STUDENT PROFILE Agrismary Santiago
An affinity for labor law
Agrismary Santiago finds her niche in advocating for workers
“There’s a huge problem with the way this country views labor and the people who provide it,” says School of Law student Agrismary Santiago. “When we talk about civil rights, we often overlook labor rights. I want to be a plaintiff’s attorney and defend the people who are the backbone of this society.”
Growing up in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, Santiago saw her mom work three demanding, low-paying jobs at a time, sometimes taking her daughter to work when she couldn’t find a babysitter. When Santiago went to a magnet high school, “I met rich people for the first time and saw the vast difference between the way they lived and the way I was brought up,” Santiago says. “It got me interested in power: who gives power, who gets it.”
Santiago originally planned a life in politics, then considered a legal career focused on police accountability. Then she completed a Loyola School of Law practicum representing real clients in employment discrimination mediations before the Illinois Department of Human Rights. She also completed an internship with Chicago’s Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL), which develops creative legal strategies to help organizations fight transnational labor abuses. Santiago had come full circle to where her interest in power dynamics had begun with her mother’s work experience—and she found her calling in labor and employment law.
“When we talk about civil rights, we often overlook labor rights. I want to be a plaintiff’s attorney and defend the people who are the backbone of this society.”
At CAL, Santiago worked on a project exploring labor practices on Colombian banana farms owned by companies including Chiquita, and another initiative addressing U.S. prison labor abuses. “I realized the U.S. is regularly violating an International Labor Organization treaty that prohibits the international sale of goods manufactured by prisoners unless they’ve been clearly labeled as prisoner made,” she says, explaining that automotive manufacturers and factory farms are among the chief offenders. “A lot of the justification for these practices sound similar to the justifications for slavery: that our economy relies on this cheap labor and wouldn’t be able to survive without it.”
To effectively prepare for a career defending labor rights, Santiago joined Loyola’s Corboy Fellowship Program in Trial Advocacy, in which selected students receive rigorous litigation skills training and represent Loyola in highly competitive mock trial competitions. “With labor and employment law, most cases are settled or mediated rather than going to trial,” she says. The Corboy program has given her valuable skills—"thinking about the facts of the case, how those facts relate to what you want, making statements, asking questions”—that will help her both in the courtroom and in negotiations.
Besides being a Corboy fellow, Santiago has taken full advantage of many other School of Law cocurricular opportunities: She is active in the Student Bar Association and National Lawyers Guild and is a member of various associations for Latinx, women, or first-generation law students, as well as organizations that focus on labor and employment law and public interest law.
Santiago chose Loyola because of its great reputation for supporting students throughout their academic careers. From the peer tutoring program for 1Ls to faculty members who “offered me coffee and sat with me as long as it took for me to understand a hypothetical,” she says Loyola School of Law offers “a legal community and a family in a place where most people don’t expect to have a family.”
Seeing that supportive atmosphere “was the main thing that made me want to come here,” Santiago says, “and I’m very glad I made that choice.” –Gail Mansfield (March 2023)