Alusine Conteh (2L) is originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa. He is vice president of BYU Law’s Black Law Students Association and a member of the BYU Law Trial Advocacy Team. Alusine has interned with the Utah Supreme Court and Hayes Godfrey Bell, PC, and has served as a faculty research assistant and student ambassador. Outside of law school, Alusine works with the nonprofit Future Scholars of Africa, which provides resources to African college students in Utah. We caught up with Alusine to get his take on BYU Law, Black History Month, and his plans for the future.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
“I was born in Sierra Leone and moved to Alexandria, Virginia, with my parents when I was seven years old. I attended the high school featured in the movie, Remember the Titans. It was a diverse school with White students making up the minority. As a young person, I had a thick accent, and I still remember certain times that I was treated differently because I was African, as opposed to Black American. I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a youth and served a mission in Jackson, Mississippi. After my mission, I attended BYU and majored in political science. As an undergrad student, I wanted to pursue work in international development.”
Why law school and specifically BYU Law?
“My senior year at BYU, I participated in The London Mentored Research Program, a professor-led political survey project relating to ethnicity and nationalism. During that time, I learned about the legal work being done at The International Criminal Court (ICC), an intergovernmental organization located in The Hague, Netherlands, which has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for international crimes against humanity. I decided to go to law school because I thought I could make a difference through this work. I applied to and was accepted by several law schools, but after visiting BYU Law and talking with then-director of admissions Bryan Hamblin, I chose to attend here.”
What are your thoughts on Black History Month?
“I became aware of Black History Month after I moved to the US because we celebrated it in school. I think it’s good for a society to recognize that it has mistreated people in the past, but if doing so doesn’t create opportunities for people in the future, it doesn’t really solve any problems. If Black History Month helps create solutions for people, then it’s a good thing.
How has race affected your daily life?
Occasionally, someone will remind me that I’m Black. They will say something like “You’re Black, what do you think of this?” I understand that it comes from an innocent place, that they are trying to get a different perspective, but sometimes, I feel like people are asking me to speak for a group. I address things because I feel a certain way, not because I’m Black.
“When I lived in the South as a missionary, I got a different perspective of slavery and the social justice movement. I met nice people who would invite me in for dinner but sometimes say offensive things, without meaning to offend. I learned that many people’s racism or bias came from what they grew up thinking or what someone else told them––so they believed it was true. Once they interacted with someone who is different from what they believed, their perspective changed. People in Mississippi would meet me and say, ‘You’re not like other Black people.’ It was because they didn’t know other Black people, or they didn’t interact with other Black people. They thought I was different only because they knew me.”
What has your experience at BYU Law been like?
“I’ve had a very positive experience. I feel like BYU Law is underrated. We have a good community here, and I’ve made good friends. I’ve also connected with my professors, especially Dane Thorley and Catherine Bramble. I appreciate professors that bring out the best in students academically and in other ways.
When a lot of people think of BYU Law, they think of it as a predominantly White law school. I think some people might not want to come to school here because they think they will be in the minority. The Law School is getting better at creating diversity when it comes to race. When it comes to diversity in all its forms, we aren’t there yet. One way the law school can improve and become better is to attract students from different socio-economic backgrounds, to bring in varying perspectives.”
What does life after law school look like for you?
“I want to contribute to my community, to give back to the people in Sierra Leone, specifically by helping to create opportunities for young people. I would also like to work for the ICC. With my background, I have a unique understanding of people and cases involving African leaders. I want to make an impact as an attorney representing victims of war crimes, genocides, or civil rights violations.”