Students’ rights and economic justice: U-M law student wins fellowship for new Americans

April 17, 2024
Rana Thabata
Rana Thabata. Image credit: Dustin Johnston

University of Michigan law student Rana Thabata has been awarded a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, a program that provides financial support to immigrants and children of immigrants.

A first-generation Palestinian American from New Orleans, Thabata is the ninth U-M student to receive the fellowship that provides up to $90,000 in financial support for graduate school in the United States.

“This fellowship is a testament to the amazing and important contributions of new Americans,” Thabata said. “It means a lot to share a community with people who came to this country to make it a better place and who don’t take the sacrifices of their parents, or sacrifices they might have taken themselves, lightly. My future law degree is a culmination of my parents’ hard work to raise my siblings and me in a country foreign to them.”

Thabata graduated from Loyola University New Orleans with political science and economics degrees. She then pursued a master’s in education policy at University College London’s Institute of Education through a Fulbright U.S.-U.K. Award.

“For my master’s, I studied the harmful impacts on minority children from the color-blind ideology that flourished post-Brown in the way that teachers taught students of color,” she said. “I am excited to continue this research in such a welcoming and challenging environment as Michigan.”

After grad school, she worked as a legal assistant for two years. With interests in race, education, segregation and urban policy, Thabata chose Michigan Law because of its commitment to public-interest students and its broad clinical offerings.

“Also because of its economic justice classes, considering my unique perspective as both a victim of predatory lending and as a legal assistant working on economic exploitation cases,” she said.

At Michigan Law, Thabata brings her experiences from New Orleans’ problematic school system into her work on education and economic equity. Last fall, she was selected to participate in the Michigan Access Program, a social justice training program in which students receive training on Michigan’s Clean Slate expungement law and volunteer at local expungement clinics in Ann Arbor.

She is also a part of MAdvocates, a civil justice student organization on campus and is one of six first-year law students participating in the Advocacy Immigration Clinic.

“I have also joined the Students Rights Project, one of the many pro bono projects offered at Michigan,” Thabata said. “In this project, I can represent students and their families in expulsion hearings to ensure the local school board does not violate their rights.”

Melissa Vert, director of U-M’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, says Thabata impressed her office with her talent, ingenuity and tenacity.

“To suggest that she deserves this honor is quite the understatement,” Vert said. I believe it is a privilege for U-M to host Rana as a student at our institution. Her aspirations to ensure communities across the country have a more equitable legal avenue to fight discrimination in education are admirable in their aims, but her capacity to achieve these goals makes them all the more impressive.”

Education equity, it all started in high school

When Thabata was leaving for her first day of high school, her mother stated: “Education is your armor against the world.”

“Her words have become my life motto and mantra for serving others. Since then, I have advocated for first-generation students who lacked the parental support that I had,” said Thabata, who co-founded a mentorship program for juniors and seniors to guide them through college application and scholarship processes.

The high school program was just the first step toward a professional journey focusing on education equity.

“I want to fight injustice to ensure all students learn and thrive in school,” Thabata said. “In the long term, I plan to represent marginalized people facing discrimination and work on desegregation efforts in public schools. I hope someday that all students can use their education, not as armor but as tools to create a more fair and just country.”