“My 2L year has been so busy,” Carla Swensen-Haslam said with a laugh. Her voice tinged with a hint of exasperation. “It’s my own fault, though. I’m taking 18 credits while working on contract with a law firm and calling sports.” She took a second to breathe. “But I love it. I really, really love it.”
As a first-generation Colombian immigrant, Carla had a unique upbringing and couldn’t have imagined that she would one day be pursuing a JD. “Social mobility in Colombia is different than here in the States,” Carla explained. “Many of my family members never had the opportunity to go to college, and so growing up, it was important to my parents that I made education a priority.”
Later in her life, as a member of Colombia’s women’s national under-20 football team, Carla’s college plans began to take form. “You would think that everybody’s goal on that team would have been to play professionally,” she said. “Not at all. Every single girl had one goal: to come and play college soccer in the U.S. and get an education.” Carla was given that chance in 2014 when she was offered a spot on the BYU Women’s Soccer team. She felt immense gratitude for the opportunity, as very few of the other girls were able to overcome the immigration barriers. “If it wasn’t for that offer, I don’t know if I would have ever come to BYU.”
Once at BYU, Carla quickly developed an interest off the field in broadcast journalism. “Journalism is all about who you know,” Carla said. “And it didn’t take long for me to realize that I really didn’t know anyone. I started cold calling people that I wanted to meet and work with. For every 20 calls I made, I would usually only get one in return.”
But Greg Wrubell, a play-by-play broadcaster for BYU, happened to be one of them.
What started as an invitation to help him with stats during a soccer game soon turned into a wonderful working relationship, providing Carla with invaluable broadcast journalism experience. “Greg is one of my mentors and was integral in helping me get to where I am today,” Carla said.
Since earning her bachelor’s degree, Carla has worked for the past 18 months as a professional on-air sports broadcaster, calling men’s and women’s soccer games for BYUtv, ESPN700, and other local networks.
It was during Carla’s undergraduate studies that she first considered getting a degree in law. “I felt a little guilty thinking about all of my old teammates in Colombia. It was by the mercy of God that I was given these great opportunities at BYU. I wanted to come to law school to learn about the system that enabled me but disabled them.”
Now in her second year at BYU Law, Carla has had the chance to delve deep into immigration law and learn from a variety of faculty experts. She credits her unique perspective on immigration to her time in Colombia.
“Seeing your mom take the Oath of Allegiance to become a citizen changes how you view immigration. I’ve also had the chance to speak at several naturalization ceremonies. As lawyers, we need to realize that our clients are real people with real families and dreams.”
Carla’s aspirations extend far beyond receiving her JD. Noting the small amount of representation Latina women receive in government, Carla spoke to the importance of encouraging minority women to run for office. She hopes to help spearhead these advances.
“A few courageous women have already begun clearing those pathways in this country, but I want to pave the way in my own community and state. I’m preparing to run for Vineyard City Mayor in 2021 and have been getting involved in city council meetings and planning commission events.”
In the meantime, Carla continues to take advantage of the opportunities and resources available to her at BYU Law. During October 2019’s Fall Placement Break, she joined other BYU Law students and faculty on a trip to Dilley, Texas, where they provided legal assistance to asylum seeking women and children detained in the country’s largest family immigration detention center.
Carla expressed her desire to make the most of the law school’s emphasis on leadership. She sees her education at BYU Law as “a priceless opportunity to better understand how to lift up, teach, and learn” from those she hopes to lead.
Carla’s focus on leadership in the law hasn’t gone without notice. In November 2019, she was listed among Utah Business’s 20 in their 20’s, a prestigious award featuring Utah’s young and innovative professionals who are taking their industries by storm.
Still, Carla remains humble, always remembering her motivations for attending law school and the people whose lives she’s seeking to impact.
“My focus is not to be the first,” Carla explained, “but rather to forge a pathway that will allow others to do the same.”