By Alice Shih LaCour
Ms. Shih LaCour is a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. She graduated with a degree in Economics and a certificate in Poverty and Human Capabilities from Washington and Lee University in 2008. She then received her J.D. at Yale Law School in 2012. Following law school, she clerked on the federal district court in the Southern District of Texas and then on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Poverty 101 stirred my inner passion in such a visceral way that it directed my other coursework, summer internships, extra-curricular activities, and eventually my career,” writes Ms. Shih LaCour (W&L 2008).
As a freshman, I arrived on the campus of Washington and Lee University excited to learn and expand my mind. Even with this eager mindset, I was stunned to find that I was utterly transformed by what I learned in one of these classes. Poverty 101 stirred my inner passion in such a visceral way that it directed my other coursework, summer internships, extra-curricular activities, and eventually my career.
I began to see that the most vulnerable in our society were often inextricably intertwined with poverty. And their vulnerability meant they often lived in a world of injustice. The Appalachia teenagers I mentored were born into households without running water or a stable food source. When they lashed out at school because they had not eaten a meal in three days, they were suspended or expelled rather than given the very nutrition and sustenance that was the root cause of the outburst. The woman I served meals to through Campus Kitchens Project at the domestic abuse shelter repeatedly returned to her abusive partner because he was her only source of income and shelter. Her abusive partner never faced consequences for his actions. These volunteer experiences and academic studies through the Shepherd Poverty Program showed me that though we are a country founded on the principle equal justice, this did not reflect the reality of the most vulnerable.
After graduation, the Poverty Program helped me secure an internship with the National Community Action Foundation (“NCAF”). At NCAF, I researched the current dialogue on poverty policy by think tanks, non-profits, political campaigns, foundations, and institutions to help prepare the network of 1,100 Community Action Agencies in the U.S. for how it can be more effective in empowering low-income families. The more I researched, the more I realized I had to be a part of that dialogue and the solution. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s poignant words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” gripped me as I realized the urgency of the need for action.
I decided that I could most effectively engage in the quest for justice through a profession in the law. I studied at Yale Law School, where I was able to represent abused and neglected children through a clinic. After receiving my J.D., I had the opportunity to clerk for two federal judges who greatly informed my view of justice. Today, I count myself among the lucky few who get to wake up each day to pursue justice as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. Despite my busy schedule and excitement about this work, I have found time to volunteer with the N Street Village Women’s Homeless Shelter near DuPont Circle, an organization that I first encounter during my Shepherd internship in Washington, DC, and a habit that I developed as a part of my poverty studies education in college.
Though I am still in the early stages of my legal career, I recognize that the values and experiences I gained through the Poverty Program were instrumental in my career choice and will continue to inform me throughout my career.