Women Profile–Theresa Rocha

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Theresa Rocha

As a recent full time science teacher, mom and now third year law student at the University of Illinois College of Law, it is my pleasure to introduce myself to you.  I am a teacher by training and have been in the field of education in some capacity for over ten years.   Responsible for over 200 students per academic year in the math and sciences, I quickly gained a love for the presentation of complex information to large audiences in meaningful ways.  I love the classroom and I love opportunities to learn from and with my students.

Despite my successes in the classroom, however, I made a personal commitment to pursue my law degree after the completion of my Master’s Program in Federal Indian Law.  This area of the law has been my true academic passion since I was a young girl and I was excited to pursue it actively here at the College of Law.

While at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), I excelled in my courses and successfully completed my Master’s Thesis entitled ‘The Intertribal Court of Southern California: Implicit & Explicit Expressions of Justice in Southern California Indian Country.’  This academically rigorous exploration of the intersections of western jurisprudence, Federal Indian Law and traditional dispute resolution methods honed my legal research and writing skills immensely, making my transition into law school education quick and efficient.

As a law student, I have been challenged to think in ways that I never thought possible.  The work load has been ridiculously demanding and I have often felt like there are not enough hours in the day to even sleep.  But this chaotic schedule has been well worth the reward.  In addition to graduating this May with academic honors, I am grateful for the supportive relationships I have built around campus working on issues of social justice and access to higher education.

My work for the University of Illinois, American Indian Studies program has provided me with another fantastic community to guide me in my pursuit of becoming a professor.  In addition, my involvement with The Native American House (NAH) has afforded several great opportunities to showcase my legal training through invited lectures and seminar panels too.  This year I have been invited to give the final lecture of the academic year at NAH on the recent United States Supreme Court decision regarding Baby Veronica and the Indian Child Welfare Act.  I am interested in the Court’s construction of race, refusal to honor tribal jurisdiction over Indian children, and overall lack of deference to the powerful legacy of forced removal of Indian children from their families into white families.  It would be a dream come true to teach courses that deeply investigate the social implications of law, especially as they pertain to systems of social and economic inequality within the United States.

Despite the incredible balancing act of work, family, and school, these three years flew by so quickly.  From where I stand right now, the life opportunities ahead for our family look incredible.  I spent the majority of my past summer studying furiously for the GRE and then spent the bulk of my fall successfully applying to PhD programs in Sociology.  All of those hours have paid off and I have received six tremendously generous offers so far.  Each department is excited about my desire to blend my strong legal training with a study of theories of justice, courts, incarceration, social and economic inequality, and American Indian tribal legal systems.  I plan to pursue a career as a law professor and am thankful for the wildly supportive faculty at the College of Law.  Many have guided me personally through this process and I value these lasting relationships.

Crossing the graduation stage with honors is a goal that I am so excited to share with my family.  I am a first-generation college student with parents that never made it past middle school.  Higher education was not an easy path for me because there was so much to figure out on my own.  But it was well worth the time and effort.  My children are growing up intertwined in all of my higher education aspirations and can often be found in the law school with me and my husband (who is also a third year law student).  They envision an incredible future for themselves and I am so excited to see where this incredible adventure continues to take us.

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