October 22, 2019
Whitney Jenkins knew at 13 years old that her passion in life would be to advocate for those facing injustices, and as a trial and appellate advocacy student at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, she is on the journey to fulfilling her purpose.
"I grew up pretty poor so I didn’t have the best clothes and I was bullied," said Jenkins, a Fresno native. "One day I came home and I was sulking. My sister handed me a book — ‘A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till.’"
At first, Jenkins resisted reading about the horrific 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett, but she eventually grew curious.
"As I turned each page, I was mortified,” the third-year law student said. “From that point, I knew that law was something I wanted to do."
Jenkins recently earned the National Bar Institute Fellowship and Scholarship Award — an honor reserved for just three law students in the country — for her longstanding commitment to pursuing equity and justice through the use of the law, as well as for her academic excellence and leadership at McGeorge.
"Whitney demonstrates leadership in organizing and advocating for the underserved and underrepresented, particularly her work with the elderly, prisoners’ civil rights and women’s reproductive rights,” said Regina Dillard, vice-chair of the National Bar Institute, which helps advance the understanding and practice of law among African-Americans and other minority groups. “She actively works to level the playing field in diversity."
Jenkins said when she opened the email from the National Bar Institute informing her she was chosen for the award, she screamed so loudly that her roommates hurried to make sure she was OK.
For Jenkins, the award is the culmination of the persistence she showed throughout college and her dedication now in law school.
She earned her master’s degree in international affairs from the University of Denver and was a biopsychology and Africana studies double major at Fresno State University, but she continued to feel a pull toward social justice. Jenkins decided to enroll at McGeorge to pursue her aspiration to become a civil rights litigator in the Central Valley.
"I needed to do more to affect the policy and changes that impact the people who live in my neighborhood growing up," she said.
She chose McGeorge because she didn’t want to be “a random face in a sea of students.”
"(At McGeorge) I have been able to forge connections in a way that I don’t think I would have been able to at a larger school,” she said. “It’s almost like having a cheering section of faculty and administration who are helping me to move forward. I can go to them for advice and help, and have them as a resource."
Jenkins, a student in McGeorge’s Prisoner Civil Rights Mediation Clinic, serves in leadership positions for numerous McGeorge student organizations, including vice president of the Student Bar Association. She is the law student chair for the Employment Law and Litigation Committee of the American Bar Association’s Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section and a student member of McGeorge’s nationally-recognized Anthony M. Kennedy Inn of Court.
This summer, Jenkins also was chosen out of more than 50 applicants for the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association’s 2019 Trial Advocacy Fellowship Program.