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Social Justice on Her Mind

Heather Odell ’23 makes good happen.

Photograph by Adam DeTour
Student Snapshot
Provenance: Auburn, WA. Pepperdine University, BA in International Affairs and Spanish. Favorite Movie: I always loved Amélie. I’m also a sucker for The Princess BrideFavorite Season: Summer. I’m a big warm weather fan and I love the long summer nights that I grew up with in Washington. Favorite School Subject: Writing. Guilty Pleasures:Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (and all other forms of spicy chips). Most Admired Historical Figure: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She stood out to me as I began my law school journey. Inspiration: My mom. A lifelong educator and single mom of four, she instilled the importance of education in me from a young age. Latest Achievement: Graduated as valedictorian with dual-degree: BC Law JD and Tufts University Fletcher School Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy

I went through a lot of stages growing up. I wanted to be a veterinarian, a Broadway producer, an astronaut, a doctor. Being a lawyer was something I never imagined. My time at Pepperdine was marked by two formative experiences. One was enrolling in the Social Action and Justice Colloquium with Professor Jeff Banks, who marked my life as he challenged us to question ourselves and to think critically about our role in social justice movements. Another experience was studying in Buenos Aires during my sophomore year. The chance to deepen my Spanish skills has opened up a world of opportunities. 

Before coming to BC Law, I worked in refugee resettlement in my home state of Washington, and later in the nonprofit sector on counter-human trafficking issues in the Dominican Republic. I had the chance to learn from partner NGOs, academics, and government leaders across Latin America and the Caribbean. I realized that a legal career would equip me with tools to support meaningful change for individuals and shape more equitable systems through better laws and policies. 

BC stood out to me because I sensed early on that there was serious support for students interested in pursuing public interest law, as well as robust opportunities in immigration law and international human rights law. I was encouraged early-on by professors like Katie Young and Daniela Urosa to explore opportunities with international courts. Professor Dan Kanstroom and Patricia Gould were big supporters of my work at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in Costa Rica, where I externed during the spring of 2023. 

I absolutely loved my time with the IACtHR. The cases I worked on involved a range of issues, like the right to health, the right to a clean environment, and cultural and land rights for indigenous communities. I even got to support several hearings at the court’s 157th Ordinary Period of Sessions in Santiago de Chile, getting a behind-the-scenes view of how the court functions outside of its San José headquarters. 

I’m excited to be joining Catholic Charities Legal Services in Miami for the next two years as an Equal Justice Works Fellow.