Randy Hiroshige’s undergraduate courses in ethics and philosophy led him to consider a career in law. “During college, I started to see how structures propagate injustice and developed an ethical commitment to helping those ground down by legal structures,” he said. His desire to pursue graduate degrees in both law and theology led him to choose Vanderbilt. He has a Divinity Merit Scholarship at Vanderbilt Divinity School and is both a Chancellor’s Law Scholar and a Justice-Moore Family Scholar at VLS.
Now in his third year of the dual-degree program, Hiroshige spent his first year at the law school and his second in the Divinity School. “You have to declare a ‘residency’ in one school each semester,” he explained. In addition to the Divinity School’s commitment to social justice, he was drawn to the law school’s focus on public interest law and its George Barrett Social Justice Program. “The Social Justice Program hosted a Practicing Public Interest Law in the South conference at the beginning of my 1L year,” he said. “The conference introduced me to many people and ideas in the world of public interest legal practice and showed me that there was a growing space for social justice-minded students at Vanderbilt.”
Hiroshige interned at the Metropolitan Nashville Public Defender’s Office after his 1L year and spent summer 2018 working for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Soon after he arrived in Brownsville, Texas, where he was based, TRLA started to hear from parents whose children had been taken from them when they arrived at the U.S. border to request asylum. “We had a number of clients whose kids were taken,” he said. He spent the summer researching the rights of citizens and noncitizens under the Fifth Amendment, which–among other rights—protects the fundamental right to family integrity and prohibits punishment of pre-trial detainees.
Hiroshige appreciates the intellectual climate at Vanderbilt Law. “The climate here is simultaneously rigorous and friendly–rigorous in that most students are close readers of the text and willing to challenge each other on interpretations, but friendly because these challenges often lead to sincere learning moments,” he explained. “I’ve learned a lot here. I entered law school knowing very little about the practice of law, and there have been people at every step of the way explaining the concepts and structures in ways that I could understand.”
He particularly enjoyed his Constitutional Law 2 class with Professor Sara Mayeux, a legal historian whose work has chronicled the history of public defenders in the United States. “Professor Mayeux paid such close attention to the development of individual rights,” he said. “Her class was really helpful in exploring the lawyer’s participation in social change–what has been successful, and how did we get these protections? As someone who expects to use equal protection and due process challenges and hopes to see new protections in the future, this class situated the public interest lawyer within the ecology of social movements. It showed me that I need to do more than just rely on and practice existing law if I am committed to social change.”
Hiroshige is active in Law Students for Social Justice and organized a pro bono Spring Break trip to Lumpkin, Georgia, where students worked with attorneys from the Southeastern Immigrant Freedom Initiative to argue bond motions on behalf of immigrant detainees. He was also a 2017-18 Cal Turner Fellow, which included a leadership retreat with fellows from several Vanderbilt schools and work with Nashville nonprofits. “That work opened my eyes to the realities that nonprofits face and a lot of the strategic and organizational decisions that justice-seeking organizations need to make in order to continue their work,” he said.
Hiroshige plans to pursue a career providing legal services to people who cannot afford representation. Assistant Dean for Public Interest Spring Miller has provided career guidance and help in securing internships. “She has been crucial in helping me discern the work I want to do and find the right organizations to get involved in,” he said.