Allyssa Villanueva Aims to Ensure Equality for Students and Workers in Hometown Oakland

UC Hasting College of the Law student Allyssa Villanueva is a Bay Area native born and raised in Oakland – where she aims to work in public service after law school and make her mark in ensuring racial equality in education and employment. This summer’s Robert M. Dell Student Advocate in the Racial Equality Program, Allyssa was a natural fit for the Program’s work, given her passion for anti-racist education and ongoing student activism.

Growing up in a small household with her mother and younger sister, Allyssa’s interest in educational justice and community leadership began in high school. She became a community organizer with Youth Together, an Oakland-based non-profit that advocates for equality in education.

After high school, Allyssa deepened her involvement in educational equality at UC San Diego (UCSD) and started working at Student Promoted Access Center for Education and Service (SPACES), the campus’ student-run educational center. During her first year at SPACES, Allyssa taught a seminar on student initiatives to increase access to education. By her junior year, Allyssa became SPACES’ Co-Director of Internal Affairs. That same year, a group of UC San Diego students hosted a “Compton Cookout” party mocking Black History Month. That racist act was followed by a series of anti-Black attacks, nooses left in the library and public areas, and campus-based media commentary. Allyssa participated in the coalition-based response along with UCSD’s Black Student Union. These student efforts resulted in the administration agreeing to 19 student demands including: cultural resource centers; creation of a Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office; and a Black legacy mural. Allyssa also became a leader in the Black Student Union, and served as Chair in her final year at UCSD. As Chair, Allyssa wrote the proposal to implement the Black Resource Center, which now has a budget of $300,000, four staff members, and a range of programs and support services.

Allyssa’s academics at UCSD supported her leadership in student activism – she completed her major in Ethnic Studies with honors and minored in African American studies. Her honors thesis, Police Terror and Anti-Black Genocide in the United States, was chillingly prescient in its investigation of police homicides of Black men. Allyssa was then and is still dissatisfied with the legal response to state violence and terror in the Black community. Her experience researching and writing her thesis led her to deciding to become a lawyer. Returning to Oakland after graduation and before applying to law school, Allyssa taught STEM classes to middle school girls at Girls, Inc. of Alameda County.

In 2013, Allyssa began at Hastings with a concentration in government law. And of course, her leadership in student activism has continued in joining the Black Law Students Association, Hastings-to-Haiti Partnership, and signing the Pro Bono Service Pledge. Outside of law school, she works with the Afrikan Black Coalition, a statewide collective of Black and Afrikan undergraduate students. During her 1L summer, Allyssa was able to apply what she learned from her thesis while working for John L. Burris’ private firm in Oakland handling police misconduct. That summer also exposed Allyssa to employment discrimination cases and she started aggressively pursuing employment courses and internships.

That ambition led her to becoming a Volunteer Wage Claim Counselor with LAS-ELC’s Wage Claim Clinic and now to joining us this summer. Allyssa loves providing direct services to the public and has become steadfast in her resolve that equal treatment in education and employment are civil rights issues, Allyssa has become committed to work seeking justice on behalf of students and workers who are vulnerable to institutional or intentional discrimination.

In her last year at Hastings, Allyssa will be the co-President of the Employment and Labor Law Student Association and the Symposium Editor of the Hastings Race & Poverty Law Journal. The 2015-16 symposium will focus on police reform and accountability, the topic that brought Allyssa to the law.

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