As a Catalyst Fellow, Erica Rodarte L’22 launched an investigation of two Idaho school districts on behalf of Latine students.
As a Legal Fellow at ACLU of Idaho, I worked on ongoing litigation, legal research, and identified lead plaintiffs in the areas of academic freedom, gender affirming care, and reproductive rights.
One of my most important projects involved understanding the urgent issues facing Latine students in the state and exploring ways to address these issues through legal and advocacy work. I met and learned from students, families, and educators across the state through a statewide “story collection” project and a series of community listening sessions. These conversations revealed multigenerational experiences of discriminatory discipline, policing, and surveillance of Latine students.
In response, I spearheaded an investigation of two school districts in Canyon County, home to the largest Latine population in Idaho. Throughout the investigation, I engaged extensivelywith the school districts and local police departments on public records requests. I also formally interviewed impacted community members and conducted legal and policy research.
At the conclusion of our investigation, I published “Proud to Be Brown: Punishing Latine Culture in Idaho Schools,” a report documenting the community experiences, as well as additional findings and recommendations. This report paved the way for a federal complaint, where we urged the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation and address the systemic racism taking place in one of the school districts.
The Intersection of Racial Justice and Civil Rights
I had previously externed with the ACLU of Idaho during my last year at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. As an extern, I worked with the legal team to understand education issues facing tribal students in Idaho. The organization was committed to extending its racial justice work. My work as a Legal Fellow both supported the organization’s racial justice work and expanded on my prior research and experience to address the issues that Latine students were facing and seek justice on their behalf.
Being at the ACLU of Idaho allowed me to combine two interests which had inspired me to pursue a law degree in the first place: serving Latine and immigrant communities and exploring the impact of civil rights work. I also gained valuable experience working closely with the advocacy and media team, as well as other ACLU affiliates across the country.
Idaho, like many states, has been subject to legislation, policies, and practices targeting communities of color, LGBTQIA+ communities, and reproductive rights. The attacks range from book bans, bathroom bills, and even restrictions on how university professors can discuss abortion rights. Despite these constant threats to fundamental rights, it is energizing to see the incredible work that can result from community organizing and advocates across the state, including young Latine students standing up for their rights.
Pathways to the Profession highlights Penn Carey Law students and post-graduate fellows as they launch impactful legal careers. From summer internships in the private sector to public interest post-graduate fellowships and externships, these firsthand accounts of substantive legal work demonstrate the myriad opportunities available to Penn Carey Law students and graduates.
Penn Carey Law’s Catalyst Fellowships support students who obtain unpaid postgraduate positions that may lead to full-time staff positions or related employment in government, non-profit, or international non-governmental organizations.