Symposium at UH Law School draws Pacific Islander students

The Honorable Judge Bode Uale of the First Circuit Family Court’s Juvenile Division gave the closing speech – Ian Tapu

The Pacific Islander Legal Association (PILA) in association with University of Hawaiʻi Richardson Law School (UHRLS) and Ka Huli Aʻo hosted the first ever Pacific Islander Law Symposium on Oct. 11 at Richardson Law School in Mānoa.

The event was sponsored by PILA, which is headed by 2nd year law student Ian Tapu, a local Hauʻula boy who graduated from Dartmouth College with a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies and a double minor in public policy and education.

He returned home to Hawaiʻi to not only obtain his law degree but to use his skills to help promote the advancement of Pacific Islanders in education as well as industry.

“The association hopes to inspire more Pacific Islanders to apply to law school,” Tapu said. “We hope to combat the alarming statistics that only approximately 5 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have attained a graduate degree, which is lower than almost every other ethnic group in the U.S.”

The event featured an opening keynote address by Honolulu Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chasid Sapolu and a presentation by Julian Aguon, the attorney arguing a case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of self-determination for Chamorro people. It also included a resume/personal statement workshop, LSAT presentation, a panel of Pacific Islander students currently attending the William S. Richardson School of Law and a panel of current Pacific Islander legal professionals.

The closing speech was by His Honorable Judge Bode Uale, the first state Family Court judge of Samoan descent who has served as a judge since 1991 and who is now the lead judge of the First Circuit Family Court’s Juvenile Division.

There was a consistent theme during the symposium that made me realize just how important and relevant this event was to all students, especially students who feel insecure, or somehow insufficient. The theme was for us as students to look up and grab a helping hand from the resources that are available to us.

We utilize those resources to stimulate our academic growth to be able to achieve our goals.

When and if we are able, we pay it forward by reaching down and giving our hand to the next student or group who may struggle or need help.

By this method, we can as Pacific Islander students promote and raise the standards for our people, rather than be a negative statistic.

The biggest takeaway from the symposium was that we (students) can strive for law school. In order to address the disparity in our lack of representation, we have the ability, the resources, and now the trailblazers before us to set the pattern. We only need to put in the work.


by Talita “Tia” Sulunga, Special to Ka ‘Ohana