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Brittain Award recipient leaves Emory Law as a practiced advocate for vulnerable populations
By Susan Carini | Emory Report | May 5, 2020
Seeing his sister, who has cerebral palsy, battle to receive a full education crystallized Cody Long’s desire to become a lawyer. As a student leader and advocate, he has made a significant impact on Emory’s campus and in the community.
When Cody Long was a junior at North Carolina State University, a crisis arose over his sister’s education.
Jessica, two years younger than Cody, has cerebral palsy. While making a delivery to her daughter’s school one day, Long’s mother found the classroom unattended and some students watching pornography.
Horrified, his mother demanded better. No one would touch the case — not the lawyers she consulted, not even a nonprofit advocacy group. A state senator asked his mother, “Why does your daughter need an education?”
Then a political science and history major, Long saw the law as a possible career. His sister’s battle crystallized his choice.
“I remember wishing there was an attorney willing to do the right thing,” Long notes. “I wanted to be that person. At its best, the American legal system can advocate for those most disenfranchised.”
Flash-forward three years: As the graduate recipient of this year’s Marion Luther Brittain Award, given annually to a graduating student who has performed “significant, meritorious and devoted service to Emory University, with no expectations of recognition or reward,” Long is well on his way to becoming “that person.”
His extensive record of impassioned service to the broader university includes being this year’s president of the Graduate Student Government Association, serving on the University Senate and working as a house director for Residence Life. In the Atlanta community, he has conducted research on behalf of detainees for Emory’s International Humanitarian Law Clinic, interned with the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network and worked with special victims units for the DeKalb County solicitor general and district attorney.
Building community on campus
In his first days here, Long saw involvement with Residence Life as a way to get to know, and serve, the broader university. Starting out as the house director for 15 Eagle Row, Long served sorority and fraternity students as well as transfers. This past year, he was a graduate fellow for the Few, Evans and Eagle Row community and finished out his time as the residence hall director for the Woodruff Residential Center and Clifton Tower.
Through his involvement with the campus community, he encouraged others to get involved, too. As Julie Seaman, Emory Law’s associate dean for academic affairs, observes, “Cody used his familiarity with campus to encourage law students to get out more and use facilities like the new Student Life Center.”
Beyond this direct support to students, Long has joined larger conversations. Describing him as “responsive and responsible, someone who cares a great deal about people,” Dona Yarbrough, assistant vice president of Campus Life, lauds his contributions to the master-planning process and the impressive way he led a meeting this semester with Campus Crossings on community-building initiatives for graduate students living off campus.
A passionate believer in lifting up student voices, Long started as the University Senate representative from Emory Law’s Student Bar Association, then served as the SBA’s vice president for academic affairs.
In the course of his University Senate service, Long was a member of the Executive Committee, the Open Expression Committee, the Title IX Working Group and the Committee on Naming Honors. Katherine Brokaw, Emory Law’s assistant dean for academic engagement and student success, says, “It is unusual for a law student to commit as much time as Cody has to the well-being of the university as a whole. He not only does the hard work but is low-key about his contributions — exactly as the language for the Brittain Award states, ‘with no expectations of recognition or reward.’”
Long capped off his career in student government by becoming president of the GSGA.
His accomplishments include establishing a committee responsive to students’ transportation needs; advocating for clear academic appeals processes in all schools, resulting in an administrative committee to examine processes; working with the Board of Trustees to create student counselor roles on the board’s Campus Life Committee; striving for more gender-inclusive restrooms on campus, resulting in the university’s commitment to include these in new building construction; and pushing for an interdisciplinary certificate program for graduate and professional students.
“In this position, Cody has shown a concern for the Emory community that far exceeds the usual duties of a student government president,” Yarbrough says. “Both tenacious and deeply collaborative, Cody has been a true partner with the university. His sense of duty and passion for Emory are infectious.”
Serving vulnerable populations
Holding himself to a high academic standard and contributing so much to Emory student life
is just the half of it. Working with vulnerable populations outside Emory has been equally important to him.
Long’s work at the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network began as a 2018 summer internship. There, he helped obtain visas for people whose stories he describes as “incredibly painful.” The experience, he says, “showed me that a legal career must be one that you are in love with intellectually and emotionally. You have to be capable of tears and laughter. The pain has to be worth the joy.”
He also assisted the International Refugee Assistance Project, which assigns Emory Law students to King & Spalding attorneys to work on behalf of immigrant clients seeking asylum in the U.S. Recently, a transgender client he assisted for two years was resettled.
“A handful of students and two attorneys can make a difference in at least one person’s life,” he concludes. “These are lessons that I cannot imagine learning anywhere besides Emory Law.”
In 2018, Long worked as a legal extern at the DeKalb County Solicitor General Special Victims Unit, preparing evidence for pre-trial and trial hearings and coordinating with investigators and victim advocates. In 2019, he joined the DeKalb County District Attorney Special Victims Unit as a legal extern, preparing evidence, witnesses and sentencing/bond recommendations for negotiations, hearings and trials. He also conducts research and suggests policy regarding survivor-defendants of domestic violence and human trafficking.
A lawyer joins the family genealogy
According to Long, most of the male members of his family are farmers or military members. Soon, with his law degree in hand, he will be able to advocate directly for his sister, whose challenges continue.
Last year, when Long’s stepfather was retiring, the Army tried to end his sister’s health benefits because she was older than 21. The family eventually secured a favorable ruling but, warns Long, “Everything that has happened with my sister shows me the need for activism mixed with the law.”
He texts her every day, impressed that she is “learning things that I never learned.” He wonders, though: “What would her life have been like if the state had recognized the incredible potential in her?”
After Emory, Long will start an apprenticeship with the DeKalb County district attorney’s office that likely can turn into a full-time position. As a result of COVID-19, the bar exam has been postponed until September.
He is philosophical about missing out on a live Commencement event. If he and his wife have children, he has a ready answer for them if they ever complain. It goes like this: “You think you have it tough? I didn’t get to participate in my graduation from law school.”
Grateful for all that Emory has meant to him, he is not complaining.