Harvard Law School

Application Essays – THE WORLD Deanna Parrish

Nadia invited me to her apartment for what she described as a small “book club” meeting. Instead I found myself in a room overflowing with rural Moroccan women, dusty from hours of travel, eager to discuss the Qu’ran, women’s rights, and their relationship to democracy. I was the only woman that did not wear a hijab. The only woman who did not speak Darjia. The only woman who did not see the Arab Spring through the eyes of an Islamic feminist.

I traveled to Morocco to study migration, an intellectual passion inspired by my family’s diaspora, having fled Cuba in the early 1960s. This personal history has drawn me to the relationship between changemakers—immigrants, women, and social entrepreneurs—and their environments. While my professors spoke of Morocco’s geopolitical nature, I remained fascinated by the issues faced by young women who protested in ever-greater numbers outside of the Parliament building. As a result of my work with various feminist advocacy organizations, direct service providers, and gender-based violence shelters, I met Nadia. Nadia is a legal scholar who led the Islamic feminist effort to reinterpret the text of the Qu’ran. From our conversations I gleaned the first of many reasons motivating me to pursue a legal education: The law is a critical tool.

Morocco is infamous for the Mudawanna code, legislation that governs all aspects of family law. Reforms in 2004 established joint responsibility between husbands and wives for their families and introduced family courts to enable the enforcement of these new laws. Amid the energy of the Arab Spring and widespread calls to rewrite the Moroccan constitution, feminist activist found the environment ripe to question the ability of the family courts system to reverse centuries old patterns of gender discrimination. For feminists, little progress had been made outside of the letter of the law. Issues of sex discrimination, polygamy, and intimate partner violence were seldom reported, but remained highly visible at the grassroots level.

Seeking a deeper understanding for the basis of this deep-seated socio-legal conflict, I focused my senior honors thesis on the relationship between the reformed Mudawanna code, adjudication in the legal system, and the ultimate effect on women in Moroccan society. This conflict between the law’s ability to regulate society ultimately inspired my interest in the law. Legal principal iterate the stories of the disenfranchised, empower communities to advocate for social change, and codify a living body of work that reflects history while ethically informing out future. With knowledge of the law, I will be a champion of political progress and change makers themselves.

My research in Morocco and internship experience in the public and government sectors have shown me firsthand the limitations of advocating for meaningful change without a complete understanding of its legal foundations. In my future legal career, I will confront complex questions concerning the limitations of the law in affecting social behavior, and the legal response to those limitations. Whether I ultimately apply my legal knowledge to protecting international human rights or advocating on behalf of undocumented immigrants in the United States, I hope to shape how the letter of the law comes to life on the grassroots level.

Deanna Parrish’s essay not only opens in the midst of her story, but it also quickly and deftly introduces several key themes. The initial lines describe the women and their ideas, which go on to wind throughout the essay. They also pack in a sophisticated motif, the distinct distance between Parrish and her “book club” companions. That marks a level of nuance many travel-based essays don’t grasp.

That opening paragraph contains something of Parrish at her best, but it also begets disappointments as the reader moves on. For the most part, we lose Nadia and her book club; we lose the theme of separation between the travels and the indigenous. The tangible experience of Parrish in Morocco fades into broader, more didactic statements about Moroccan social and legal history. For instance, the entire third paragraph reads more like an encyclopedia entry. The reader learns that Parrish has spent time thinking about these issues, but we don’t learn enough about Parrish herself through them. We also don’t see a higher level of analysis. Most of Parrish’s commentary and ultimate lesson reduces to a single, basic truism: “The law is a critical tool.” It’s not a problem to introduce broader ideas and issues that you care about. But it does become a problem if you don’t show yourself careful weighing them.

With that said, Parrish does leave the reader with a message and a sense worth imparting: that she is committed. Throughout the essay, in fact, Parrish conveys her motivations and energy. For some essays, a trip abroad becomes simply a nice experience, unconnected to a person’s broader trajectory and interests. But in Parrish’s case, the experience—and its intersection with the law—constitute her senior thesis, and she clearly explains how Morocco motivates her. We get the sense that Parrish has spent a lot of time learning and understanding Morocco’s women and their issues—all the more a shame that she focus mainly on recounting and less on analyzing. Further, she understands precisely the significance of a law school education because she understands how the law relates to the issues she cares about. She doesn’t want admission for admissions sake; she wants to learn to be a lawyer.

–Brain Cronin

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