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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Brittany Adams

Brittany Adams

Brittany Adams '12

Immigrant Advocate

While many beauty pageant contestants say their goal is to help people, Brittany Adams ’12, a former Miss Santa Clara, really has devoted herself to making the world a better place.  As a Hackworth Fellow at the Ethics Center during her senior year at SCU, Adams began working on the issue of immigration, an interest that has guided her ever since.

Currently, Adams is working with the Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County on their Refugee Resettlement Program while she applies to law school with the hope of becoming an immigration attorney.  

As a fellow at the Center, Adams researched undergraduate views on justice and fairness with regard to immigration, interviewing both citizens and undocumented students.   “I became more attuned to challenges undocumented students faced,” she says.  With her mentor, Campus Ethics Director David DeCosse, Adams presented her findings to the campus community, including recommendations for how Jesuit institutions of higher education should address the needs of the undocumented. 

“After the Hackworth Fellowship, I felt a void,” Adams remembers.  “I tried to find something I could do in the immigration area.”  After graduating from SCU, she attended Harvard Divinity School, where she completed a master’s of theological studies on religion, ethics, and politics. She was a Harvard University Presidential Scholar, an honor that goes to the most outstanding master of theological studies and master of divinity applicants who demonstrate a concern for and interest in public service. 

At Harvard, Adams took as many classes on immigration as she could find, and also volunteered for Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic. “That solidified my interest in refugee law— seeing attorneys work empathetically with clients,” Adams says. “Initially I thought I wanted to pursue a Ph.D., but my time working at the clinic moved me in a different direction—to pursue law and become a refugee attorney.” 

As a volunteer with Catholic Charities, she does fundraising for the Refugee Resettlement Program.  Adams explains how the program works: “In Washington, D.C., all these different resettlement agencies meet in a conference room where they go through stacks of cases, and each agency offers to take some of them.  Catholic Charities, on principle, takes the toughest cases—the ones no one else will take, ” Adams explains.  These cases are then distributed to Catholic Charities organizations throughout the country, and the local groups provide services such as housing, English as a second language instruction, and employment help.  

Adams’ great grandparents were immigrants from Mexico, but she describes herself as “detached” from that experience until she came to SCU.  “My understanding was really limited,” she says.  “I stumbled on immigration when I took a class on it with [former SCU] Professor Kristin Heyer.”  She also served as a research assistant to Heyer for her book Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration(Georgetown University Press, Moral Traditions series, 2012.) 

That initial experience led Adams to pursue her Hackworth Fellowship at the Center.  “I credit my time as a fellow; it has really shaped my entire journey.”