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Meet a Justice Studies alumna pursuing law in Belfast

Daniella Raso
Photo courtesy of Daniella Raso

University of Guelph-Humber Justice Studies alumna Daniella Raso knew she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see the world on Study Abroad, but she could not have known just how profoundly the experience would change her life.

Raso took part in the 2015 trip to Belfast in Northern Ireland. There, she and her peers – along with University of Guelph-Humber faculty – visited the Police Service of Northern Ireland, toured the Titanic Museum, listened to lectures at Ulster University, and walked along the city’s famous peace walls.

She would go on another inspiring Study Abroad trip the following year, but Ireland simply never left her.

“There was just something that stuck out to me about Belfast,” she recalled. “I just kept feeling like I needed to get back to Belfast.”

She succeeded. Now, Raso is on the way to completing her Juris Doctor at the prestigious Queen’s University Belfast with the goal of becoming a lawyer who is focused on human rights, victim support, policy reform and helping those who have been wronged by the justice system.

And as she looks back, she realizes that her Study Abroad experience wasn’t the only way in which her time at the University of Guelph-Humber deeply influenced her path.

Making the most of her time at UofGH

Raso remembers that when she attended the Ontario Universities’ Fair with her father as she prepared to graduate high-school, she was struck by the University of Guelph-Humber’s small class sizes, the opportunity to earn a degree and a diploma, and the potential to get real-world experience with field placements.

She completed her first placement with the Ministry of the Attorney General, which gave Raso the opportunity to sit in on court proceedings, to get to know court clerks and judges, and to learn more about the workings of the justice system.

Her second placement – which Raso attained by reaching out to a UofGH alum who was pursuing law school at Osgoode Hall – was with the Innocence Project, a pro-bono legal clinic committed to exonerating inmates who have exhausted their legal means and believe they’ve been wrongly convicted. Raso’s role there was to sift through letters from inmates and determine which seemed like worthy cases to follow up on.

“It was really hands-on,” she recalled. “I was paving my own path.”

Meanwhile, Raso enthusiastically threw herself into on-campus activities. She was an executive for the Guelph-Humber Pre-Law Society, she was a member of Alpha Phi Sigma, and she found success participating in a mooting competition at Osgoode.

“That was great for my oral advocacy skills, which I’ll need as a lawyer,” she reflected.

Another highlight of her time at the University of Guelph-Humber was Raso’s participation in a CSI competition at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. With more than 80 students from schools around North America competing, Raso’s team of three students placed first overall.

That experience was memorable not just because Raso’s team brought the trophy back to UofGH, but also because she had the chance to form close relationships with both her fellow students as well as instructors John Irwin and Dr. Glenn Barenthin, who became valuable mentors.

“It was an amazing experience. It was a great bonding experience. And it was probably one of the best memories I have of my time there, because we got to put forth what we learned in a competition and to come out with first place was just great,” said Raso, who grew more comfortable with public speaking during her studies.

“When I first started at the University, I was the type of person who really hated speaking in front of large groups of people. It was excruciating. But there were so many presentations in my program, and with every presentation I gave, my oral presentation skills got better and better.”

Classes that helped set Raso’s course

When Raso first began at the University of Guelph-Humber, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer. Over the course of her time at UofGH, she enjoyed courses like “Investigative Techniques” and “Introduction to Police Powers” so much that she actually did consider becoming an investigator.

But other courses here had an even bigger impact on her career goals.

“I think the University of Guelph-Humber really influenced me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back and reflecting on the courses I took during my four years – like ‘Crime and Criminal Justice,’ ‘Canadian Social Problems,’ and ‘Ethics and the Justice System’ – they’re all courses that really emphasized identifying issues in your community and figuring out what you can do to make a difference,” she said.

“I also took the ‘Youth and the Law’ class. It really resonated with me and made me feel like when I became a lawyer, I definitely wanted to help people who are essentially victims of the criminal-justice system,” she added

In fact, she’s already working actively to make a difference.

Raso is a volunteer with Victim Support Northern Ireland, an independent charity that offers help and support for victims and witnesses of crimes. She provides counselling and support for victims who have been traumatized, while also helping on a 1-on-1 basis to prepare people who need to go to court to testify as witnesses.

Raso is also volunteering and conducting research for Nexus NI, which offers counselling, support and education for people who have been affected by sexual violence in any form across Northern Ireland. And she’s vice-president of the Lawyers Without Borders society at Queen’s University.

“I feel like I’m giving back to the community that I’m a part of,” she said.

“The more I think about it, the more I realize it dates back to the community justice courses I took at UofGH.”