When Tiara Brown arrived at Berkeley Law in 2019 fresh out of Towson University, she admits she had a bad case of “imposter syndrome” — the nagging sense that she wasn’t good enough to cut it at a top law school.
“The first semester I remember being really hard. I had a lot to learn — there was so much that I didn’t know about law, and so much that others did,” she says. “I felt super out of place.”
Through two of the school’s affinity groups, Law Students of African Descent (LSAD) and the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA), Brown found others who were having some of the same feelings, making some of her closest friends. Still, she felt like she was struggling.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she returned home to Columbia, Maryland, things started to shift. By the end of the spring 2020 term, Brown had been designated co-president of the Student Association at Berkeley Law (SABL) for the 2020-2021 academic year. It was unexpected, she says, but fantastic.
“The turning point for me really was SABL, because it felt like I was getting back to what I was best at, advocating for others. It made me feel like I was valued and capable of doing things again,” she says. “The difference from last spring to this spring is a 180-degree turnaround.
“I just needed a second to adjust and find not just what I went to law school for, but the things that made me happy.”
Brown is also the recruitment chair for LSAD, the external representative for NALSA, and on the expedited submission team of the Berkeley Business Law Journal. And she continues to work with the student-led Prisoner Advocacy Network, which provides non-litigation assistance to incarcerated people who are experiencing discrimination, retaliation, medical needs, and civil rights violations.
With SABL, part of what she and Co-President Ray Durham ’22 have to tackle is keeping the community connected, even with classes now virtual and many students living outside the Bay Area.
Brown says that having two Black co-presidents has been important during this time, especially after the anger and despair over George Floyd’s death in May 2020 prompted massive protests.
“On the one hand, it seems like it’s all being pushed to the fore, but at the same time there’s a lot being swept under the rug,” she says.
They are advocating for every student, she says, but especially those disparately impacted by the pandemic — many of them students of color.
“Imposter syndrome will take over your entire being if you let it, and I think it’s especially true now for 1Ls, who aren’t able to see one another in person,” Brown says. “It’s really important to show you don’t need to have gone to Harvard or Yale or Stanford to be successful here.”
— Gwyneth K. Shaw