How Williams Shaped My Advocacy Work

I decided to go to Williams so that I could play golf. After several seasons on the women’s golf team, I got the political bug. I ditched my golf clubs and instead volunteered on campaigns; founded a mental health advocacy group on campus; and pursued various political and advocacy internships — including during Winter Study and a semester away. The Williams administration, as well as Eph alums and classmates, supported me in these non-traditional endeavors.

I took full advantage of the Williams Alumni Directory, an extensive online database of alumni contact information separated by industry. I sent hundreds of cold emails, and I received nearly universal responses. Alums offered to speak over the phone and meet for coffee; invited me to shadow them at their jobs; put me in touch with other contacts; and assisted me with my internship and job searches. I carefully maintained my network: I created spreadsheets and sent check-in emails every few months.

My Williams education — featuring small and challenging classes, as well as situations that challenged my preconceived beliefs — gave me both the skills and the confidence to speak out against injustice. I decided to pursue a law degree in order to advocate for issues that I care about, particularly women’s rights.

Once I started law school, I kept in touch with some of my Williams alum contacts, while also building out my law school alumni network. I eventually secured a post-graduate clerkship in the District of Columbia Superior Court with a judge who graduated from the college where I attended law school. I moved to Washington, D.C., expecting to launch my career as a federal prosecutor. However, my first post-law school job provided me with a unique opportunity to use the skills I honed at Williams to advocate for mistreated judiciary employees, based on my personal experience of injustice.

As I explained at a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on March 17, 2022 in my Statement for the Record, my clerkship experience destroyed my career aspirations of becoming a homicide prosecutor in the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, and set me on a totally different path. During my clerkship, I experienced gender discrimination and harassment by the judge for whom I clerked. Ultimately, I faced retaliation, and I was driven from my dream job as a federal prosecutor. As I proceeded through the judicial complaint process, I discovered that judiciary employees have neither legal protections, nor recourse, when they are harassed by the most powerful members of the legal profession.

The federal judiciary is exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees are considering a bill, the Judiciary Accountability Act (JAA) (HR 4827/S 2553), which would begin to address the outrageous lack of workplace protections for judiciary employees by enabling them to sue their harassers and seek damages for harm done to their careers, reputations, and future earning potential.

The JAA should receive bipartisan support. Both Democratic and Republican judicial appointees harass their clerks, and both progressive and conservative judiciary employees face harassment and retaliation. Unfortunately, this issue — and this legislation — have not gotten the attention they deserve. I hope that, by sharing my story, it will enable legislators and stakeholders to attach a personal face to an abstract issue. I want to empower others to speak out, file complaints, and work to remove more abusers from positions of power — both in the judiciary and in other industries.

As soon as my statement became public, Williams alums, as well as other people affiliated with the College, extended their support. I appreciate the many Ephs who reached out to offer words of encouragement, including alumni with whom I had not been in touch for a decade, as well as those I have never met.

Williams’ response has been different from my law school’s response, which has been mixed. Initially, I wondered if this was because the College is not incentivized to maintain close relationships with judges in the way that law schools seek to maintain these relationships and funnel students into clerkships. However, many Ephs subsequently attend law school and secure clerkships. A sizable number have even ascended to the state and federal benches themselves. So, the reason for Ephs’ support is not a tenuous connection between Williams and the judiciary — it’s something else.

Our unique Williams experience primes us to extend support to fellow Ephs. Williams students spend four years on a secluded campus high up in the mountains. Our experiences are distinct from those of students at large universities and at city schools. Our formative college experiences and relationships occur on campus, with our classmates. This fosters not only strong classmate bonds, but also a strong sense of college community, a lifelong connection to the school, and a desire to “pay it forward” and extend support to fellow Ephs when we can.

Since the Congressional hearing, I have circled back to the Williams alumni network, including many Ephs with whom I had lost touch. They have been overwhelmingly supportive, offering advice, putting me in touch with other contacts, and assisting me with the next steps in my career. I recently decided to step back from the legal profession and pursue advocacy work full-time, and I am grateful for the support of my fellow Ephs as I embark on this exciting journey.

The Class of 2022 is about to embark on their own journeys — the first steps in their post-graduate career paths. As I reflect on my experience at the College, I deeply appreciate my Williams network. My advice to soon-to-be graduates, to students, and to alums, is this: Utilize, maintain, and lean on your alum network. Don’t be afraid to send a cold email to an alum. They probably achieved their career goals through support from fellow Ephs, and they likely want to pay it forward now.

Ask for help when you need it. You might be surprised at how willing fellow Ephs are to assist you. And extend support to fellow Ephs where you can.

As I start a new chapter in my life, I am grateful for my Williams education and the connections I have made along the way. I can’t wait to see where the next decade takes me. I will always be proud to call myself an Eph.

Aliza Shatzman ’13 is the President and Co-Founder of The Legal Accountability Project, a nonprofit that seeks to ensure that as many law clerks as possible have positive clerkship experiences, while extending support and resources to those who do not. Aliza regularly writes and speaks on the subject of judicial accountability. You can follow Aliza on Twitter @AlizaShatzman or on LinkedinThe original version of this article was published by The Williams Record.