Clarisa Mondejar has dedicated herself to social justice and equality for all social classes and minority populations. The child of Cuban immigrants, Clarisa sees South Florida as an excellent place to pursue her work.
Her Cuban identity guided her bachelor’s thesis at University of Chicago, An Analysis of Transnational Identity through Cristina Garcia’s “Dreaming in Cuban” and her master’s thesis at University of Miami, An Analysis of US Print Media’s coverage of the “Cuban Transition”: The Clinton Years to the Present. She presented and published articles at conferences in Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro that focused on Cuban topics. Throughout her academic career, Clarisa was awarded numerous grants, fellowships, and scholarships including being named a Gates Millennium Scholar, Coca Cola Scholar, and Ford Motor Company Scholar all in the same year.
After Clarisa became a PhD candidate in history at UNC-Chapel Hill, she decided to become a teacher. She began teaching at Harriet Tubman Village Charter School and became a union representative who led the union in getting the San Diego Unified School District to investigate unfair labor practices at the school. That investigation resulted in the firing of the principal and the replacement of the school’s governance board. Under her leadership, the teachers had done what no other school in San Diego had ever done, they showed that their labor rights with the charter school system were being neglected and abused. In 2014, Clarisa and her colleagues were awarded the San Diego Education Association’s President’s Award for Union Organizing.
The experience helped Clarisa understand that graduate school made her an excellent researcher, organizer, and examiner of dense reading materials and that she had become an effective and motivational public speaker. While these skills enabled the teachers to prevail in their case, it also demonstrated the skills necessary for success in law study and practice.
“The first semester of law school was a tough adjustment,” Clarisa reflects. “No more playing with ideas and a totally different style of writing.” As a former teacher, however, Clarisa saw her professors in a different light than her classmates. “Prof. Marty-Nelson synthesizes the Socratic Method with the Five Sensibilities (Modes of Learning) I used in the classroom as a seventh-grade teacher,” she remarks, “as does Prof. Foster.” At the urging of Prof. Brown, her Contracts professor, she joined Toastmasters and now serves as a Vice President of the organization.
Clarisa started law school thinking she would pursue labor and employment law, but is now leaning toward criminal law. “I interned with the Public Defender’s Office this summer and was involved in a wide range of criminal defense matters,” she shares. “Some of the clients I met in jail were much like some of the students I used to teach. Poverty is just the worst.” Through her experience there, Clarisa acquired a mentor with whom she maintains regular contact.
She has also expanded her involvement in the law school by joining the Nova Trial Association and being the 2L representative to the Criminal Law Society. And, teaching is still in Clarisa’s DNA; she is Teaching Assistant for Prof. Richmond’s 1L Torts class.
The road to law school is different for every law student and the length and curves vary. Clarisa’s road may have been a little longer than most, but those twists and turns made her better prepared and certain. What was never lost, however, was Clarisa’s commitment to social justice and helping those who are disadvantaged.