31 Aug 2022
2022 POC Law School Scholarship
Women. Immigrants. First generation college students. Yelitza Montesino and Dania Polanco, both summa cum laude graduates of Providence College, are the recipients of 2022 Papitto Opportunity Connection Law School Scholarships. The scholarships are offered annually to persons of color from Rhode Island who have been accepted into an accredited law school. These scholarships, administered by the Rhode Island Bar Foundation, provide $25,000 annually and are renewable for an additional two years.
Both Yelitza and Dania are about to embark on their first year of law school. Yelitza is entering Boston University, while Dania is attending the City University of New York.
This scholarship has heightened my preparedness to succeed in law school
“The Papitto Opportunity Connection has gifted me the opportunity to focus solely on my academic and career goals without the financial burden that comes along with higher education. This scholarship has heightened my preparedness to succeed in law school as I enter with an endless amount of support from both inside and outside of my family,” said Yelitza.
Dania echoed Yelitza’s thoughts.
“The Papitto Opportunity Connection Law School Scholarship impacts me in ways beyond relieving financial burden. It serves as a reminder that the deep commitment and dedication to my academic and professional work will always be worth it and recognized in various ways,” said Dania. “This opportunity also opens doors, not just for myself but for those who came before me and will come after me.”
Both Yelitza and Dania are daughters of immigrants from the Dominican Republic who encouraged their children to go as far as possible with their education.
“My parents instilled the importance of higher education because they didn’t have the opportunity (to go to college),” said Yelitza.
In addition to working multiple jobs to fund her college education, Yelitza volunteered at Dorcas International in its Victim’s Rights Project. She helped victims of domestic violence and other crimes whose immigration status left them vulnerable or even captive in abusive relationships.
Witnessing injustices and a lack of representation for people of color sparked her desire to attend law school and become a voice for underserved communities.
“As a person of color and first-generation college student, I faced many educational barriers,” Yelitza said. “In addition to financial burdens, I faced some difficulties in figuring out where and how to even begin the college and law school application processes. The challenge did not end there as my next step was to navigate a predominantly white undergraduate institution on my own. There is, unfortunately, little direction or assistance given to BIPOC students and first-generation college students in the realm of financial aid, academic opportunities, and access to resources. Instead, we must seek out support where we can find resources that will help aid our journey.”
Dania arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was just 6 years old. One of three daughters raised by a single mom, Dania graduated No. 3 in her class at Alvarez High School and received the Martin Luther King (MLK) Scholarship at Providence College. Dania’s tuition and fees were covered by the prestigious academic honor, but Dania still worked multiple jobs to help support her family. While pursuing a triple major, she also interned and volunteered at numerous local non-profit organizations including Dorcas International and Sojourner House, where she has assisted in the advancement of immigrant, low income, and minority communities. She has worked with marginalized and underrepresented communities and witnessed first-hand the struggles and lack of access low-income people of color face.
“It is my motivation for going to law school,” said Dania, who will study immigration law and plans to do policy work. “I have witnessed an oppressive system that doesn’t allow opportunity for growth. It’s a motivating factor for me. I don’t just want to practice law. It’s not enough. I hope to practice immigration law, engage in public policy work and, at some point in my career, work in academia. My goal will always be to serve my community and other marginalized communities in any and every way possible.”
She also hopes to be a role model and inspire young people of color.
“Attending law school is a continuation of my personal and generational liberation, so I hope that my journey can serve as inspiration to other women of color with shared experiences and backgrounds. I want to be a reminder that one of the best things someone can do is believe in themselves and their dreams. I want to be a reminder to them that despite obstacles, you can achieve anything,” Dania said.