Czara Venegas ’18 didn’t want to feel helpless anymore.
She recalls working for AmeriCorps immediately after undergrad, co-facilitating an after-school program for at-risk high school students. “Their neighborhoods were pretty rough and impoverished, and the kids used to laugh at me when I’d get nervous while I drove them home. They said they’d protect me,” she remembered. As much as this offer touched her, it made her sad too. “Being tough was natural for them because of their circumstances. I wanted to help them by doing more, but I was helpless as to how.”
Not long after, that same feeling returned, Venegas said, when she was working as a Public Policy Analyst for a state representative in Austin, Texas. “I fell in love with the law-making process, but it was a very frustrating session,” she said. Finally, the choice before her became clear: “Either I could sit around and enable the inequities [I saw] or fight for a change,” she said. “I applied to law school that night.”
So she enrolled at New England Law, excited, but, like so many law students, a bit intimidated—particularly when it came to the professors she’d been hearing about.
One such professor was Dina Haynes, who taught her Constitutional Law class. Professor Haynes had been heavily involved in immigration advocacy work and her background included serving as Director General of the Human Rights Department for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Bosnia-Herzegovina, among other notable positions.
"I remember wanting to talk to her after class but I didn’t know what to say. I was definitely fan-girling from afar,” Venegas said. "But I summoned up the courage one day and she was so approachable and very down-to-earth."
In the end, her relationships with professors and staff at New England Law completely changed her law school trajectory. "They were such wonderful people to be led by and taught by,” she said. “Aside from the fact that they were knowledgeable in their respective fields, they were also very good, kind-hearted, and welcoming people." Venegas relied on the New England Law community more than ever before, during, and after the birth of her daughter, Ellize (appropriately named after lawyer Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde).
Venegas was still a 1L when found out she was pregnant. Unsure what this meant for her future in law school, she went to Professor of Academic Excellence Lisa Freudenheim. "I remember vividly, Professor Freudenheim came from behind her desk, sat right in front of me, and said, 'You can totally do this...I'm not saying that what you're going to go through is going to be easy—it definitely won't be—but there are tons of people that are right behind you."
That meeting turned her thinking around, and Venegas decided to take a year off to start her family and move with her husband to Okinawa, Japan. There she served as a legal assistant for a Marine Corps battalion with the Department of Defense. (She’ll also be returning to government with a two-year post-grad judicial clerkship with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Board of Veterans Appeals.) She stayed in touch with her New England Law support system throughout her time in Japan, working with Professor Freudenheim and Director of Student Services Jacqui Pilgrim. "From sending law articles to help keep my mind sharp to emails with advice on being a new mom, they really took care of me," she said.
The welcoming community she found at New England Law was still there when she returned. "When I came back, I really found my niche," she said, and she credits the school’s small size with making it easier to forge connections. "There's a sense of community and solidarity, and that's so impactful and meaningful especially in a competitive environment such as law school."
Venegas gave back to the school that supported her by becoming heavily involved on campus, including serving as president of the Women’s Law Caucus and co-founder of the school’s Mental Health Alliance with fellow student (and mother) Alissa Koenig. They were moved to start the group after the tragic passing of another student, and because they know firsthand how critical a strong network is in law school.
"Outside of law school, friends and family never fully understand what your experience is, because it's so unique," she said. Venegas wanted to students to have an extra outlet that encouraged them to talk about their shared experiences.
Almost as soon as she had graduated, Venegas found herself missing that community. Though she doesn't want to be overly sentimental about it, she said, after her time at New England Law and everything she experienced at the school, she can't help it: "There is something truly special about our school…there are just so many good people.”
To learn more about New England Law alumni, visit the Meet Our Students and Alumni page.