Voice of Experience

Véronique Harris grew up a witness to inequality. Now she’s dedicating her life to eradicating it through a career in public-service law.

June 27, 2023

Tyler Applegate

Véronique Harris.
Photo credit: courtesy of Véronique Harris

Véronique Harris ’23 chose to attend Oberlin because of its history of progressive firsts and its deeply ingrained commitment to activism. During her time on campus, she deepened her own commitment to social justice and public service with a double major in Africana studies and law and society

Harris’ lifelong interest in public-service law has culminated in her receiving the prestigious William H. Gates Public Service Law Scholarship. Named for the former prominent attorney, philanthropist, and father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the scholarship covers all expenses to the University of Washington School of Law and includes guaranteed internships for each recipient. In accepting the award, Harris has committed to working in public service for at least five years following graduation—a commitment that paves the way for her planned career as a civil rights attorney. 

“I have a lifetime of experiences that built up to this moment,” she says. “I have known that I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 14.” 

Raised in a suburb of Seattle, Harris was exposed to systemic racism and structural inequality from a young age. “I come from a family of blue-collar Black, white, and Filipino laborers,” she says. “My family is a microcosm of society’s failure to address the basic needs of BIPOC and working-class people; I grew up witnessing the impacts of these systemic failures daily.” 

Her father, a dedicated factory worker who was committed to providing for his family, was exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace for decades. As a result, he developed an occupational lung disease, and his preexisting heart condition worsened. 

“I learned about the intersection of race, class, education—or lack thereof—as well as environmental racism and health disparities, and felt called to fight them at a young age,” Harris says.

In high school, she devoted time volunteering, protesting, and grassroots organizing with groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and a local community youth council. While attending Oberlin, she ran a successful social media campaign and petition that resulted in her former high school replacing its Confederate rebel mascot. “Parents and students alike thanked me for my perseverance, expressing that the mascot change would promote a safe and inclusive learning environment for students of color,” she says.

Deeply affected by the death of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant at the hands of Columbus, Ohio, police, Harris raised more than $2,000 to assemble and distribute self-defense kits for Black women and femmes throughout the state. “I used the slogan ‘We protect us’ for the self-defense kit distribution because Black Americans cannot rely on police protection within a structurally racist system,” she says. Also at Oberlin, she was a member of Students for a Free Palestine. The club’s work, and her experiences with lawyers fighting for Palestinian human rights, further fueled her desire for a career in public-service law.

Today, Harris is more determined than ever to dismantle systemic racism and address socio-environmental challenges. After law school, she hopes to work in the NAACP’s Environment and Climate Justice Division or another nonprofit that supports her advocacy of decolonial frameworks to counter environmental racism. 

She credits her Oberlin professors—including Charles Peterson in Africana studies, Joyce Babyak in religion, and Amanda Zadorian in politics—for shaping her academic life and her career aspirations through their formal guidance and teaching, as well as through regular chats about current events during office hours.

I am so very grateful for all of these wonderful professors. They have truly impacted my life in more ways than they know.”

Harris praises Babyak, who also chairs Oberlin’s law and society program, in particular. “She helped me create a plan for studying for the LSAT, sponsored my Winter Term projects, wrote many recommendations, and encouraged me throughout the law school application process.” 

As Harris embarks on her journey in public-service law, she carries with her the experiences and lessons from her young life. 

“I eventually would like my career to have an international reach,” she says. “I am very pleased that through the Gates Scholarship, I will have the ability to complete internships in the summers of my first and second years, so that I can see how different organizations are doing this work and how I can be of most use to the cause in the future.”

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