First Person

Supreme Perspective
Sonia Sotomayor tells students to listen to those with opposite views.

By Jack Brook '19 / March/April 2018
April 1st, 2018
Justice Sonia Sotomayor walking among Brown students
Justice Sotomayor walked among Brown students as she spoke about her life.Photo: Nick Dentamaro

On February 7, the Class of 2020 got a chance to hear U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s life story in person. They already knew it well—from her childhood in the Bronx to becoming the first Latina on the Supreme Court—after reading her memoir, My Beloved World, as first-year students taking part in the Brown’s First Readings program.

Stepping off the stage to walk among the packed audience at Pizzitola Memorial Sports Center, Sotomayor stressed the importance of “proportionality:” “No matter how things are for you,” she said,  “they’re harder for other people, and if you stick with it you can get around the brick walls in your life.” Her sense of proportion allowed her to avoid getting hung up on her diabetic condition, and she said she tries to bring it into every case she encounters.

Addressing first-generation college students during her visit, Sotomayor said to take pride in their identity: “If someone says you’re only here because of affirmative action, tell them, ‘That may be true, but I’ve earned it, I’ve had to work harder than you.’” Sotomayor told the students that engaged democracy requires listening to people who have different views. “Once you can begin to really understand the principles of what’s important to another person, that’s the beginning of compromise, of serious conversation,” she said, explaining how she engages with her fellow justices. She ended her talk by calling students to action, asking them to work to create a society based on a truly equal sense of justice. “We’re going to need to find a way to equalize the resources we provide in order to equalize people’s rights,” she concluded.

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March/April 2018