Sotomayor Speaks with Amherst Students
Issue   |   Wed, 09/16/2015 - 01:25

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke to a packed Johnson Chapel on Tuesday, Sept. 8, answering questions and giving advice to a crowd of enthusiastic students.

Sotomayor was in the midst of a trip to Massachusetts to speak at the Springfield Public Forum, an organization that brings public figures to speak in Springfield. Iliana Cruz, an aide to Sotomayor and the sister of Amherst’s Chief Diversity Officer Mariana Cruz, asked Sotomayor to visit the college while she was in the area.

During the hour she spoke in Johnson Chapel, Sotomayor fielded questions from students. Before the question and answer session, President Biddy Martin warned students that Sotomayor would not be able to answer questions about issues facing the Supreme Court or share opinions about her colleagues. Instead, Sotomayor spoke mostly about challenges she has faced in her personal and professional life.

Many students also asked Sotomayor for advice about navigating college life. The justice related her experiences as a first-generation college student and encouraged those facing similar challenges to ask as many questions as possible.

“You feel stupid,” Sotomayor said. “But you are not stupid. You’re ignorant. There is a difference between the two words. Being stupid means you have an intellectual deficit. Being ignorant means you haven’t had an experience yet.”

Sotomayor spoke at length about being a woman in the field of law. In law school, she was accused of succeeding only because of affirmative action.

While she was initially reluctant to leave her position on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, she eventually decided to accept her nomination, becoming the third of four women to serve on the Supreme Court.

“When you have a chance to open the door for others, you don’t have the right to say no,” she said.

One student asked Sotomayor whether she ever felt pressure to represent specific demographics in her judgments.

“I love the process of law,” Sotomayor responded. “I love the Constitution, and I love our system of government. I don’t represent anyone but me.”

Sotomayor responded to students’ questions up to the last minute, and paused to take a photo with each student who asked a question.

While she was on campus, Sotomayor also met with a group of more than 20 students representing several major student organizations. The group met for half an hour in the Multicultural Resource Center, and Sotomayor fielded the students’ questions about her personal life and career.

“It was initially going to be a meet and greet. And then the Justice changed it up on me,” Mariana Cruz said. “That says a lot about her open personality.”

Katarina Cruz ’17, a participant in the discussion, said, “My favorite thing was that she had a genuine interest in everybody who was in that room. She took the time to shake everyone’s hand, and to mention at least one thing that she related to for each person.”

Mariana Cruz said that she hopes Sotomayor will be able to return to Amherst someday.

“I think that Justice Sotomayor reminded all of us in the campus community about the importance of learning from each other and listening to each other’s stories,” Cruz said.