When Alaina Thomas ’17 was recognized with a Community Service Award at the Minority Student Program Banquet earlier this spring, Assistant Dean Yvette Bravo-Weber read off a long list of service organizations that Thomas had been involved with during law school, showcasing Thomas’s passion for social justice.
Thomas did everything from working as an intern for Essex-Newark Legal Services, where she helped clients who had been wrongfully terminated, to interning at the American Civil Liberties Union, researching police body camera policies.
She also worked for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City, conducting research on government misconduct and racial justice cases, and this spring was a legal intern at the Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center in Newark, researching federal and state laws about prison cooperatives.
Within the law school, Thomas spent three semesters working in the International Human Rights Clinic on the Movement 4 Black Lives Team. She said she attended community meetings and spoke with local organizers about topics that ranged from housing to treating crime with social workers instead of the police.
“Collaborating with the community through my clinic work has been my most memorable experience in law school,” she said. “The task of fostering relationships has allowed me to meet and have these transformative conversations with dozens of organizers and activists. This experience has enriched my legal education in ways no class or text book ever could.”
Thomas credited Professor Jeena Shah, who directs the clinic, as someone who not only inspired her but taught the “most impactful” class she had at law school.
She also chaired the National Lawyers’ Guild chapter and said she collaborated with other students on initiatives to increase diversity at the law school. Thomas said she got to know Susan Feathers, Assistant Dean of Pro Bono and Public Interest, when she became a Marsha Wenk Fellow and said she mentored her when she had doubts about coming to law school.
“As a Marsha Wenk Fellow, she made a vital contribution to the fellows program, and spearheaded a vast array of service-learning projects and programs, including Diversity Matters: Fisher II and Beyond; the Art of Protest; and the Annual NLG Awards Dinner,” Feathers said of Thomas. “Her highly collaborative, community-based approach to her work has also enabled her to make a vital contribution to the law school's efforts to deepen our commitment to creating a culture of service, diversity, and inclusion. “
Thomas, who is originally from East Orange, graduated from Montclair State University and previously interned at a non-profit in Newark before attending law school. She said working with community organizations on issues of economic justice is something she wants to do in her future legal career.
“I think student involvement outside of the classroom is an essential part of having a good, well-rounded law school experience,” she said. “Students should be encouraged to engage not only within law school, but also in the city. It is the relationships I’ve built working with other students, faculty, and community members that have benefitted me the most during my time here.”