CSJ Scholars, Ghatul Abdul and Ashley Hahn (2016-17)

New Center for Social Justice Scholars Announced

Ghatul Abdul '18 and Ashley Hahn '18 named CSJ Scholars for the 2016-17 Academic Year.

Each year, the Seton Hall Law Center for Social Justice (CSJ) selects one or more students from those who have recently completed their first year class of law school to serve as CSJ Scholars. The CSJ selects students who have demonstrated a strong commitment to public service and who are planning public interest careers. The Scholars, who will serve until graduation, are offered a range of public interest opportunities and benefits, including the chance for an externship at the CSJ during their second year of law school and a full-year of clinical courses in the final year of law school.

Ghatul Abdul ’18 (pictured right) was selected as a CSJ Scholar due to her clear commitment to equality of justice and good governance. She completed her undergraduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Science in Economics. She has worked extensively in matters involving education, policy, and community activism and development.

As an undergraduate, Abdul worked as an AmeriCorps Reading Coach in Richmond Public Schools. Specifically, she worked with students enrolled in the America Reads Initiative to make sure that every child in her elementary school was able to read independently by third grade. She also worked with students with English as a Second Language (ESL) and their families to navigate the public school systems, identify community resources, and prepare for college admission. “As a first generation American, moving from Afghanistan, my family and I struggled to understand the educational system in our new home,” said Abdul. Furthermore, Abdul explained that she wants “to make sure that immigrant families in my community have mentors, resources, and coaches who can guide them through grade school and explain the college admission process.”

Upon graduation from VCU, Abdul worked as an independent contractor for the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In this position, Abdul worked with International Relief and the University of Virginia Center for Politics to organize educational exchange programs for Afghan women lawyers and judges. Abdul organized events, training sessions, and speaker series focused on good governance, organizing grassroots campaigns, and democratic elections. Prior to law school, in 2013, Abdul joined Teach For America and served as a high school teacher in Halifax, North Carolina.

Abdul moved to Newark in the fall of 2015 to begin her legal education at Seton Hall. She became interested in criminal justice reform, and during the summer of 2016, Abdul served as an intern at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, in Newark, New Jersey. In this position, Abdul worked with the “ReNew” court, a partnership among the U.S. District Court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Public Defender’s Office, and the U.S. Probation Office designed to help ex-offenders recently released from federal custody successfully reintegrate into society. “This summer I was able to see and understand the need for government agencies and institutions to work together…only then can we have effective reentry programs, programs that truly meet the needs of our formerly incarcerated citizens,” said Abdul. During the 2016-2017 academic year, Abdul is interning with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Civil Rights Unit and she looks forward to gaining hands-on experience and insight into the U.S. Department of Justice.

When she is not focusing on her legal studies, Abdul finds time for her interests in Southeast Asian poetry, creative writing, and community engagement. She once co-authored a play called Layla and Majnun – a love story that originated as a poem in 11th Century Arabia. Abdul will be volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club of Newark this fall and she is excited to start a women’s golf club in partnership with Rutgers School of Law.

As a CSJ Scholar, Ghatul hopes to work with Professor Jenny-Brooke Condon in the spring semester as the Equal Justice Clinic expands its work to assist more ex-offenders with reentry into society. She is also assisting CSJ faculty with special projects and outreach to encourage more students to undertake pro bono work during law school.

As a legal and political advocate, Ashley Hahn ‘18 (pictured left) aspires to improve how our legal and social welfare systems approach helping children and families. “I believe that working with and within communities is essential to make a difference in the lives of others,” says Hahn. She added: “I also believe that challenging the status quo is necessary for positive growth and progress.”

Hahn’s longstanding commitment to public service is deeply personal. Volunteering has been a way for her to overcome her own experiences with abuse and to give back. In high school, she began to volunteer to help children and families through mentoring and tutoring programs. In her senior year, as a New Jersey Key Club Lt. Governor, she spread awareness about family abuse through the District Advocacy Program. At Bryn Mawr College, she continued to explore the issues of family violence and solutions through psychological treatment, the law, and the political process, with her double major in Political Science and Psychology. As an assistant therapist intern at the Preschool Intervention Program, she worked to help young children with emotional, behavioral, and psychological challenges. Also, as a volunteer with the Women’s Center of Montgomery County, she became the youngest domestic violence victim court advocate in the program’s two-decade history. Even now, when Hahn does not have class at the law school, she returns to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to volunteer as a court advocate.

One of the most transformative experiences of Hahn’s social justice journey so far was her Thomas J. Watson Foundation fellowship. During a travel year after graduating from college, she ventured into communities, courts, hospitals, government institutions, NGOs, safe houses, support groups, and charities around the world to experience different approaches to helping children and families who have experienced abuse or trauma. At every destination – Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, India, and Guatemala – she learned more than she could ever imagine. As Hahn stated: “I experienced the strength and determination of women standing up to their abusers in open court. I saw parents acknowledge their problems and take action to address their challenges as they learned how to become better parents for their children. I witnessed life-changing moments as children learned how to walk again after traumatic physical injuries. I experienced the compassion, beauty, and strength of the human spirit as people welcomed, accepted, and helped each other even if they didn’t have much to offer and were struggling with their own challenges. Throughout my travel year I learned how serving and leading with compassion, resilience, and passion can truly make a difference.”

Upon completion of her fellowship, Hahn began to utilize her fellowship year experiences to spread awareness about abuse and to work toward positive change in the U.S. legal and social welfare system. In April 2016, she presented about international domestic violence at the Women’s Center of Montgomery County annual training. In the spring of 2016, Hahn was selected as a SHU Servant Leader for her work.

Hahn was selected as a Deborah T. Poritz Public Interest Legal Fellow with Advocates for Children of New Jersey for the summer of 2016. During this externship, she utilized her Watson Fellowship experiences and her knowledge, skills, and passion to make a difference in the lives of children through policy work and research. Hahn noted that as she continues her legal education and begins her career, she is committed to improving how our legal and social welfare systems approach helping children and families. “I will continue to learn how to utilize my personal experiences to help lead, inspire, empower, and serve others,” said Hahn.

During the fall of 2016, as she began her service as a CSJ Scholar, Hahn assisted Christina Swarns, Legal Director for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, with preparations for an oral argument in a death penalty case that was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in October. As a Scholar, Hahn plans to develop her work assisting victims of domestic violence and will assist with special projects at the CSJ.