Throughout the semester we worked to prepare her case for a hearing before an administrative law judge. I compiled medical records, worked with her doctors, and got an affidavit from her daughter. We pulled together all the facts we needed to prove that she is disabled, and then I wrote a brief for the hearing and submitted it.
Based on the evidence and the brief, the administrative law judge rightly found that she is disabled without her having to go through the scheduled video-conferenced administrative hearing. Fortunately, at long last, she was able to get the benefits that she deserved and desperately needed. This win was rooted in understanding the law and how to reference the regulations and explain why she so clearly met the standards. Additionally, she was applying for SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, which is specifically intended for people without resources. She would not have been able to afford to hire a lawyer and, given that over 70 percent of unrepresented applicants are denied, she may not have won her case without our help. Having access to Harvard-supported programs like the clinical programs is critical for so many people.
And the program is beneficial for law students. There are some practical skills you are not going to get in a traditional Law School class. And so, if students want to develop those skills before they graduate, as opposed to during their first job, I don’t see any reason not to do so while helping people and contributing to closing the unmet need for legal assistance. I would so much rather be working with and helping someone from a marginalized community or someone who can’t afford legal services than working on mock cases. So really, it’s a win-win. Everyone benefits. It was really important to me to give back to this community that I’ve called home for the past three years. I’m incredibly proud of this work — and proud to be part of a program that means so much to so many.
My interest in urban planning started from a course that I took at Boston University where we worked on historic preservation around buildings in and near Franklin Park in Boston. That started my passion for looking at the built environment and thinking about the cities we live in — how we can change and shape the future of our cities, eventually even the culture of our cities. My interest in the field led me to the Harvard Graduate School of Design and various opportunities, including the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies Community Service Fellowship program.
The Community Service Fellowship supports students obtaining internships or other volunteer opportunities with organizations whose work focuses on housing, the built environment, and/or community development. Through the fellowship program, last summer I worked at the Asian Community Development Corp. in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood. The Asian CDC works in underserved and immigrant Asian American communities in Greater Boston and has a mission to build affordable homes, empower families with asset-building tools, and strengthen communities through resident and youth leadership.
As part of the organization, my work touched on two different projects: the “We Love Boston Chinatown” initiative, which helps local eateries attract customers during the pandemic and formulate a better understanding of food security for local residents.
At a time when the restaurant industry was hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinatown Main Street, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, and Asian CDC came together to give a boost to local businesses. An important lesson I learned at GSD is that every neighborhood is different and as planners we first must understand the context for community needs. While outdoor dining has really taken off in some parts of Boston, in Chinatown that hasn’t been the case for the simple reason that parking is so scarce. A lot of people want to drive to Chinatown and naturally local businesses have been cautious in striking the right balance so as to not exacerbate the problem. That’s something that we did not know when we began the work. The first thing we did is we surveyed business owners and local residents to understand their needs and limitations. We listened in to various meetings, learned what organizations were already doing, and then determined how we could supplement. Eventually we came up with the “We Love Boston Chinatown” campaign, aimed at attracting patrons to the neighborhood eateries.
While at the Asian CDC, I also worked on the Food Access Project, a collaboration with the Harvard Kennedy School. I interviewed families about food security issues — asked whether they had enough money for food and whether they had enough to eat. I was the only person on the team who could speak both Mandarin and Cantonese, and while the sample was small, I was struck by their stories. That was the first time I got to connect with individuals in the community and really learn about what is going on the ground. It was an eye-opening experience, and one I will undoubtedly take with me.
It is incredibly important for students and institutions like Harvard to be involved in local, on-the-ground programs that address pressing issues. Nonprofit organizations like the Asian CDC aren’t well-resourced, so having Harvard students is useful because nonprofit organizations can use the manpower and brainpower to try to bring programs online. On the other hand, students can really learn from the community organizations and look at how you can really make a difference in a place where you don’t have a lot of resources. That’s incredibly valuable for students, and I hope for the organizations we serve.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.