Withney Barthelemy ’20 and Yi Chen ’18
Recent graduates Withney Barthelemy ’20, left, and Yi Chen ’18, right.

Recent Alumnae Awarded Fellowships to Promote Legal Rights of Immigrants

August 21, 2020

Withney Barthelemy ’20 and Yi Chen ’18 were among the 12 recent college graduates awarded a two-year community fellowship with the Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC), a nonprofit that supports young lawyers and advocates with a strong interest in immigrants’ legal rights. The fellows were selected based on academic performance, ability to speak two languages, and experience in immigration-based internships and volunteer service to immigrant communities.

Barthelemy emigrated from Haiti to New Jersey with her family when she was four. “From the moment I learned English, I have been advocating for my community,” she said.

At Wellesley, where she majored in political science and minored in psychology, she conducted research with Nadya Hajj, associate professor of peace and justice studies, into how displaced refugees and migrant workers navigated challenges in their new countries.

“Seeing what other immigrants have to experience and the legal hurdles posed by the immigration policies and practices gave me insight into the need for immigration justice,” Barthelemy said. Her grandmother lived in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, when she first arrived in the US, and Barthelemy will return there in September as an IJC fellow to provide legal assistance to Haitian immigrants under the supervision of an attorney.

“This is a full-circle journey for me,” she said. “My family is proud. Flatbush is where my family started in the United States. Now I will be returning to help other immigrant individuals and families.” Barthelemy said she plans to attend law school and pursue a career in public interest law.

Chen’s parents immigrated to the United States from a village in southern China. She is the first member of her family born in the United States, and she sees herself as a bridge between the two countries.

At Wellesley, Chen said she learned about immigration policies that affected Chinese people from T. James Kodera, professor of religion. An important course, she said, was the Asian American Experience.

“There I learned how the United States immigration system discriminated based on race with the Chinese Exclusion Act and later the Asiatic Barred Zone act that barred immigration from Asia as a whole. This prompted my interest in supporting the Asian American community because this type of discrimination still happens today in such forms as the ban on Muslim immigrants,” said Chen, who mentored middle school students at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center after graduating from Wellesley. “I am excited to help Chinese immigrants navigate our complex legal system.”