Coming from an immigrant background herself, Professor Nermeen Arastu has always been in awe of stories of immigration. She has adopted the story of her own grandparents’ leap of faith as they migrated to Pakistan from India after the partition, the journey her parents made a generation later when they immigrated to the United States, and many more as a humbling legacy of courage and resilience.
She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and has a soft spot for Carolina blue skies, southern sweet tea, and the cobble-stone lined streets of Philadelphia.
What will you be teaching this year at CUNY Law?
I will continue to co-direct the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, a 16 credit in-house clinic, where CUNY Law students represent non-citizen clients at risk of deportation and/or those subject to indefinite detention by the U.S. government.
Is there anything you’re excited to bring with you to your new gig?
When I was in law school, I searched for mentors who looked like me and could identify with my life experiences as a first-generation immigrant but was hard pressed to find that type of diversity in law faculties and amongst the legal bar. I am excited to add to the diversity of the CUNY Law faculty and bring my specific life experience to my client representation, teaching, and service to the law school.
What is the best thing you can remember about your time at law school?
The best moments were being able to apply the analytical skills and doctrine that we studied in the first years to real-time client representation during my clinical year. Finally putting my “lawyer skills” to the test gave me life after the monotony of classroom learning in the first years and a framework to understand what client-centered lawyering truly is. I was so impacted by my clinical education that my dream job became to teach in a law school clinic myself.
If you could recruit anyone to guest lecture in your class, who would it be – and what would they talk about?
There is nothing more important for those wishing to serve communities than hearing directly from impacted communities. Year after year, our students comment that the classes that taught them the most about social justice lawyering were those where impacted individuals taught us how best to serve them, their communities and causes. I couldn’t agree more.
Do you have a top study tip or trick you’ve picked up along the way?
You can’t help the world if you haven’t taken care of yourself. Find ways to engage in self-care regularly, you will be a better student and lawyer and hopefully stay in the pursuit of social change permanently.
Let’s pretend your students have time to read non-assigned material. What would you recommend? What are you reading that you can’t put down?
Poetry feels medicinal in these brutal times. I have been returning time and again to an anthology called Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry, where poets grapple with questions about dual identities, migration, diaspora and faith and more.
If you weren’t a law professor, what would you be most likely to be doing in life?
Either park ranger in our national parks or a dairy farmer. My mind is always partially daydreaming about my next hike in the woods.
If you’re new to New York, what are you most excited about as you make the city your home?
After a decade in the New York metropolitan area, I am currently obsessed with exploring the natural beauty of our state parks. It is incredible that we live in an area where you can be eating the best Nepali food in Queens in the morning, and hiking the Hudson Highlands by afternoon.