With an ambition to influence legislative changes, young Wilman Noongar lawyer Chloe D’Souza is not letting a global pandemic get in the way of her dreams.

After being awarded the inaugural Bob Hawke John Monash Scholarship for 2020 in December last year, D’Souza applied to a range of universities in the United States where she hoped to embark on an educational journey.

“I had an idea of where I wanted to go, Columbia was up there in my top preferences,” D’Souza said.

“Last minute, I had a look at the Harvard Law School Masters program and I realised it would be pretty amazing to get in because they have a smaller cohort and I could still focus on human rights.”

In March this year, at the height of COVID-19 in Australia, D’Souza received an offer of admission to Harvard. She also received an admission letter to Columbia.

“It was quite surreal … it was a bit of a blur applying to the different universities and thinking about what an amazing opportunity it would be to be admitted into any of these programs I was applying to,” she said.

“It was a shock but super exciting … I never thought I’d actually be choosing which Ivy League university to go to.”

“In light of COVID-19, I made the decision to defer my studies to the 2021-22 year.

“I didn’t want to do the course online. For me it’s about being there and being able to attend in person and make the most of it.”

In August 2021, D’Souza will make her way to Boston, Massachusetts to begin her studies at Harvard.

The young lawyer will leave Harvard with a Master of Laws (LLM) focused on human rights.

“The LLM at Harvard is pretty broad, so you can design your own curriculum … I think there’s about 500 courses that they offer, so you can really choose the type of program that you want and the type of law you want to really focus on.”

Although the American law system is very different to Australia, this is a motivating factor for D’Souza.

“For me a big motivation with America is that there’s just so many opportunities to learn about the theory of law a little bit more,” D’Souza said.

“Things like critical race theory I’ve only skimmed the surface of in Australia, and I know I’ll be able to do a much deeper dive over in America.”

A deeper focus on race relations plus a broader range of opportunities available are huge points of difference for D’Souza.

“Stepping out of Australia and engaging in that broader learning experience and really connecting with students from so many different countries around the world will open my eyes to different ways of approaching human rights and Reconciliation in Australia.”

 

Shaking up the system

With regards to the current state of the American legal system, D’Souza spoke of the various social justice movements taking place across the US, including the Black Lives Matter movement.

“One of the reasons I chose to study in the US is because there are a lot of different movements over there,” she said.

“What’s happened recently has really shaken up Australia and made us look in our own backyard.”

“The Black Lives Matter campaign has allowed us to look at what we need to change over here.”

On the flipside, D’Souza believes Americans are beginning to realise there are similar race issues in Australia, too.

“I want to connect with students and share Australia’s history and stories … Those are the connections that we need to keep having,” she said.

“Campaigns and protest can drive change and encourage people in the positions to make change to question how we’re doing things right, and how we’re doing things wrong.”

In Australia, D’Souza sees space for improvement on legislation affecting Indigenous people.

“What I see in the law is that there isn’t enough autonomy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make their own decisions about their lands,” she said.

“I think this is a really hard thing to put into law but it’s about recognising that Aboriginal people have and will continue to have their own laws that they practice.”

D’Souza believes it’s possible to integrate these systems, however it starts with that recognition.

“[I’m] very curious about how we can combine [them] so it doesn’t have to be one way or the other and we can actually meet in the middle … for me that largely represents what Reconciliation is all about,” she said.

“I would like to see more initiatives and proposed reform options actually being tried and implemented and then learning what works and what doesn’t … rather than not doing anything at all.”

By Hannah Cross