Catching Up with Shoba Wadhia

Kelsey Bradbury, Research Unplugged intern
November 02, 2010
headshot of Shoba Wadhia

Shoba Wadhia

How did you first become interested in immigration law?

As a law student, I was immediately drawn to the immigration statute, full of cross-references and contradictions. Well before my intellectual engagement with the immigration code, perhaps early in high school, I was really moved by reading about and researching key social justice movements and the civil rights movement in particular. I also grew increasingly aware of my intolerance for social inequalities and dishonesty. By the time I was in 11th grade, I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer—at that time much of my inspiration came from the writings of then-Justice Thurgood Marshall. Coming full circle, my early desire to use the law as a tool for social change coupled with my intellectual engagement with the immigration statute while in law school confirmed my interest in practicing immigration law.

What is the most fascinating aspect of your work at Penn State?

Perhaps I am easily fascinated, but so much excites me about my work at Penn State. Launching a new immigration clinic at the law school is fascinating because it is constantly evolving and so very much in its infancy. I am grateful to our dean Philip McConnaughay for his unyielding support for our vision. Being relatively new to academia, watching students learn and apply what they learn to an actual product or deliverable to a client is fascinating, as is the problem solving that occurs during the journey. Finally, finding and defining my niche as a young scholar excites me as I have started organically by writing about the subject that affects me or my clients as an attorney.

Shoba Wadhia with baby

What is the most intriguing place you've traveled to?

Durban, South Africa: shortly after Apartheid I spent two months living in a safe-house in Durban housing female and child victims of domestic violence by night and working at a not-for-profit at a former "coloured" college campus dedicated to assisting such victims through a hotline and education. My task at the not-for-for-profit was to analyze gender issues in light of South Africa's new constitution and travel to Zululand for two weeks in order to assess pre-existing female cooperatives. Durban is home to the second largest Indian population outside of India and for this reason among others was a natural next step to my then research on human rights issues affecting South Asian women. Perhaps it was age or simply my very first stint doing field work in a developing country (emphasized more by the apprehension of my family about my decision to engage a world they spent so many years to leave) when my ideas were likewise developing. My time in Durban was lifechanging.

When you're not working, what are your favorite pastimes?

My most time-consuming pastimes outside of Penn State law are being parent of a newborn and toddler, wife and house cleaner! As for my favorite, I think I would pick the first two. Beyond that, I love making lists of any kind, talking with my twin sister, Latha, who lives in Manhattan, dabbling with a Chopin ballade or Bach partita on our dusty concert grand piano, and eating dark chocolate with red wine.

What spot on Penn State's campus do you find to be most inspiring? Why?

Shoba Wadhia with baby and mother

What a great question. I am not sure I can pick just one location. The Lewis Katz building (law school) inspires me because it is where I spend hours every week interacting with students who exhibit every emotion and learn so much during the course of a semester. I feel privileged to observe their growth as law students and professionals who in many cases are learning to manage their time and relationships and endure the lived responsibility of representing a client for their first time in their lives. Equally inspiring is the lawn in front of Old Main. I have spent many sunny days during the weekend kicking a soccer ball with or chasing after my three year old Devyani. We also have a special tree we visit whose leaves turn her favorite color purple.

Last Updated July 22, 2015