Suffolk University Law School has launched an ambitious new scholarship program designed to increase the number of law students from diverse and historically underrepresented backgrounds.

Students admitted to Suffolk Law who have graduated from a national list of 25 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as first-generation college students from 25 colleges in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, will automatically be awarded $20,000 guaranteed scholarships. In this context, first-generation is generally defined as someone whose parents/guardians have not completed a 4-year college degree.

Cherina Wright JD’17—Suffolk Law’s assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and herself a first-generation graduate of an HBCU—explains how the scholarships work and why they are important.

How are the scholarships structured?

It’s simple. When students from the HBCUs and first-generation college students from the schools on our lists are admitted to Suffolk Law for 2021, the money will be there for them. And not just for one year, but $20,000 for each year during their entire JD program.

What led Suffolk Law toward this approach?

A law degree is a critical and sometimes necessary credential for those who want to play a leadership role in our society—politicians, prosecutors, law firm partners, corporate and other types of leaders. We want to offer historically underrepresented communities an equal opportunity to join their ranks.

People whose parents earned a professional degree are 3.5 times more likely to get one themselves. It takes grit for anyone to earn that professional degree, but the power afforded by that degree is, in part, a form of inheritance—the gift of having parents who, on average, were significantly more affluent and savvy about the educational process.

First-generation college students tend to have less preparation for what college courses will be like and receive a small portion of the scholarship aid out there, so they work more during law school and carry a much larger debt burden.

Why is this scholarship effort important?

We’re working toward a day when people from underrepresented communities won’t be a rare occurrence in the court and boardroom, bringing their life experience and perspective to the job.

How will the school help ensure that students finish their JD?

One of the keys is making sure that students facing the challenges of law school know they are not alone—others have faced, and are facing, similar challenges. We have a large number of thriving cultural affinity groups, including the First Generation Law Students Association, which are great ways to form a community.

Our Progress to Success: Diversity Peer Mentoring Program helps students adjust and figure out how to succeed, by helping them work through the ups and downs of a tough program.

We also have flexible degree programs that allow students to earn a law degree in nontraditional ways: an accelerated JD, our hybrid online JD, as well as our full- and part-time JD programs.

The HBCU Scholarship is named after Thaddeus Alexander Kitchener. Tell us about him. 

Mr. Kitchener graduated from Suffolk Law in 1913 and he was likely our first Black graduate. To put that in perspective, the American Bar Association did not admit its first Black member until 1950. He was part of a group of West Indian immigrants who founded the Square Deal Publishing Company and the Boston Chronicle, a newspaper that covered issues of justice and equality for Boston’s Black community.

Learn more about the HBCU scholarship.

Learn more about the first-generation college student scholarship.