By Elizabeth Forester.
Ms Forester is a senior at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, she will graduate in May with a major in Politics and a minor in Religious Studies. Ms. Forester is currently applying to law school with the intention of becoming a public service attorney.
“Seeing the dearth of attorneys available to impoverished women was significant,” writes Forester, Hendrix 2016.
I first heard of Hendrix’s Poverty Crossings Program in a campus announcement. Unsure of what to expect, I went to the interest meeting and learned about the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty. There, I found a group of like-minded students who were interested in studying and working to alleviate poverty in a wide variety of contexts. The following year, we took a seminar class on poverty, reading and discussing various explanations for the causes of poverty in the United States and ways to combat it. Though I had volunteered with a number of different organizations dedicated to helping the impoverished, this class was my first experience in discussing poverty in a formal, academic setting.
The next part of the program was an internship in Washington, D.C. through the Shepherd Consortium. I was placed at N Street Village, an organization dedicated to empowering and serving women experiencing homelessness through several different programs. I worked in the day center—a safe place in which women would find hospitality, food, activities, fellowship, laundry, showers, and a clothes closet. Working at N Street has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I became a part of the community for the eight short weeks I was there, despite being from a middle-class background and attending college.
While many people embark on a journey of self-discovery during college, I have intended to become a public interest attorney since high school. My experiences through the Shepherd Consortium and Hendrix’s Poverty Crossings program have only further confirmed that idea. While my internship at N Street was not explicitly connected with the law, it nevertheless strengthened my desire to help those in poverty within a legal context, specifically after seeing the underserved legal needs of the community. Two attorneys from a local legal aid clinic came for two hours every other week and met with different clients. There were always more clients than time, and many women left without ever speaking to one of the lawyers. Seeing the dearth of attorneys available to impoverished women was significant, and it only increased my desire to become a public service attorney.
While the internship itself did not connect to my academic interests, a fellow Shepherd intern’s job did, which eventually changed the trajectory of my entire academic career. At the recommendation of her supervisor, we went to see a documentary on the effects of predatory lending on lower- and middle-class Americans, a practice with which I was only vaguely familiar. That documentary inspired my independent study on payday loans the following semester and has since been expanded into my senior thesis—a quantitative study of regulatory payday lending policies and their effects on borrowers across the United States.
When I joined the Poverty Crossings program and the Shepherd Consortium, I thought I was just going to learn about poverty and complete an internship. However, the program acted as a fulfilling confirmation of my chosen career and precipitated undergraduate research in an area with which I was before only tangentially familiar. While I am unsure of what the future holds for me, my experiences at N Street Village and subsequent research in payday lending will undoubtedly play a role in the area of law I choose to practice—representing the interests of those who have been neglected by the justice system.