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The Lawful Advocate

News Story

As an ambassador for students with disabilities, Daniella Harris ’21 helps to promote a more inclusive campus through her work with Hillel. She even wrote an incredibly moving article opening up about her experience with hearing loss.

Content warning: brief mention of domestic violence and child abuse in the context of law.

Daniella Harris ’21 has made it her life’s work to advocate for others. She’s considered becoming everything from a doctor to a veterinarian to even a singer—all ambitious jobs that serve others in some way. Her plans really solidified, though, when she neared the end of her high school career.

“I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer from the moment I started the college application process,” Harris explained. “When Pace offered me an opportunity to complete my bachelor’s degree and my juris doctorate in six years instead of seven, I jumped at the opportunity—and here I am.” Harris is talking about Pace’s Criminal Justice BS/Juris Doctorate JD combined degree program, an opportunity to immerse oneself in criminal justice while applying that expertise to law.

What inspired her to pursue law in the first place? “My father, who is my hero and role model, had dreams to be a lawyer. He never graduated high school, [so he] went back years later to get his GED, and then obtained his college degree.” Due to health reasons, his plan of continuing on to law school didn’t pan out. He encouraged Harris to look into researching whether the field was right for her, and the rest is history. “Being a lawyer would give me the opportunity to stand up for others and let their voice be heard,” she said. A noble pursuit indeed.

Harris found plenty of opportunities to get exposed to what working as a lawyer might entail. In particular, Lecturer Maryellen Martirano’s class, “System Response to Domestic Violence and Child Abuse,” was like stepping into an episode of Law and Order: SVU. “Professor Martirano was a special victims prosecutor for almost 20 years, and she incorporated her [...] experience into the class.”

Through audio and digital recordings, actual crime scene photos, and guest visits from experts in the field, Harris was inspired to consider becoming a special victims unit prosecutor herself someday. “I am still unsure of the type of law that I want to pursue,” Harris admitted. “However, because of this class, I am planning to intern at the Domestic Violence unit at the Westchester County’s District Attorney’s office.”

She recently started interning for the Hillels of Westchester, which is part of the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. There, Harris has been working with the Ruderman Inclusion Program helping to promote disability inclusion on the PLV Campus. “I like to think of Pace as a melting pot of different people and cultures, and so it is important that we include everyone,” she said.

This is a subject that’s very close to home for Harris, who recently wrote an incredibly moving feature published in The Forward about her experience as a woman with hearing loss. “I think it is extremely important to recognize that everyone, whether they have a disability or not, is a human person.”

When she approaches students and faculty members as a Ruderman Ambassador, Harris said she asks if they know anyone who has a disability. The common response? They do. “It is essential to [realize] that 20% of the population has a disability, and this statistic doesn’t [just] include people with a physical or visible disability. In other words: more people than you think can have a disability.”

If there’s one thing Harris would like more people to understand, it’s this: “A disability is not a disability, but rather an ability because it gives you the opportunity to prove people wrong.”

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