When Alex Peña ’18 was sworn in as National Chair of the National Latina/o Law Student Association (NLLSA), he was already breaking the mold. For years, the national chair position had gone to a third-year law student who could dedicate the time and energy required to lead and communicate with local chapters at more than 140 law schools. Peña was only one month into his second year at Boston College Law School, but jumped at the opportunity to head the organization. “My overarching goal was to connect all the chapters across the country,” Peña said, “and make sure they were aware that they had support from the national organization so we could link them together.”
Connecting thousands of law students around the country was a difficult enough task for a 2L, but the US presidential election five weeks into Peña’s term drastically altered his vision for the organization. “My inbox was flooded after the election with issues that became concerns of our members, literally overnight,” Peña recounted. Rather than building a network of law school affinity groups, Peña was fielding urgent questions about issues that resonated deeply with the NLLSA community.
“The election changed a lot of what I had planned, not from a political standpoint, but from a focus on policies,” Peña said. “Chapters wanted to get involved on issues like immigration, discrimination, profiling, affirmative action, nationalism, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.” As these policies came to the forefront of national discussions and stoked passions at the chapter level, Peña doubled down on his goal to connect the membership, and used the opportunity to unite law school chapters across different regions, and the nation as a whole.
Peña was careful to choose the organization’s moments and priorities, avoiding political minefields and frequently steering the membership toward other national organizations that were better suited for direct engagement with policymakers. Still, he was able to put members’ passion into practice. “We added 12 new chapters across the country and partnered with the Hispanic National Bar Association for the first time,” Peña recalled. He also published a statement on Inauguration Day highlighting policy goals the organization would fight for, and led a group of NLLSA officers to Washington, DC, where they worked with other advocates in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Peña also looked toward the organization’s future, conducting outreach with Latina/o undergraduate students who were considering law school, moving the organization’s annual conference to Atlanta to boost chapter involvement in the south, and securing Alex Ponce de Leon, corporate counsel for Google, as the keynote speaker at the conference.
With his unexpectedly tumultuous term drawing to an end on September 30, Peña is proud he took the chance to lead the organization as a 2L. “I am so grateful to have embarked on this journey with some of the most talented and passionate people I have had the privilege of knowing,” he said. “Serving alongside the national board was not merely a responsibility—it was a pleasure and an honor; they inspired me to be a better law student, leader, and advocate for our communities at large.”