Tessa Benjamin '12: UNC School of Law and Peter Daniel Memorial Scholarship

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Third-year law student B. Tessa Benjamin says her Haitian-American background gives her a personal connection to the diverse communities she hopes one day to serve with a civil rights law practice.

“As I get further into my career, I realize what a broad array of legal work civil rights law encompasses,” says the 25-year-old. “There is so much necessary work to be done.”

Benjamin has worked on economic justice issues and “various issues of education inequality” through her experiences at UNC School of Law.

“I am also especially interested in civil rights issues primarily affecting the immigrant community,” she says.

But, she explains, none of this would have happened without her scholarship, which “made it possible for me to attend law school, and it will make it financially feasible for me to practice the type of law I am passionate about.” She receives the UNC School of Law Scholarship and the Peter Daniel Memorial Scholarship.

Benjamin says that her First Amendment law course with William P. Marshall, William Rand Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law; sexuality and the law, taught by Holning S. Lau, associate professor of law; and the torts course taught by Maxine Eichner, Reef C. Ivey II Professor of Law, were particularly inspiring.

“The thought-provoking discussions in each of these classes allowed me to see the many ways in which the law powerfully shapes the lives of real people in both positive and negative ways,” she explains.

Benjamin also had the chance to intern with the UNC Center for Civil Rights during the summer after her first year at the school, and at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund the summer after her second year of law school.

“Those internships gave me the opportunity to get to know various communities in North Carolina, to put my knowledge of law into practice on issues I care about, to meet incredible attorneys, and to add them to the long list of mentors I have found at Carolina Law,” she says, adding, “I have never had so many mentors outside of my own family before coming to Carolina Law!”

It’s a level of support that she feels is a necessary complement to the intensity of legal studies.

“I feel grateful to know that I will be able to count on each of them in the future for advice and support as I continue to develop my career,” Benjamin says.

This story is an excerpt from the Fall-Winter 2011 issue of Carolina Law .

-November 30, 2011

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