By Ruth Steinhardt
Jordan Michel is now in his third year at GW Law – President of the Student Bar Association (SBA), with a year of Air Force training and judicial training under his belt and serving in the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps coming this year. He has received several donor-funded scholarships, including the Janet Altman Spurges Scholarship and the Janet Michael Scholarship.
And his path to George Washington University was simple at all. Michele grew up in rural Jamaica, where he watched his grandmother sell the fruit they had grown in their yard while his grandfather worked at the local sugar cane factory. An animal lover, he dreamed of being a vet. A few years after he immigrated to the United States to join his mother, who at the time was working as a husband at university, he graduated from high school at just 16 years old. Apply for and be awarded a full scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. degree at Seton Hall University. program, where he planned to study veterinary science and political science.
“My dream was to be a double doctor when I was 25,” he said.
It was then, when filling out the paperwork for the financial aid that would make his continuing education possible, that the ambitious and dedicated 16-year-old learned the meaning of another word with a devastating personal request: “undocumented.”
It was shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and although Michelle’s mother had previously been on the path to naturalization after earning an associate’s degree, this law was one of many that changed in a wave of tough anti-immigration legislation. Michele now tells the story with a laugh (“I was like, Mom, I need my socialite [security number] And my passport! And she was like, “…of””), but the blow was smashing.
“My world has been turned upside down,” he said.
Suddenly, Michelle’s educational future and even his backup plan – to join the armed forces along with many of his friends – withdrew. His father was a veteran, but undocumented immigrants were unable to enlist.
Still a teenager, and unexpectedly finding himself in a legal and emotional predicament, Michele stepped forward. He founded a university that accepted students without immigration papers, and tried to study full time while also working multiple jobs in catering and club promotion to fund his education. Employers took advantage of his immigration status, paying him less under the table than his co-workers. He was not yet twenty years old; The speed simply wasn’t sustainable. In the end, he had to drop out of school.
In his early twenties, Michele started his own business promoting the club – without a Social Security number, he found to be almost the only way to ensure he was paid a fair wage – and received his green card after marrying an American woman. But they were young, and the relationship fell apart four years later. Michelle, who has always held himself at a phenomenally high level, now feels he has failed. He was in his mid-twenties, and the two Ph.D.s he had expected himself to earn by that age were still looming.
“I’ve put that up against myself for a long time,” he said.
But Michel was still determined to go back to school. His time in the service industry made him interested in sociology: how and why people formed groups, the way economic and cultural privilege taught them, how these groups overlap or repel each other and the way a single song is played—in the clubs of New York City in the mid-2000s The current century, he said, might have been by an eyebrow — it could make those boundaries fade. After years of trying to navigate the maze of immigration law, Michel knew better than most about the way legal systems can affect social status.
In 2017, he enrolled at Hunter College and threw himself into sociology, equity studies, and anthropology, building on his previous education credits to earn a bachelor’s degree within a year. “Through this process, I actually found the law,” he said. “Looking at all these social issues, he always came back to the law. The law can create a problem or codify a problem, or it can solve the problem.”
Michel was particularly shocked by the 1923 case of Baghat Singh Thind, a Sikh man the Supreme Court had ruled racially ineligible for citizenship as a “free white person”—despite being a “member of the Caucasian race”, as the court had recently defined whiteness— This is partly because Thind’s “physical group characteristics” made him “easily distinguishable from the various groups of people in this country who are generally recognized as white”.
The case, Michel said, “was essentially defined as an exclusionary instrument.” “I thought, ‘I should go study law,’ because if we can score these things in the courts — literally identifying and enforcing inequality — that’s no good. I should do more than just sit here and write about it, because politicians and judges don’t read social studies.” Academy”.
This was no surprise to his family. “They said they always knew I was going to be a lawyer,” he said. ‘I was like ‘No, I was going to be a vet!’ “
Michel’s interest in broad legislative issues led him to GW Act—and this time, the obligations he took on along with his studies are voluntary, not economically necessary. Not only does he lead the SBA and previously served as Chief Recruitment for the Black Law Students Association, but he also serves as a civil and human rights student attorney at Jacob Burns Community Law Clinics and has spent the past year training with the Air Force.
“Like many others, I applied to law school with a dream and a desire to make change, but without a clue how I could afford it. [Donor funding] It goes a long way in making law school possible for me,” he said.
While immigration law has been a large part of Michelle’s life, he sees human rights as his calling – and the military as a powerful means to either enforce or violate these rights, depending on whether the right people are in the room.
“I want to serve humanity,” he said, “and I can see how strange it might sound to join the military to help people.” “But people think the same thing about law: It is an area that can do a lot of harm, but has the potential to do a lot of good. I think being in the military and being on this side of it would teach me some of the realities of humanitarian law in a way that would allow me to apply that knowledge to make a difference. Real change.”
The twisting path he took here, says Michel, is just as important as where he got there. “When I came to law school, through the challenge I ran to get here, I was 100 percent sure that’s what I wanted.”
Open Doors: Centuries Initiative Scholarships and Fellowships It lays the foundation for the university’s third century by charting a course of study to increase access to the transformative power of a GW degree. learn more On how GW is expanding opportunities for the next generation of leaders.