Student Spotlight

Colón ’18 Takes Leadership Roles While Honing Policy, Advocacy Skills

Adriel Colón ’18

By Chris Colton
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Adriel Colón ’18 is involved with a number of organizations both on and off campus. But there are common threads that bind his interests: access, opportunity, advocacy, empowerment, and diversity.

It’s a mindset that was borne of his family’s experiences in Puerto Rico, cemented by his own journey after college, and affirmed in his decision to attend Albany Law School.

“I’m Puerto Rican. Women in rural Puerto Rico don’t have many opportunities or access. My mother escaped that, pursued her education, and my father was very supportive. So we always grew up with that understanding that there is inequity, and that female leadership, or diverse leadership, comes with it a different perspective. Embracing that is really important,” Colón said. “At Albany Law School I saw very accomplished women in leadership. That was really important to me.”

Colón graduated from the University at Albany in 2010. He developed a passion for health policy while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in economics, as the Affordable Care Act was coming into law. His next step—law school—was put on hold while his wife studied for her master’s degree and enrolled in medical school. They lived in Kansas City for a time and then rural Tennessee, where some locals suffered from insufficient access to basic resources.

“Tennessee was so rural that some people didn’t have running water,” he said. “You don’t realize how much poverty there is in the United States until you live in these rural areas. You would see people who had conditions that went untreated. These people were feeling the economic hurt.”

“I see the profession not just as the letters that you get when you graduate and pass the bar; I see it as a lifelong commitment to sharing the skills that you develop in this institution.”

Colón jumped right in at Albany Law. In his first year he formed the Student Lawyers Guild, an organization with 41 members and a leadership structure that includes members of various other student groups, including the Albany Law Review, OUTLaw, and the Latin American Law Students Association. They have held legal observer trainings and a voter registration drive, sent members to public interest law retreats, and are active in student politics.

“The Student Lawyers Guild is dedicated to ensuring that students’ rights are protected, students have a voice for expressing their opinions, and that they feel safe expressing those opinions,” Colón said. “It’s about teaching students how to be effective advocates, effective protectors of constitutional rights, and organizing in a way so that they can represent the things they care about efficiently.”

In his 2L year he served as vice president of the Latin American Law Students Association and was recently named its next president.

Off campus, Colón was elected in December 2016 as a board member of the Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association.

“My interest is in ensuring that students have access to the mentorship that an actual bar association can deliver with practicing attorneys,” said Colón, who lobbied the association to add an active law student to its board. “It’s a unique position with a well-connected bar association in the Albany area. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.”  

Colón was also a Government Law Center Fellow, interned at the New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Administrative Hearings—“They liked my work, so they hired me as a legal assistant for the remainder of the year”—and participated in the Health Law Clinic.

“The state agency was a great experience, but in the clinic I was able to act as an attorney and an advocate,” he said. “My proudest moment was a semester-long case in which we defended a woman who was going to be evicted, which would have been fatal to her benefits. The stakes were really high. We discovered an important procedural issue and totally defeated the eviction—and the loss of her benefits—that way. Learning those practical skills—dotting the I’s, crossing the T’s—in Professor [Joe] Connors’ clinic was really valuable.” 

As a future attorney, Colón sees a path to helping the underserved. He envisions himself working for a state agency determining health policy, or for a senator who is making those decisions which could affect underrepresented communities.

“When you have a lot, you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. But there is the price tag of having those resources—making sure that those who do not have access can pull themselves up,” Colon said. “My mother’s experience, what she taught us, and then my wife’s experience going through her professional degree, have really shown why that’s so important, particularly for women, Latinos, and underrepresented minority groups. That’s really fundamental to me. I see the profession not just as the letters that you get when you graduate and pass the bar; I see it as a lifelong commitment to sharing the skills that you develop in this institution.”

Adriel Colon