Health & Welfare Star Student Reflection: Gayne Kalustian (Berkeley Law c/o 2020)

June 23, 2020

While I learned a number of legal skills during my clinical semester at EBCLC, the most important lesson I took away was the importance of working with and being one of the lawyers committed to critical self-reflection.

There was no question in my mind whether I would apply to work at EBCLC. I knew I would apply, and I knew I would apply specifically to the Health and Welfare practice because my passion for serving people with disabilities drove me to law school. Further, I loved EBCLC’s direct-services model, its outward and proud commitment to progress, and its direct attack on some of the worst aspects of our society – inequality stemming from racism, transphobia, and sexism.

Still, during my clinical semester, I often found myself disappointed by the amount of work I realized EBCLC had yet to do around its relationship to people with disabilities – even in a practice in which virtually all clients are disabled. This experience is sadly familiar. Disability tends to be an unseen or underappreciated arc of oppression. In more disability-focused organizations, I’ve found focus on other identities is often checked at the door, leaving those organizations woefully inattentive and thus contributory to arcs of racism, colonialism, and transphobia. For those committed to collective liberation, the experience is enough to leave us weary and nauseated. We are caught in what feels at times like playing hop-scotch in a tailspin, trying to take a step forward without also taking one back.

Though mistakes are inevitable, as we were often told while working and learning at EBCLC ourselves, our reactions to them are not. I raised my concerns with my supervisors at EBCLC, and they did two amazing things: they listened, and they acted. After summers and quarters and semesters in organizations and groups that often – if not always – fell into the inevitability of mistake, my experience at EBCLC was instructive to me as an aspiring attorney, both as to the type of workplace I want to be a part of and what type of lawyer I want to be.

I am occasionally gripped by some amount of fear about what might happen in ten or twenty years when I find myself no longer in the position of the critic and rather embedded within an institution that is in some way very responsible for policies and practices. It scares me because I know that mistakes are inevitable, and I know that I will make them, and I – like many, many of my peers – always want to get it right. For myself, learning to own and ameliorate and proactively avoid future like-mistakes is I think one of the most important self-projects I am on as a young professional. And I am grateful to the lawyers of the Health and Welfare practice for being a model to me, so that one day I might turn a young believer’s pain into progress and heartache into action.