Making Space for Belonging

A headshot photo of Jodi Chung.
Jodi Chung.

Jodi Chung doesn’t let barriers stand in her way. Until age 6, she lived in an orphanage in China and was unable to walk because of congenital hip dysplasia. After she was adopted by a Wisconsin couple, she worked hard to learn English and powered through excruciating physical therapy after multiple surgeries. But she defied doctors’ “best case” predictions—and soon was not only walking, but dancing ballet and competing in track and field.

“I think the most basic sense of understanding my privilege is every time I run or I walk,” said Chung, a third-year student at University of Wisconsin Law School. “It is motivating for me in terms of knowing how much I have now to give back, and just being aware of what it means to give and what it means to work and what it means to serve.”

That commitment to service has infused her time at UW Law.

“I’m the kind of person who cares very deeply about the community that I’m part of,” said Chung, co-lead student ambassador for UW Law. “Something that my family taught me is that privilege is never mine to keep. And so, I knew I needed to get involved so that I can try to give back to the student community.”

Chung was first elected to the Student Bar Association and later stepped into leadership roles with the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Law Students Association and First Generation Lawyers, a newer student organization that has quickly grown to more than 170 members.

“The natural competition of law school and of being a lawyer can be so isolating for students who walk in already feeling like they don’t belong or that they’re insecure about something that everyone else is also feeling. But nobody talks about it,” said Chung. “My main commitment was to build some of that transparency and say, ‘Hey, it is OK to be in this building and to want a hug. It is OK to want to cry and to want to talk to someone and to want to vent about something that was incredibly hard.’ And then you’ll find out you weren’t the only one who felt that way.”

Her dedication was recognized when she was nominated and selected for the Bruce Beilfuss Memorial Award for outstanding service to the Law School.

“It is an incredible honor,” she said. “The award provided unique validation for a student who sacrificed the prestige of mock, moot or journal to do the nitty- gritty work that being a student leader often demands, but most student bodies don’t see.”

“I’m committed to serving people. We work our butts off for that J.D., and there’s potential for great harm if we misuse it. But there’s also a lot that we can do to be a change agent.”

Off campus, Chung devoted 100 pro bono hours to help the Marathon County School Board discuss and research student truancy prevention strategies, and she made time to mentor Madison LaFollette High School students from historically marginalized backgrounds through PEOPLE (Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence).

“It was one of the most rewarding experiences of law school,” said Chung.

After graduation, Chung hopes to focus on corporate and labor employment law. But she also expects to make time for pro bono work, perhaps in child advocacy.

“I’m committed to serving people,” she said. “We work our butts off for that J.D., and there’s potential for great harm if we misuse it. But there’s also a lot that we can do to be a change agent.”

By Nicole Sweeney Etter