BY: 2L Sneha Jayaraj, interviewed by Chrissy Holman | DATE: Sep 02, 2021

2L Sneha Jayaraj (they/she), one of the organizers of CUNY Law’s OUTLaws, reflects on their experience in starting law school during the pandemic, building community, the OUTLaws, and queerness as an identity.

smilE AT CAMERAHow did your and your family’s experiences with the law shape your perception of the law and, more broadly, your sense of justice, before you began considering law school as a path of empowerment? 

My family had a horrible experience with the law starting from when I was young! The detrimental impact of the legal system was accompanied by financial instability for my family, which overall left a bad taste regarding law for my family.

As an immigrant family coming into America with financial instability, we faced mental instability in the form of feelings of failure and dehumanization — direct products of America’s legal system.

Around me, lawyers were seen as a waste of money who don’t actually care for who they are representing. My dad had always said there’s too many laws in this country, and most of them are unnecessary. Overall, I agree with that statement.

Most of the laws in place are racist, homophobic, ableist, sexist, etc. and target certain folks to maintain a steady system of oppression. My sense of law before learning and studying American history was already violent because, in current day society, it’s still very violent for most of the marginalized in America.

Growing up, many families preach forgiveness and patience through their cultural traditions, and I realized forgiveness and patience are not the values of our legal system, but rather vengeance and reactionary policies.

On the positive side, growing up, there were many senses of justice from other marginalized communities in the area. There were aunties who would support, community members who created resources for folks without wanting anything in return, and overall, people worked together to live peacefully!

That’s when I really saw how people with less societal power or less money were the most patient and giving people! On the other hand, I felt many experiences of power and money relationships created an environment of transactional relations.

Even though I’m in law school, the change comes from the people, as in the same communities that were supportive when people were getting harmed by the American legal system. I still don’t think it comes from law or lawyers because, most of the time, the law is what is inflicting pain to the marginalized. While law school is an aspect of where I am, I’ll always be a community member before anything. If the community wants to abolish modern day law school, I’m down for that too and would be happy to not have future generations get taught these laws we learn in law school created by racist White men.

During our chat, you’d mentioned you were a double major in Psychology and Economics in undergrad, and that you wanted to become a clinical psychologist to help traumatized people in Afghanistan. You went on to pursue your Master’s in Public Policy. How did studying psychology, economics, and then policy bring you closer to wanting to practice law?

I’ve been wanting to go and live in Afghanistan since I was in middle school. The country is a beautiful land with important history, and even more compassionate people residing in it. The trauma that’s been historically imposed on them by Western forces, including Russia and the U.S., has been frightening to see, with the detrimental impact of American imperialism rolling in front of our screens today.

It was so easy for my family to question why America was getting involved in Afghanistan in the late 90s and early 2000s. I realized it was so very difficult for the American ego to grasp that it is not the world’s superhero nor is this country the center of the universe. Starting young, it was easy to tell that most Americans who haven’t traveled anywhere other than White majority places, knew absolutely nothing about Black, Brown, and indigenous cultures.

Growing up, there were an abundance of examples of the West having a superiority complex of going into countries (Black and Brown spaces in America as well) and enforcing its laws, ideology, and opinions onto folks through the use of violence and punishment, under the guise of “law and order.”

In my own public school setting, I would see the non-White children not being proud of their ancestors and assimilating to Whiteness. With assimilation comes a shame for who they are and, in turn, a hit on their self-identity and peace of mind, same with not accepting one’s queerness. On the other hand, my parents would constantly remind my sister and I that we’re not American and White people might pretend to like us, but they don’t actually. I was recognizing that the route my parents chose to navigate America’s racism was taking a mental toll on them, and that’s how they coped.

Mental health became a huge subject that I wanted to pursue after seeing the illness of White inferiority hurting and inflicting damage to the folks of color around me. I chose psychology as my first undergrad major, in order to become a psychologist for Afghans and, in general, South Asians. More than anything at that moment, I wanted working class/poor non-White people to have peace of mind, although, now, my sense of liberation is for everyone to achieve peace because Whiteness does harm everyone, including White people.

Through the second major of economics, I learned of resources being distributed sustainably towards the dominant culture, and unsustainably towards people of color, queers, those with disabilities, and the intersections that lie on the spectrum of those. The greed incorporated and promoted by our economic system is further sustained by the increasing inequity we have in America and around the world.

I did my Master’s in Public Policy to study how our lives are controlled by policy and laws, which creates the culture we live in. All this brought me closer to how degrees gatekeep the power to make societal decisions. A law degree gatekeeps many… and the hope is to dismantle this gatekeeping!

Why CUNY Law specifically? 

THE CHEAPEST LAW SCHOOL IN AMERICA AND RANKED NUMBER ONE IN PUBLIC INTEREST LAW!! That matched up!!! I’m still pushing for education, including grad programs, to be free though!

Through the economic lens, the return on investment for education is very high for society, and, when everyone is educated, society does better. For this reason, society should make it easier to receive an education by eliminating barriers, which include the monetary barrier. The budget to do this is here for New York when we look at how much money the State gives NYPD annually.

I also saw that CUNY Law had the highest percentage of non-binary folks through its demographic infographic that CUNY Law shared when I was starting in 2020. This was great to see because, for the most part, I think non-binary folks understand that the identities in this world are societally made up, since we recognize that binary gender norms are completely imaginary and so are the laws we are supposed to abide by.

Also, I want to give a shoutout to my inspirational Contracts professor, Chaumtoli Huq, because she came to Connecticut for a conference two years prior to my 1L and talked about CUNY Law. I was SOLD on CUNY Law, by seeing a Desi law school professor and organizer speaking on the intersections of Black Lives Matter and activism.

Related to question #3: You mentioned that seeing that CUNY’s nonbinary student population numbers were so high was an important data point for you in choosing a law school. Can you briefly explain to admissions officers at law schools nationwide why having these numbers accessible is vital to prospective students?

These numbers are vital to prospective students, so that queer students feel more safe being themselves. As a queer student of color, I found the queer population and the folks of color population both to be equally important. The non-binary population made me feel more comfortable being me, just as how I view the people of color population making me feel safe.

I don’t want to be the only person in the room who understands how gender is a spectrum because these identities are connected to other identities in America that get marginalized. It’s important to me and many other queer folks to have the community that understands this, in order to get through law school together. Once I got to CUNY Law, I met many people who I could have conversations with regarding gender and its role on law.


How did you begin building community during your first year at CUNY Law during a pandemic?

The 1L CUNY Law community, although there have been many heated Whatsapp discussions online this year, is, for the most part, a service-oriented, compassionate group. I was a little worried at first because I’m a very Type B person, and I’ve been realizing that lots of people in law school are Type A. But, it was easy making friends via zoom because many people share similar passions, including dismantling this colonial system.

One thing about CUNY Law online is that it sucks, and we were spending time every day through a virtual box with these people. This could be called trauma-bonding. But naturally, we bond while working together with our peers, and by sharing outlines and stories. I would go to the library with friends and can most definitely call people of CUNY Law a family! I have gone to Mexico, hiking spots, clubs, and many food spots with some CUNY friends. I genuinely do love all of them, and they’ve been some of the most kind and sweet people I’ve ever met in my life overall, so I am very grateful for them!

Cancel Rent Advocacy before Law School starts, featuring a poster on my car window in front of a representative in Hartford’s house

Tell us a little about the group you helped organize at CUNY Law called the OUTLaws — what is your mission, how did you get involved, how can others get involved, and what are you working on this year?

Our mission for OUTLaws is to have a student organization group at CUNY for folks who identify as LGBTQ+. This year, OUTLaws will be working on the following: HIV/AIDS advocacy, trans and non-binary advocacy, including name changing ID, intersex DSD legal advocacy, and socials. Overall, we will make sure the queers at CUNY Law feel they can be their best selves in the environment that we are in!


On a personal note, let’s talk about queerness. What does being queer mean to you, when did you first discover that you might be part of the queer community, and did you have a support network while navigating these big questions? Was/is your family supportive? 

To me, queerness isn’t about who I am attracted to, while it’s an aspect. To me, queerness is about being able to feel fully comfortable in one’s sexuality, spirituality, and body. I first noticed I was part of the “queer community” when I started romantically being interested in my best friend in high school. I noticed that many people in my grade were attracted to the same/multiple gender(s), but, due to societal influences and imaginary moral shaming rules, they didn’t feel comfortable saying it out loud. And, due to this hiding of sexuality, people would become depressed and anxious very easily because we are hiding a huge part of ourselves when we don’t express ourselves in the fullest manner.

Just like when folks of color conform to Whiteness standards, their sense of self deteriorates. In a similar manner, when people conform to believing that love is limited to gender norms, their sense of love and self deteriorate as well. Many people lose their sense of self pretending to be people who they are not, to appease society, family, etc.

I heavily advocate for people to learn about their ancestors’ queer history. Not just their grandparents, but to also dig deep into their ancestors from 5,000+ years ago — as humans have been inspirationally queer and of color for thousands of years now, and sometimes history and legal history are intentionally hidden to strip away folks’ sense of self.


You’d surfaced a few times this idea of symmetry between the law being perceived as binary and gender being perceived as binary. How do you think those are related, and why do you think people are compelled to think so flatly about identity spectra? How does this binary stand in opposition to transformative justice, and how does it relate to abolition?

I believe that when we think of the world in binary “good versus bad,” we also believe inherently that we can easily categorize people as “good people” and “bad people.” When we mentally categorize people so easily, we can then put people into prisons for being “bad people.” We can hold grudges easily, we cannot forgive easily, and we can be stuck in the same system forever easily. I think when we believe people have the ability to change, we also believe systems can change. I believe optimism and hope are the biggest superpowers anyone can have, and they’re also very queer things to have!

Gender being a spectrum is connected to the law and society also acting in a spectrum. The way we perform law is by a judge, with the bang of their gavel, deciding whether a person is innocent or guilty. With this, a judge has the full opportunity to ruin a person’s life and, thereby, ruin the community the person lives with as well. They then go into prison and get dehumanized, while people from outside judge them on their actions, while knowing nothing about the person. Several studies show that putting people into private prisons increases recidivism by 20%.

Most people who oppose abolition bring up people who murder and how they should go to prison. With a binary lens, it’s easy to lock up every person we are not a fan of in prison — leading to America having the highest incarceration rate in the world. With a queer, indigenous spectrum lens, we can understand that nothing is binary or Black and White, and everything is on the spectrum of colors or grayscale. This country has a violently racist history with policies in play, where prisons will profit by labeling more people as “criminals.”

When the world is seen in a spectrum, we can dissect the story and sociological reasons behind why a person would murder. We can look at the policies that influenced a person to murder. We can dissect how this country’s colonizers have been anti-Black for hundreds of years, so now the culture/legal system sustains off of that mindset. We can look at the environment that created a person to be in that state of mind of violence.

We can look at the root and take preventative measures. When we put people in prisons, we aren’t preventing, but rather acting from initial instincts of anger and vengefulness. The easy but societally useless way is to say that a person is going to hell for murder and put them in prison and, in other states, given the death penalty. The difficult but societally useful way is forgiving and compassionately looking at what drove a person to the degree of murder — culturally, what is happening for society to have allowed for this?

I see queerness as always re-imagining for a better world. And, I think everyone deserves a first, second, third, and an infinite amount of chances to keep being a human with community because we’ve all messed up an abundance of times before as well. I think society agrees that no one is perfect, so the idea of people making mistakes should be understandable. The spectrum lens allows for people to see that growth is beautiful and even more gorgeous when a community is supporting someone along the way of the inevitable mistakes that occur.


What advice do you have for queer law students or future queer law students applying to and beginning law school this year?

BE YOURSELF!! BRING YOUR QUEERNESS IN EVERYTHING!!! WE NEED MORE QUEER LAWYERS!!! SPREAD THE QUEER AGENDA . Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people at CUNY Law will share everything and anything with anyone. We’re all here to graduate together and see each other succeed in this world. Law was created by ordinary men just a few hundred years ago, and we have the ability to keep changing those laws. We’re always better collectively.


How can people stay in touch with you? 

Follow and connect with Sneha!

Instagram: snehaaajay

Facebook: Sneha Jayaraj

Twitter: SnehaaJ

Email: |

OUTLaw’s Instagram