“I knew it would make me a strong, empowered individual,” she commented.
It is this steadfastness that has helped Sidifall, now in her third-year at The John Marshall Law School. She is the recipient of the Ralph and Evelyn Ruebner Scholarship awarded to immigrants or children of immigrants by Ralph Ruebner, associate dean for Academic Affairs, and his wife, Evelyn. Sidifall is using the scholarship this semester.
An immigrant of Liberia, Sidifall’s family left the country during the First Liberian Civil War that raged from 1989 through 1996—a conflict that forced her to “watch law and order thrown out the window.” Because Liberia’s justice ministry was “pretty much nonexistent” during the war, many war criminals escaped prosecution, she said.
During the Liberian Civil War, homes were ravaged and more than 200,000 Liberian citizens were killed; most also were internally and externally displaced. It is considered one of Africa’s most brutal civil conflicts.
“I decided that if I get out of this alive, I’ll go to law school and return to Liberia to help enforce human rights and development standards,” Sidifall recalls.
Upon arriving in the United States in 1997, Sidifall’s family did not have jobs (they obtained jobs eventually), much less a plan for her to attend college. Still, she persevered.. “I wasn’t sure how it would happen, but I knew I needed to go to college.”
During her undergraduate work at Voorhees College in Denmark, SC, and later at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, NC, Sidifall carried an 18-credit hour load every semester while working a night job—“I still made the honor roll and participated in the Pre-law Club, the Concert/Chapel Choirs and Model United Nations,” she says proudly. She graduated in three and a half years.
While pursuing a master’s degree in international commerce and public policy at George Mason University, Sidifall took a job as a paralegal in Washington, DC, to experience working for a law firm before pursuing law school. “I knew I’d always wanted to go to law school and I knew (this experience) would be worth it,” she said.
Sidifall has focused her law school classes on international commercial transactions, humanitarian law, international trade and development, and international human rights law classes. Sidifall hopes to use her education for the benefit of those who have been victims of conflicts similar to the Liberian Civil War. She hopes to parlay her master’s degree and her law degree into work with an international institution that advocates for development, governance, and peace.
“I want to be able to collaborate with human rights groups,” Sidifall added.