Most of Ché Salinas' friends back home in Hayward are not in college, let alone looking toward law school.
It can be kind of lonely going sometimes, said the California State University, Sacramento senior.
"I've felt a little isolated," Salinas said. "I can't go back home and say 'I'm stressed about preparing for the LSAT.'"
That was before he enrolled last month in KHOP, the new King Hall Outreach Program for first-generation college students with a real interest in going to law school.
After a week or so of KHOP (pronounced Kay-hop) activities - admission test and writing classes, application help, guest speakers, field trips and social time - Salinas realized he had company.
"(The students) have similar backgrounds, goals and educational experiences," said Salinas, who works full-time for an office-supply company while going to school. "They are working, supporting kids and trying to stay on top of grades."
And they want to make a difference. Salinas may explore public interest law. KHOP classmate Leah Levenson, who recently graduated from Sacramento State, plans to apply her legal knowledge to work she's done for state women's educational and political organizations.
Getting these students, many of whom are ethnic minorities, into law school is the goal of KHOP, said law school outreach coordinator Moira Delgado, who runs the sessions. The three-week law school prep program, funded largely through the UC Office of the President, wraps up today as students use their new skills in a moot court.
"The law touches all aspects of society - sometimes disadvantaged people to a greater extent," Delgado said. "Law is such a stepping stone. (Graduates) won't only touch the legal community, but society in general."
The program ran as a two-week pilot with a small group of students last summer. This year the effort expanded to 15 students and will continue into the school year with more tutoring as well as mentoring by current law students. Participants who successfully complete the program will also receive a stipend to make up for job opportunities they may have missed to attend the full-day sessions.
Law school admissions staff spent the spring recruiting students for the program. Along with tapping undergraduate students at UC Davis, staff members also targeted the California State University system.
"Because we are part of a public land grant institution, and housed in a building named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is imperative that the UC Davis School of Law strive to have the student body represent the state's diverse populations," said law school associate dean Kevin Johnson. "The student bodies of the CSU campuses are more diverse than those of UC campuses and deserve to be included."
In California, 83 percent of the state bar members are white. Asian Americans constitute 6 percent of membership, Latinos and Hispanics 3.7 percent and African Americans 2.4 percent.
The student body in the 2001-02 first-year class at King Hall included more than 24 percent Asian or Pacific Islanders. 6.5 percent Hispanic students, 1.9 percent African Americans and 0.5 percent American Indian or Alaska natives. The class was the most diverse since Proposition 209 passed in 1996, banning university affirmative action programs.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Johnson said. "We need to represent the state as a whole."
Programs like KHOP are essential to diversifying the law profession, said Curtis Howard, a Sac State senior who's attended sessions wearing a dress shirt and tie.
"I'm taking this very seriously," he said.
Howard, a native of Southern California who is African-American, has always wanted to be a lawyer, but he knew he would need an outreach program to help strengthen his chance for law school admission.
"I haven't been exposed to many professionals," he said. "I didn't have a father who was a doctor or a lawyer."
Howard has been amazed at the collective support he's received from law students, professors and staffm members. And he hopes KHOP and similar programs will only become more common at law schools. Johnson and Delgado believe that KHOP is the only program of its kind at a UC law school.
"Don't cut these programs … allow them to grow," Howard said. "It gives people without a voice the chance to be heard."
Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, email@example.com