Profile with Julie Veroff
Julie Veroff (California & St Antony’s 2007) is a second year law student at Yale Law School. Originally from Fresno, California, Julie has worked extensively in social justice – from the non-profit FACE AIDS to the ACLU of Southern California. She holds an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Oxford, and a BA in International Relations from Stanford University.
Rhodes Project: You grew up in Fresno, what was that like?
Julie Veroff: I had parents who were incredibly supportive of my intellectual curiosity. I was also lucky to have wonderful teachers that were not interested in simply moving through the material but in encouraging young people to think independently.
What I have realized since leaving Fresno, and something I didn’t really see when I was there, is that Fresno has some of the most concentrated poverty in the United States. My high school was in one of the poorest parts of the city, but had a strong academic magnet program. Many of the students outside the magnet program failed to graduate high school, yet all of my friends inside the program went on to four-year colleges. Now that I look back on it, I find those dichotomies incredibly frustrating, and I’m upset that so few people spoke openly about these challenges.
Rhodes Project: What was your impression of Oxford?
Julie Veroff: The students in my MPhil Development Studies program were some of the most interesting, creative, and dedicated people that I have ever met. I am so excited to see where they go in the next few years. While there were a lot of things about Oxford that were lovely, relaxing, and energizing, there were also many instances of gender discrimination and subtle or not-so-subtle racism. It was tricky to reconcile those problems – to figure out how to be grateful for the experience of being there and enjoy it for all the wonderful things it has to offer, while also trying to engage productively in some of its systemic failings.
Rhodes Project: Who is your favourite author?
Julie Veroff: My reigning favorite book is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I went through a Steinbeck phase in college. There is something incredible—if a bit arrogant—in his commitment to trying to find something universal to say about the human experience. Maybe I should read it again and see if it speaks to me in the same way. But there is something grand and yet very simple in the way he conceptualizes and describes family and struggle, individual achievement and community identity.
Rhodes Project: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Julie Veroff: I never had one particular career in mind. I had some vague notion that I might be a doctor, so I volunteered in an Emergency Room in high school and did a medical internship. They were great experiences, but I started to realize that when I was in a room with a patient, I wasn’t fascinated by the question, “How should we treat this patient?” but rather, “Why is the patient here in the first place?” I was also involved in debate, mock trial, and Model UN—the classic stamps of a high school nerd—and asking questions about what makes the world tick, and the work of identifying systemic problems really got me thinking. Now that I’m in law school, I realize that many of the things I always loved – reading, writing, argumentation, and creativity – are innately bound up in the legal profession.
Rhodes Project: Tell me about law school – what drove the decision to apply to law school?
Julie Veroff: After leaving Oxford, I was the Executive Director of a non-profit called FACE AIDS. Our aim was to catalyze and mobilize the next generation of leaders in HIV/AIDS and global health activism. It was an incredible period filled with fundraising, staff management, strategy, and board development, and after three years, I was hungry to directly do the type of systemic change work we were training our student members to do in their careers. I felt law school could give me a skill set—whether specifically practicing law, or using the education to inform policy work—that would be very useful in that regard.
Yale has been great. The laws of the state of Connecticut allow us to jump into clinical work during our first year, which is not possible for law students in other states. My second semester, I worked in a clinic called the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project with attorneys on affirmative litigation, meaning proactively bringing cases against bad actors. It is sort of a dream for someone who loves social justice – right away you get to sue bad guys! We worked on issues related to reproductive justice, same sex marriage, and consumer protection. It was great because there was a lot of technical learning involved, but also a lot of litigation strategy. I am now working at the ACLU of Southern California on their reproductive justice, gender equity, and LGBT rights team.
Rhodes Project: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? It doesn’t sound like you are very interested in corporate law.
Julie Veroff: I believe we have some deep-seated challenges facing the world, and I am a little more concerned with the denial of fundamental human rights and access to education and health care than with securities. I plan to practice law for at least a few years, and then consider what comes next. I think it is very important that if you are going to engage in policy, that you have spent some time in the trenches with the communities you are aiming to serve.
Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to devote to any one issue—global or local—what would it be, and how would you allocate your resources?
Julie Veroff: Access to basic healthcare is fundamentally intertwined with one’s dignity. There is something just so horrific about watching your child die because they lacked access to vitamins, or from an easily treatable respiratory infection. It is an affront to basic humanity. There are challenges and seemingly intractable problems in health care, but there are also some easy wins. Roads, for example, are one of them. One of the biggest challenges health care providers around the world face is getting people to clinics and hospitals. Some of that is lack of ambulances, but a lot of that is access to roads. I’ll never forget the experience of hearing from doctors at Partners In Health’s flagship hospital in rural Rwanda about the transformative impact of their ambulance system and the real transportation barriers that remained because of challenging terrain.
Rhodes Project: Is there a meal you’ve had recently that stands out?
Julie Veroff: I love to eat. All my favorite restaurants in San Francisco are tiny Asian restaurants where you can get great vegan or vegetarian food.
Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?
Julie Veroff: I love being outside. I was the least athletic kid you could imagine in high school. But my partner – a varsity soccer player, an ultra-runner, and a long-time camper from Colorado—got me into the outdoors. I love to hike, and I’m using this summer to learn how to swim instead of flail. I also belong to a rock climbing gym, which was an amazing way to conquer my fear of heights.
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