- Her passion: how to save your rights.
“In high school, I led a student walkout to protest Act 10 in Wisconsin. We all caravanned from my school in Blanchardville to Madison to take part in the rallies at the Capitol. And in sixth grade, we had to write a ‘how to’ speech, like ‘how to fold a paper airplane.’ I wrote about LGBT rights. I have no idea why a sixth grader like me knew so much about LGBT rights. Growing up, my family didn’t talk about politics or activism. There was never anybody telling me, ‘This is what you should be doing.’ Human rights issues are just something I’ve always been passionate about.”
- She’s not the type to lose her cool.
“After my first year in law school, Sumudu [Attapatu, of the UW Law School’s Research Centers] connected me with the Law and Society Trust in Sri Lanka, and I spent a summer there doing women’s rights work. I researched and wrote reports, and I made recommendations on women’s rights to implement within the new constitution and to remove discriminatory aspects in the old one. I always joke that it’s not the kind of work for stereotypical Type A lawyer personalities. A lot of times the government would hold secret meetings that we would only find out about that morning. We’d have to rush to the parliamentary hearings to make sure we could add our input. And there was always a problem with plumbing or electricity or internet, so you’d have to be flexible.”
- She has her feet firmly planted—on foreign ground.
“My second summer of law school, I worked as an intern for a world renowned human rights organization called the International Center for Transitional Justice. There is such a contrast between this swanky Manhattan-based nonprofit that’s just a couple of blocks from Wall Street and the NGO where I worked in Sri Lanka the summer before. Don’t get me wrong, the people I worked with in New York were amazing. But the chance to travel around Sri Lanka taking information from communities devastated by civil war and the discriminatory policies of the majority government? I know I want to be on the ground in these countries and not necessarily in Manhattan.”
- She’s Liam’s mom.
“Under Title IX, students are entitled to medical leave for pregnancy and childbirth. So when my son Liam was born in August, I took a month off of law school. My professors were really accommodating. They sent me their notes, and I was able to read from home and keep up until I started classes again in early October.
With son Liam in London
“I actually think law students with families might be more driven and focused because they tend to treat law school like a 9 to 5 job so that they can be home with their families in the evenings. When my days get hectic, my husband really holds me down, and now Liam does, too. And I bring Liam everywhere. When I’d bring him to law classes, he would nurse the whole time.”
- We can’t wait to see where in the world she winds up next.
“I don’t want to stay put! Right now, I’m doing a Study Abroad for my last semester of law school. As part of my Foreign Language Area Studies fellowship, I had to continue my studies in Swahili, so when I was looking for opportunities abroad, I just Googled ‘law school,’ ‘human rights’ and ‘Swahili,’ and the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies came up. It turns out, it’s an awesome law school. My family is here with me in London. And Liam’s got his first passport—it looks so funny!”
Esselstein (left) at the Law & Society Trust
in Sri Lanka
Submitted by Law School News on March 6, 2018