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Get to Know UDC Law: Student Edition | Tijuana Barnes

Friday, April 20, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Erin Looney
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Among the more than 200 U.S. law schools, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) consistently ranks in the top 10 for diversity. In 2017, U.S. News & World Report gave the School the #7 spot, and the Princeton Review identified the faculty as 4th most diverse in the U.S. PreLaw gave the school an A+ rating in 2017 and ranked UDC Law at #8 among best schools for African American students for 2018.

Among its diverse student body, UDC Law has a number of students who would call themselves “advocates,” “activists” or “changemakers.” In fact, a mission to represent underserved residents and a faculty committed to helping students pursue practical advocacy throughout the District of Columbia has led to the school’s A rating for practical training from preLaw Magazine and consistent top ten rankings for the same from U.S. News & World Report. UDC Law also was ranked #2 for government and public interest job placement by National Law Journal and #1 in community service per student by The National Jurist.

Behind the outstanding rankings are even more impressive people, and UDC Law is excited to share their goals, achievements, and inspiring stories.

Meet Tijuana Barnes

Tijuana Barnes
Barnes in New York after being elected Vice Chair of the ABA Law Student Division

When you meet Tijuana Barnes, you quickly notice she is at once humble and self-assured. Throughout our interview, she was easygoing and natural, talkative and engaging. She is also refreshingly deliberate, choosing her words carefully and pausing to consider the impact of what she is saying. There are a number of possible explanations for her introspection, but they don’t really matter here. What matters is the story of a passionate advocate, a dedicated professional and the woman behind our thoughtful conversation. Barnes is poised, measured and powerful, choosing not to become world-weary even as her advocacy sometimes hits a little too close to home.

Barnes will graduate next month, adding a juris doctor to a collection that already includes a bachelor’s in political science from Clark Atlanta University and a master’s in Special Education from Notre Dame University of Maryland. She plans to use her well-rounded educational portfolio to continue fighting for equity in the U.S. education system. “Deprivation of a quality education should require the highest level of scrutiny,” said Barnes.

As a native Washingtonian and former Baltimore and D.C. school teacher, Barnes is all too familiar with the challenges students in the District face. Of her 11 years teaching special and general education to second through eighth grade students, Barnes said, “I always found myself in trouble (advocating for children). I wasn’t about maintaining the status quo.” That status quo included adopting a “one size doesn’t fit all” approach to educating her students, calling it her “duty” to fight for each student to have a catered approach to learning that emphasizes individual needs and strengths over “being subjected to a standardized expectation.”

This experience informed Barnes’s decision to pursue education law when she came to UDC Law. She participated in the Immigration & Human Rights Clinic and the Housing & Consumer Law Clinic to satisfy her clinic requirement and gain real world experience working with clients. When asked why she chose these two clinics in light of her career goals, she said, “When dealing with people with limited means, you realize several areas of law are integrated, and you need to be open-minded that a client with one specific issue may fall into several different fields.”

Christopher Pascual and Tijuana Barnes
Barnes and fellow student Chris Pascual after winning a moot court competition

This “open-minded advocacy,” as she called it, is also key to her extensive community service involvement, particularly in her hometown. Barnes is active in a number of organizations that provide services to people throughout the District. She has worked with food outreach groups Food & Friends, Dining Out for Life and Martha’s Table. Food & Friends provides nutritious meals to people who are critically ill, and Dining Out For Life raises money for people living with HIV/AIDS. Martha’s Table provides a variety of food, education and community support services throughout Washington, D.C. As well, she has been involved with Quality Trust for Individual with Disabilities, a group that empowers people with disabilities in and around D.C. She also collected and donated books to a Ward 7 elementary school classroom during her 1L year. Barnes’s love of her community and the people who live there allowed her to easily surpass UDC Law’s 40-hour service requirement.

In another project during her 1L year, Barnes worked with fellow UDC Law student Dora Myles in seeking clemency for a non-violent offender. The students filed papers with the Department of Justice to help their client’s case make it to President Barack Obama’s desk before his term ended in January 2017.

Like many of our students, Barnes is also quite active in student organizations on campus and in the legal education field. She was the American Bar Association representative for UDC Law in 2016-2017, is currently the Vice Chair of the ABA Law Student Division for the 2017-2018 school year and serves as the Entity Liaison for the ABA Center on Children and the Law. On campus, Barnes is a member of the UDC Law Black Students Association and a regular competitor in moot court competitions. In March, she and classmate Renee Mims placed second in the brief writing portion of the Domenick Gabrielli Family Law Moot Court Competition. Barnes also came in third as a member of the NBLSA negotiation team during her 1L year. “No wall is too tall, and no barrier is too great,” Barnes said of her determination to excel. “I’m working toward making every dream of mine come true.”

Tijuana Barnes at a demonstration
Barnes holds a photo of her sister at March for Our Lives

Of course, all the hard work and determination in the world can’t prepare even Barnes for every obstacle. Tragically, she has lost two siblings to gun violence, a brother in 2008 and her sister Danielle last September. She was, of course, stunned when she heard about Danielle, but she also happened to be at a conference. Upon hearing the news, Barnes wanted “everything to stop,” but she managed to make her way to her conference obligations anyway. She returned to D.C. afterward and resumed life as usual as best she could. In working to maintain balance, she was inspired to share her story in an ABA blog post offering support to law students experiencing their own hardships. In the post, she writes, “We can get our degrees, perfect careers, and several other opportunities; but what does any of that mean if you’re not in the right state of mind to enjoy it? Choose you and seek help if you need it. I am choosing me, because before I can help anyone else, I must help myself.”

Facing the loss of two siblings to gun violence also made Barnes particularly perceptive to the need for action following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When the survivors and their supporters organized March for Our Lives on March 24, the activist in Barnes took the lead in the D.C. law student community. She used her ABA post to organize students from UDC Law, the University of the District of Columbia and other area schools to rally together with the two million people who came to D.C. to seek legislative action on school safety and gun control. Once again, Barnes took to the ABA Journal to promote the effort, which she organized via Facebook. “Lawyers and law students play a big role in this community,” she told author Stephanie Francis Ward. “If we are silent, our silence is compliance.”

Barnes may be poised, but she is certainly not silent. Deliberate and intentional as she is, her story and the stories of the women in her family have taught her to speak out and to do so with conviction. She was hard-pressed to name a single figure that has influenced her most. Instead, she said, “I want to thank every woman in my family who came before me for their strength. I’m a representative of their strength now. I’m a representative of every woman in my genealogy, going back to queens in Africa, to every woman who had to bear the lashes, every woman who was raped or taken away from her tribe to be a slave. I acknowledge their struggles and adversity, and this next chapter of my life is dedicated to them.”

She added, “We always point to a famous person who laid the way for us, but we often forget to pay tribute to people in our immediate ancestry. We remember people in the public eye, but who laid the foundation for you to be here?” As Barnes graduates next month and forges her path in education law, perhaps it is she who will help lay foundations for future advocates at UDC Law.

Tijuana Barnes and Jasmine Hope
Barnes and UDC Law alum Jasmine Hope
Tijuana Barnes at the ABA
Barnes poses for a quick shot after a planning meeting with the Center on Children and the Law
Tijuana Barnes and Dick Gregory
Barnes with the late Dick Gregory, comedian and civil rights activist



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