Sheyla Lors, JD '17: UMass Law Student Commencement Speaker
After taking the New York Bar Exam, JD candidate Sheyla Lors plans to provide pro bono legal services in South Africa.
- Year: 2017
- Program: Juris Doctor
- Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
- Law clinic: Human Rights at Home
- Internship: The Legal Aid Society, Bronx, NY; South Coastal Counties Legal Services, Fall River, MA
- Leadership: President, Black Law Students Association; Senator, UMass Dartmouth Graduate Student Senate; Co-chair, Law School Diversity and Inclusion Council; CNNE sub-regional director, Northeast Black Law Students Association; Peer tutor
- Research: "When Disaster Strikes, So Does the Batterer"
Journey to law school
My journey to law school is different than a typical law student’s. I majored in criminology with minors in psychology and dispute resolution, but I’d never considered law school. I wanted a career in social services because I was more interested in the effects of the law on my community.
As a student leader on campus, I was able to mentor several young women. My passion for youth development and the empowerment of women continued after college. I spent the next few years organizing events, retreats, and leadership trainings for over 300 youth in the Northeast.
When a former supervisor encouraged me to apply to law school, I initially laughed, but then I spent the latter half of the day looking into the admissions process.
Appreciating UMass Law's public service mission
UMass Law was the only law school I applied to. I thought I’d never leave NYC, but I was instantly drawn to the mission of the law school. I’m very community-minded, having served as a liaison in the Haitian-American communities of several states, as well as an HIV Prevention Peer Educator in NYC.
It only made sense to attend a public interest law school with pro bono legal services as part of the curriculum. I knew that after graduating, I’d have the experience and knowledge I’d need to hit the ground running.
Advocating for human rights
I quickly realized that I would be able to help change lives even before I completed my degree at UMass Law. From helping immigrants in New Bedford complete their applications for U.S. citizenship to shipping cases of water to residents in Flint, MI, I was challenged to continue serving people while studying law.
I also had the privilege of working with a few of my classmates to draft a resolution declaring freedom from domestic violence a human right. It was passed by the New Bedford City Council, and I was further motivated to join the Human Rights at Home Clinic.
In the clinic, we also drafted and presented a report on the need for improvements to the public transportation system in the SouthCoast, as seen through the lens of human rights.
Moving and calling another place home, though challenging at first, prepared me for the work I hope to do. The experience taught me how to adjust to different environments and redefined my understanding of community.
Community is not restricted to a specific location or group of people; it transcends borders, cultures, race, and educational backgrounds.
UMass Law also provided the opportunities to study international and human rights law in Ghana and to connect with professors who are experts in their fields. These professors empowered and mentored me. They continue to push me to do more than I believed I could. I learned to be creative in my approach to advocacy and to be unapologetic in my demands for changes to policy.
Next steps: pro bono work in South Africa
After graduation, I plan to take the New York Bar Exam in July. I’ll also be volunteering in South Africa to provide pro bono legal services to marginalized groups and to facilitate social justice workshops.