Jan. 10, 2020

Until her senior year of high school, 2L Joy Applewhite was sure she would become a doctor one day – until a school project tasked her with shadowing a lawyer, observing them as they practiced wills, trusts, and estates and criminal law.

2L Joy Applewhite
2L Joy Applewhite

“I was fully convinced that I wanted to become a lawyer,” said Applewhite, who serves as President of American University Washington College of Law’s Black Law Student Association, a group which focuses on articulating and promoting the needs and goals of Black law students in order to effectuate change in the legal and local communities. “More importantly, I realized I wanted to be a lawyer because of the disparities that occurred in the criminal justice system that spanned from racial issues, to socioeconomic mistreatment, to penalizing those who have mental health disorders.”

We asked Applewhite about her work with BLSA, its impact on the AUWCL community, and her legal career aspirations.

Why did you decide to get involved with BLSA? How do you serve the organization in your role as president?
I joined the BLSA as a 1L. Coming directly from undergrad and having graduated from an HBCU, I wanted to be a part of a community that reflected part of my identity, and I knew would support my academic and professional growth as well as provide emotional and social support. Serving BLSA as president, my theme has been based on three C's: connection, collaboration, and community. All three of these things are intimately intertwined, and it has been important to me as I serve as president for BLSA to connect and collaborate with the AUWCL community, from student organizations to offices on campus, but also to go beyond AUWCL in connecting and collaborating with other BLSA chapters and organizations for important events. Positively impacting the community is a part of the mission of our organization, and I hope with the events we have been hosting that we are meeting the needs of the community, whether its law students or community members in the D.C. area.

What kind of impact has BLSA had on you personally, and what do you think it brings to the AUWCL community as a whole?
BLSA helped me grind through the first year of law school. Entering law school can be an overly intimidating process and cause anxiety and stress as a first-year student. I had mentors within BLSA that I knew I could go to if I had a question about my classes, or just needed someone to talk to because I was stressed with the law school process. That was really important for me, because I moved to D.C. after graduating without family ties, and BLSA became a new family for me.

Although BLSA is an affinity group who aims to serve black and minority law students and attorneys, our events are not limited to students with those backgrounds. BLSA also hosts events that talk about issues that everyone should be aware of, such as the MeToo Movement & Say Her Name, as well as racial bias. My aim is to continue to leave an impactful legacy that adds to AUWCL and ensures that the community is diverse and enriched with forward-thinking events. 

What field of law do you hope to enter upon graduating? What experience inside or outside of the classroom do you feel has helped you on your path forward?
I hope to enter the criminal law field and practice criminal defense either through a public defender opportunity or a fellowship with an office focused on defense upon graduating from AUWCL.

I feel that my summer internship with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans definitely solidified that I wanted to enter criminal defense practice. Despite the intensity of capital defense cases, the clients our office represented are still human, and are not the crime they are accused of. I really enjoyed the opportunity to go to the jails and have direct client interactions for visits. I also had the opportunity to go with an investigator to interview witnesses in northern Louisiana for one of our client's cases. The experience was the absolute best, and I am glad to have had the chance to make connections and be provided with such great mentorship while I was there!