Law professor dedicates life to representing underserved communities

September 12, 2023

Headshot of Chester Fernández, assistant professor of law

Chester Fernández, assistant professor of law at Quinnipiac, was inspired to pursue a career in law after seeing his parents work hard to ensure he and his siblings had the opportunity to succeed.

Fernández knew from an early age that he wanted to work with underserved communities that did not have the same opportunities he had, believing that the law profession needed more lawyers who care about people, both in courtrooms and in the community.

“My heritage has been instrumental in how I have shaped my career,” he said. “As I got older, and really came to appreciate the privileges I had been afforded, I wanted to work with communities that traditionally were not provided similar privileges – Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).”

Before coming to Quinnipiac, Fernández spent time as a public defender in Boston, Holyoke, Massachusetts; Springfield, Massachusetts; and New Britain, Connecticut regularly representing members of these communities.

During that time, Fernández saw the disjointed representation of BIPOC communities within the legal system. In the courtroom, Fernández would stand at his client’s side, sometimes as the only two BIPOC individuals in the room.

“Being Latinx, or any BIPOC, in this society means you start off as a suspect to many parties within the criminal legal system,” said Fernández. “Prosecutors, judges, probation officers and others all expect you to be a criminal defendant and you are never innocent until proven guilty, but rather guilty until proven innocent. These moments, standing side by side with my client, while vigorously defending them, were immensely powerful, as the culture we shared often felt as much on trial as the charges the defendant faced.”

After spending a significant amount of his career dedicated to advocating and serving as a voice for people who are traditionally silenced in criminal courtrooms, Fernández began to teach at Quinnipiac’s School of Law about criminal defense.

Taking what he’s learned in the courtroom to the classroom, Fernández hopes students walk away from his class with an understanding of criminal law policies and how they affect real people and the communities they are a part of.

“The law profession needs more lawyers who care about people, both in courtrooms and in the community,” said Fernández. “Quinnipiac’s School of Law’s focus on educating the whole lawyer speaks to my personal values in a way that attracted me to join the faculty and pursue this goal.”

With September 15 marking the start of Hispanic and Latin Heritage Month, and as a member of the Latinx community, Fernández feels that this is the perfect opportunity to recognize and celebrate the Latinx population’s past accomplishments and ongoing work to strengthen the community through innovation, perseverance and compassion.

“This work has created a roadmap for immigrants from around the world seeking a better, safer, life for themselves and their families to follow,” he added. “This compassion has continuously pushed back on the notion that we should not welcome immigrants from other countries with open arms, despite how vital they are to the fabric of our society.”

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