Well before she knew exactly what a lawyer was, Mazaher Kaila ’19, L’22 knew she wanted to be one. “I might have first gotten the idea from my sister,” she confesses. “But I knew, even when I was in fourth or fifth grade, that lawyers had a voice and the power to make change. That appealed to me.”
Kaila, who is now a second-year student in Syracuse University’s College of Law , moved with her family from Sudan to Central New York when she was four years old. She quickly developed an understanding of certain challenges she’d face growing up in the United States. “I’m Black, female, an immigrant and Muslim. That puts me pretty much at the lowest level when it comes to social advantage and privilege,” she says. But, she explains, this understanding also fueled her ambitions. “Civic engagement is a core value for me. I have always aspired to help the communities I’m from.”
A Goal in Mind
Growing up, Kaila loved art, played several sports, and was curious about technology and engineering. But by the time she transferred to Syracuse University as a sophomore, she had discovered political science and knew she wanted to learn more. “I realized that to make meaningful change in society, I needed to understand the systems that power it—government and politics—and that’s insight I would gain by studying political science.”
Civic engagement is a core value for me. I have always aspired to help the communities I’m from.—Mazaher Kaila
Her goals were further clarified by an internship with a city court judge in Mount Vernon, New York, the summer before her sophomore year. “This was the first time I met a Black woman practicing law. She was passionate and caring, and treated everyone with the same level of respect, including those before her for sentencing,” Kaila says. The experience transformed what had been a dream without a frame of reference into a concrete possibility for her own future and gave Kaila an aspiration to work toward.
Relishing Adventure and Learning
Kaila majored in political science in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs , and her undergraduate years were studded with rich and rewarding experiences that reflect her wide-ranging interests. She danced in the University’s Kalabash Dance Troupe—which specializes in Caribbean, hip hop and African dances—and she volunteered in various capacities, including with after-school programs in Syracuse schools.
She also studied overseas twice through Syracuse Abroad . One summer, as a Gilman Scholarship recipient, she lived with a host family in Strasbourg, France, and conducted research for a comparison on the status of Muslim women in different cultures and political systems. Highlights of that trip included independent travel through multiple countries in Europe and witnessing proceedings in Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights.
Kaila also visited Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand with the School of Information Studies ’ AsiaTech seminar, a 16-day investigation into the ways some of the world’s largest corporations use technology and information to address global challenges.
One of the most important experiences Kaila had as an undergraduate was an internship at the Onondaga County District Attorney’s office. “This gave me a chance to learn what it would be like to actually work in law,” she says. “I drafted documents, reviewed evidence, sat with clients during interviews, attended trials, and gave assistant DAs feedback on trial preparation.” The internship affirmed her passion for the field and solidified her decision to pursue a law degree.
I realized that to make meaningful change in society, I needed to understand the systems that power it—government and politics—and that’s insight I would gain by studying political science.—Mazaher Kaila
Kaila is not waiting until she graduates law school to assume the role of advocate and changemaker. She serves as president of the Black Law Students Association and is leading efforts to help the University administration address issues of diversity and inclusion on multiple fronts, including in admissions practices and in the establishment of a resource center at the College of Law.
“I am now in a privileged position in so many ways,” she says. “I’m educated. I’m learning the law. I have a place in certain communities that may seem out of reach to many. It’s my goal to help other people achieve these same positions. I have a voice—a big voice,” she adds with a laugh. “And I have a lot to say.”