An Aspiring Lawyer on Philosophy, Internships and Debate

Go looking for Kendra Dawson ’19, and you will probably find her doing something that makes an impact.

You might find her building community with LMU’s First-to-Go and Guardian Scholars programs, which she joined as a first-year and now supports. Or, you might find her facilitating a panel discussion on the prison industrial complex, in her leadership role with LMU’s National Black Law Students Association chapter.

Or you might find this aspiring lawyer on the road, honing her persuasion skills as a member of LMU’s Debate Team. She has traveled with the team to debate tournaments across California, and much farther, to compete with other schools.

This winter break, Dawson and the LMU team joined 400 universities from around the world to compete at the World Universities Debating Championships, held in Amsterdam. “It was eye-opening to learn how people from other countries think of the U.S.,” she said. “I think I broke down some stereotypes about what Americans believe.”

A communications studies and philosophy double major, Dawson sees debate as a natural extension of what she is learning in class, and a great way to practice the skills she plans to use in public interest law.

“Philosophy and communication studies both help in debate,” she said. “Communication facilitates a framework for healthy debate, and philosophy trains you to use logic when putting together an argument.”

“Philosophy has taught me to question everything,” she added. “I always look for the deeper story and never believe what people say until I see the facts.”

Though she still has more than two years before she graduates, Dawson has already found ways to get pre-professional experience in public interest law. Last summer, she interned at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Ala., a civil rights legal organization with offices across the American South. Working alongside law school students and shadowing staff, she supported the organization’s work to reform the criminal justice system and end the mass incarceration of people of color. She also supported education programs at the Center’s Civil Rights Memorial.

“The best part of the internship was networking,” said Dawson. At SPLC’s intern weekend, Dawson met fellow undergraduate and law school interns from area offices across the South, connecting her with a national network of peers. She plans on seeking out another legal internship this summer, to learn about legal work on other public interest issues, like civil liberties or children’s rights.

As a future lawyer with a passion for social change, Dawson knows that communication and philosophy are the right fields for her. “In philosophy, not only are you forming arguments, you’re questioning everything around you,” she said. “There are so many things that could be different if people thought differently.”