversity issues and cultural awareness. While there were student organizations at the school that promoted diversity, they still felt the void of an organization that represented their specific interest.
“On our last day of finals week we looked at each other and said why don’t we start our own student organization,” said Castro. “It literally took all of our first year to get the gumption to start MLSA. Cynthia and I had some personal experiences at the law school about diversity and cultural awareness, so we decided to start this organization.”
Starting an organization is no easy task, especially trying to do it through the summer separated by 250 miles. Estebes spent the summer in Bismarck, N.D. while Castro was still in Grand Forks, yet they worked together to create the language of the constitution. It took more than three months to complete the draft. “We needed to decide what the message was going to be. We made a conscious step to include both multicultural issues as well as LGBTQIA issues to make sure that our organization was all encompassing,” said Castro.
“The MLSA is a great example of students seizing an opportunity to create a new student organization that will enrich their time at the School of Law,” said Brad Parrish, Assistant Dean for Student Life. “Patricia and Cynthia did a fantastic job of creating an organization that will create opportunities for everyone in our School of Law community to come together and learn from each other about important issues, and we were happy to work with them through the Office of Student Life.”
The goal for the organization is to provide a space for students to hold critical conversations, ones that have not been started at the school. “For example, I want to talk about issues that deal with biculturalism, duel identity, language issues and what it means to be American when your family comes from a different culture,” said Estebes. Castro added, “When those conversations get started, it starts to foster understanding and growth and hopefully more inclusion within our law school community.”
MLSA also puts a special emphasis on helping first-year students. “We want to provide a peer space where students can come in and vent or express their fears or frustrations or confusion regarding the first year whether it be academically, culturally or anything,” Estebes said. “We hope to provide a safety net and space where students can go for antidotal advice and resources. Our members are from different backgrounds, so we can help mitigate the panic students may be facing.”
In MLSA’s first year it had a major impact on the students of UND Law. During their first semester as a full-fledged organization in the 2015-16 school year, they focused on partnered programming with other UND Law organizations. Their first program, a Cultural Cook-off, was held in conjunction with Delta Theta Phi. Estebes believes food is a big part of a persons culture, so they were excited to partner with this event. Students, faculty and staff were invited to bring dishes from their own cultural heritage to share with the law school population. MLSA also partnered with others for additional programs including a movie night showcasing aboriginal and indigenous heritage, and they helped support a visit by notable attorney Camilla Taylor with Lambda Legal to discuss the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case regarding same-sex marriage.
During the second semester MLSA focused on events they could manage on their own. The feature event was a panel discussion of people in the region that are LGBTQIA to discuss their experiences, and how it is growing up on the spectrum in North Dakota. This school year for a community event, the members are planning to send letters to soldiers during Valentines Day.
Castro and Estebes have worked hard to promote the organization, which grew to nearly 20 members through its first year. With no national organization to affiliate with, there is a small membership fee to help support their efforts and build it for the future. “What we hope is for it to continue to grow and keep existing well after we are gone,” said Castro.