Aqdas Khudadad (JD, ‘24) at the University of Cincinnati College of Law

Next Generation Change-Maker: Aqdas Khudadad

With its vibrant riverfront, charming Italianate architecture, 52 distinct neighborhoods, and winning NFL team, the city of Cincinnati has earned its bragging rights as of late. Even with these great strides in enhancing the quality of life for its residents, important issues facing the city's most vulnerable remain, spanning from affordable housing to immigration. Aqdas Khudadad (JD, ‘24), has dedicated her first two years of law school working with organizations affecting these issues–one legal case at a time. 

“People need help, it's overwhelming,” she said. “Organizations doing public interest work have been at capacity recently because there's such a need for it.” 

Aiming to learn as much as she can about public interest law before deciding on a career path, Aqdas chose to vary her clinic and externship experiences. This past fall, she interned with both the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC) and the Legal Access Clinic, and this year began a position with the Hamilton County Municipal Court’s Help Center. 

“With public interest work, there's so much you have to know. You could be thrown into any type of work,” she said. “UC has a special focus on public interest and social justice work, so you get a lot of support and access to these opportunities.”

The daughter of two Pakistani immigrant physicians, stories of the disproportionate access to rights and opportunities that women face were part of her awareness growing up. Being part of a larger community of Muslim immigrants, Aqdas also gained understanding of how difficult it can be for people to access or even trust the legal system, especially after incidences of bias or discrimination.

Aqdas Khudadad (JD, ‘24)

“Especially when they come from countries like Pakistan, where the legal system is hard to access or even against you, not only is there a sense of not knowing what my options are but there's a sense that nobody cares about me... or the legal system isn't for ‘people like me,’” she said. “Making sure people understand their legal options, regardless of if they can afford a lawyer, is what brought me to law school.”

During her internship with OJPC over the summer, Aqdas gained both practical and purposeful experience working in their Second Chance and Safe Harbor programs. 

“You hear a lot that you only learn theoretical stuff in law school. But I am learning what it looks like in practice, taking what I've learned in class and putting it into real life,” she said. “And OJPC is a place where the law lets someone feel heard while also helping them achieve the result that they want legally.”

As part of OJPC’s client-centered approach, Aqdas learned trauma-informed interviewing techniques for those individuals who had a record as a result of being sex trafficked. She was encouraged to stop interviews or give the clients extra time to finish, due to the sensitive and traumatic nature of these stories. She then learned how to draft the stories into affidavits for the courts, in hopes it would lead to an expungement. 

“Being able to help someone at one of the worst times in their life is exactly why I came to law school,” she said. “It was a very meaningful experience, supporting people who maybe had a negative interaction with the law…reshaping that narrative by giving them a positive interaction with the legal system.”

“Being able to help someone at one of the worst times in their life is exactly why I came to law school."

Aqdas Khudadad

Growing up in Louisville, KY to Muslim immigrant parents post-9/11, Aqdas shared how her experiences with Islamophobia sparked her awareness of how people can be treated differently based on their backgrounds. 

“There was a lot of fear after 9/11, and what that looked like on the ground was violence against Muslims and stereotyping,” she said. “Sometimes people were wrongly imprisoned for years…My sister actually stopped wearing a hijab because someone threatened her safety. It was very scary.” 

This experience has carried over into Aqdas’ passion for promoting equitable access to the law, and a desire to improve the situation for those who come after her. As part of this effort at Cincinnati Law, she serves as Vice President of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA) and Secretary for the Muslim Lawyers Association. Both clubs have been channels for connection and action. 

“Being reminded that you have other people here that are thinking and experiencing things very similarly to you gives a sense of community. But it also reminds me why I'm here–and how important representation is to me,” she said. “I believe I bring value just by having an identity that is not well represented in law…Honestly, it’s a big part of what keeps me in law school.” 

The growth in student diversity in law schools is encouraging to Aqdas. She feels pulled to support other underrepresented students considering this field and hopes to promote a feeling of inclusivity at Cincinnati Law so more underrepresented students might see themselves belonging in these halls one day.

“Law schools around the nation, including UC, are changing demographically, and with this increased diversity comes the responsibility to create a more inclusive environment,” she said. “You want every student to feel welcome and supported, especially minority students. So, we’re making a big push toward that.”

"At UC, I have a community of people that support me and support my success. People who are willing to work together. Law school can be really challenging, but the people here make it a lot better.”

- Aqdas Khudadad ‘24 -

Aqdas Khudadad (JD, ‘24)

Her involvement in multiple student-led groups, including the Student Legal Education Committee (SLEC), as well as her involvement with The Center for Professional Development through her role in SLEC, demonstrates Aqdas’ commitment not only to the well-being of her future clients, but to those classmates and faculty in her law school community today. 

“At UC, I have a community of people that support me and support my success. People are willing to work together,” she said. “That's why I'm really committed to advocating for other students at UC, because I've enjoyed my time here. Law school can be really challenging, but the people here make it a lot better.”

Like many who enter law school with a vision of how they will one day impact broader society, Aqdas voiced an initial fear that she would lose sight of her priorities once she was in the thick of her studies. In part, she credits her fellowship with the Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice for keeping her focused, along with all the opportunities Cincinnati Law has to engage in public interest organizations.

This summer, she will work for Legal Aid of Greater Cincinnati, where she looks forward to discovering another avenue of public interest law. She said she has been impressed by the caliber of organizations she has worked with in Cincinnati and is counting on staying in the city after graduation to continue the work. 

“We have special things going on in Cincinnati,” she said. “And even with so many people doing this work, there's a gap that's not being filled. My hope is to stay so I can help fill that gap.”

Aqdas Khudadad (JD, ‘24)

Want to learn more about our student and their journey to (and through) law school? Check out more stories on the "Meet Our Students" page. See yourself at Cincinnati Law!

Author: Katie Bachmeyer

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