posted May 17, 2017

Meet the Gates Scholars: Karla Davis

“I was not born Karla Mairyn Davis.”

Born Karla Mairyn Ferron Martinez in Tijuana, Mexico, Davis was adopted at age 15. Her biological mom, who sought a better life for her daughters in the U.S., and her adoptive mom, who demonstrated that women of color have powerful stories, instilled in Davis a vital appreciation for diversity. This understanding of diversity, as well her upbringing, shaped her desire to become a public interest attorney for communities of color. 

Public service is community. It’s the idea of seeing a problem and taking it upon yourself to be part of the solution with whatever means you may have at your disposal, whether time, money, or effort. Karla Davis

As an immigrant growing up in a single-parent household, “the legal system always seemed to be working for others, but not for my family,” explained Davis. “I discovered that justice wasn’t only an untenable concept for my family, but for other communities, mostly those of color, as well.” Davis came to see access to justice and legal counsel as a privilege limited to those able to afford it.

“It became my moral obligation, having obtained the privilege of education that my mother only dreamed of, to help others combat systematic oppression,” said Davis.

After earning her undergraduate degree, Davis sought volunteer and professional working in social justice and advocacy. She became a legal advocate with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and is now a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Accredited Representative in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Unit at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. In this role, Davis sees the frustration that clients in need of representation face, and she hopes to continue providing direct service to immigrants after law school.

Davis looks forward to the Gates Public Service program, particularly after a challenging undergraduate experience that did not align with her values of tolerance and justice. “Knowing that the Gates program is specifically designed for building up my success in the public service field gives me a great sense relief,” said Davis. “At the UW School of Law and with the help of the Gates program, I will finally be able to focus on becoming an effective advocate for others without social and academic censorship.

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