Every fall at the Law School a new class begins their journey into the legal profession, bringing individuals with diverse experiences and talents to enrich the Penn Law community. The class of 2022 welcomes the inaugural Fellows of the First Generation Professionals (FGP) Fellowship, run by the Center on Professionalism (COP). Jasmine Wang L’22 is one of three FGP Fellows who will help ease the path into the profession for other first generation Law School students.
Made possible by a gift from David Silk L’88, the FGP Fellowship provides Fellows with the invaluable opportunity to be mentored by established professionals, grow their networks, and provide a channel to give back to future Fellows.
Bridging the opportunity gap
Wang comes to Penn Law from Texas A&M University, where she was the first Asian American and Asian American woman to serve as Speaker of the University’s Student Senate. Years before, Wang was drawn to a career in law by the story of Hong Yen Chang, a Columbia Law graduate who denied admission to take the California bar because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. For Wang, the discrimination experienced by Chang would serve as both motivation and a reminder of the adversity she would face as both as a first generation professional and an Asian American woman in the legal profession.
The lack of visibility and opportunities for Asian Americans in the field of law continues to inspire Wang to forge ahead. Quoting a study done by Yale University in 2017, she noted that although “Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority group in big law firms, the community has had the highest attrition rates and lowest partner to associate ratio because of lack of access to mentors. Challenging the narrative surrounding preconceived stereotypes and assumptions about the community that have its roots in the model minority myth is crucial towards guaranteeing a stronger foothold within the industry.”
The FGP Fellowship will not only provide mentorship crucial for professional development for Wang, but also equip her to serve as a mentor for future FGP students as well.
“Becoming a Fellow meant being able to evaluate the state of diversity in the law and actively finding solutions to address the conditions that have maintained certain majorities at the table,” said Wang. “The program posed an incredible opportunity to grow, be challenged by, and learn from leading attorneys, but also getting my foot in the door with leaders who are already championing initiatives within the law so that we can build a transformative future in coordination with one another.”
As Wang points out, a lack of guidance and access to mentors for first generation students may add an additional layer of difficulty to an already demanding course of study.
“To challenge the status quo and propel the larger community forward, I need a roadmap,” said Wang. “Becoming a Fellow meant having access to an incredible network of mentors, but also that I would eventually have the chance to have mentees who would challenge me to become a professional who exceeds expectations because the rigor of my experience will open doors for those who follow.”
Creating an inclusive community
When asked why she chose the Law School as a place to study, Wang said, “My lived experiences have shown me that a gap exists in the legal industry, specifically for individuals from non-traditional backgrounds. I knew after visiting Penn that there was no better place for me to fulfill my personal and professional goals. More importantly, as I grow as a leader, scholar, and advocate, I am confident that Penn will equip me with the skills necessary to recapture the narrative surrounding the Asian American and first generation community within the law.”
By supporting first generation students through the transition into a legal career, COP hopes to be on of the many programs at Penn Law communicating and demonstrating that the legal profession is a space open to individuals from all backgrounds, including first gen students. Meanwhile, the Law School continues to focus efforts on creating an inclusive atmosphere for faculty, alumni, staff, and members of the public with the goal of contributing to an increasingly diverse intellectual and professional community.
“At our core, we want to create an inclusive law-school community where all students feel a sense of belonging,” said Glyn. “This Fellowship will have a huge impact for these three talented students, and it sends a message that our student and alumni community will come together to help historically underprivileged students overcome any obstacles on their journey to become lawyers.”