Applying to: Stanford, Berkeley, Chicago, Michigan, Columbia, UVA, Georgetown, WUSTL, Northwestern, UCLA, NYU, U-Penn, Vanderbilt
I'm especially concerned with whether or not I establish a cogent connection between my experiences and my desire to go to law school. Any and all criticism is welcome! I'm also drafting a diversity statement focusing more on my experiences as an HIV+ gay Muslim man and how I've structured my undergraduate work around these issues as they relate to wider systems of structural inequality.
Winter in West Michigan is quite cold when your family leaves you behind for a relaxing vacation under the Mayan sun. It is even colder when you have nowhere to go but the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, where you must pass a drug test to sleep in the dormitory. I saved myself the embarrassment of testing “dirty” and, instead, chose to sleep on the floor. I convinced myself that I’d be too claustrophobic to sleep in a crowded dormitory – as if the alternative of sleeping on the floor in a crowded room of drug-addicted men might be more conducive to a uninterrupted night’s sleep. The other option, sleeping alone outdoors in winter, was out of the question. What my exorbitant designer clothes exceeded in cost, they lacked in warmth. I was two months out of my second of three stints in rehab, and that proverbial “rock bottom” just kept getting deeper and deeper.
Addictions and eating disorders are akin to natural disasters. They ravage entire communities, leaving survivors struggling to pick up the pieces of a shameful past. And rehab is like FEMA: useless if wholly relied upon for salvation. But unlike the Louisiana Superdome, the rehabs I attended mirrored the upper-class community I grew up in, catering to an almost exclusively white clientele. The Mission, on the other hand, was one of the very few public spaces in Kalamazoo where I was not outnumbered by a white majority.
I was admitted to my third and final rehab in June of 2008, at which time I tested positive for chronic Hepatitis-C, the treatment for which entailed a rigorous six months of chemotherapy. I had heard several addicts share war stories about their experiences with and without treatment, now I would be able to share my own. My treatment lasted through the first four months that I was back in school. Although the thought of sleeping through those four months was tempting, I knew that my sobriety depended on my level of engagement in productive and healthy activities directed towards achieving my goal of graduating from college. I was also, and in no small part, privileged to be under the medical supervision of my father, whose practice is in Hepatology. As I became accustomed to the side effects of the chemo, I noticed that the fatigue, depression, and body aches seemed to diminish as I spent more and more time outside of the house. I endured the treatment while maintaining sobriety, keeping up with my coursework, and completing an internship at the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce.
As an advocacy intern at the Chamber, I was responsible for writing several position statements on issues relevant to business and governmental affairs. One such assignment was to draft an opposition statement in response to a proposal that could have functioned as affirmative action for convicted felons seeking employment with private businesses that received public funds. I thought of the homeless men with whom I shared the floor of the Mission, and of the women and men in rehab with whom I shared the real war on drugs. Many of these people were convicted felons, but I knew them first and foremost as people fighting against unimaginable psychosocial adversity, a consequence of which was an unfavorable history with the law. I witnessed firsthand their many failed attempts to secure part-time employment, which was a necessary condition for transitioning out of rehab. The catch-22 was that for many of my friends, successful completion of rehab was a condition made necessary by the severe court sentences they accrued as a result of their addictions. Whereas my résumé for part-time employment epitomized the untarnished paper legacy of a bright and privileged liberal arts college student, they were trapped in a vicious cycle of rehab, rejection, relapse, and prison. The proposal I was asked to oppose could have helped them.
I was torn between honoring a commitment I had made to my boss and a personal commitment to a substantive and radical understanding of social justice. A very useful skill I have developed in recovery is to approach such inner conflicts with humility and to ask for help when in need. I stepped back and took stock of the situation: I was an unpaid intern, still young in recovery, and trying hard to put my life back together. I asked my professors and mentors for advice, and it became clear to me that I was responsible for completing the assignment, regardless of how deeply antithetical it was to my beliefs and experiences. This was not only a practice in humility but also a practice in flexibility. I approached the assignment as a form of creative writing: if I was to expect others to accept as valid my experiences, I must be willing to do the same. The assignment then became an opportunity to assume another’s viewpoint and thus to better understand my opponents and the ideology informing their policies.
My experience as a gay Muslim man in recovery from addiction and anorexia, coupled with my education in political theory and feminism, have conditioned me to be more accepting of those who are socially stigmatized. All are deserving of representation and justice, but the regulation of certain actions has rendered some people increasingly marginalized and thereby voiceless. I understand this voicelessness both practically and theoretically. It is no coincidence that those who are successful in recovery have the financial means to afford expensive and lengthy trips to rehab. Nor was it coincidental that the majority of people at the Mission were not white. Nearly every woman I met on the streets and in recovery was a survivor of repeated and unpunished acts of sexual violence.
I am both deserving and privileged to have been “clean” for two years, and my successful recovery from addiction and anorexia has hinged on three factors: first, my capacity to adapt to change and conflict while maintaining a structured life directed towards achieving realistic goals; second, my ability to reconcile the identity conflicts that have ensued from being a gay Muslim living in America; and third, the class and male privileges guaranteed to the healthy first-born son of a successful immigrant physician. Together, these three factors culminated in a waking up process through which I have cultivated resilience, strength, and a dynamic perspective on issues especially relevant to the practice and deployment of law in society.
While I left several people behind in my recovery, I have not forgotten them. I have since structured my undergraduate education to help me better understand how their marginalized positions are exacerbated by contemporary social patterns and political practices. Many of the addicts and people without homes with whom I once struggled for survival are in an ever-pressing need for compassionate and professional legal representation. An education at ____________________________ will enhance my experiences and education with the legal knowledge, resources, and credibility to provide representation accordingly. Although I cannot speak for every addict, or for every gay man of color, or for every homeless person, I am better equipped not only to rise beyond the rigorous demands of a ___________ Law education, but also to better understand the traditionally misunderstood, so that they can speak through me in a society where they have otherwise been outlawed, marginalized, and silenced.