Blending her passion for social work and human rights law, she champions causes at home and abroad — and co-creates an award-winning social media series.
Caroline Fish ’07 is passionate about helping others.
As an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she supported friends who had experienced assault. She eventually became so involved with bringing awareness to gender-based violence that she switched her major from English to psychology. After graduation, she worked for AmeriCorps in a high-poverty region in rural Maine, mentoring students in fourth through eighth grades, and also volunteered as a crisis hotline responder for a domestic violence agency.
“That experience led me to social work,” she said. “I was really interested in helping people.”
Advocating for some of the most vulnerable people in society has led Fish on a rewarding journey — one that combines the disciplines of social work and law, each with a domestic and international focus.
Fish — shown here in a framed photo from her Ravenscroft graduation in 2007 — has a passion for helping others that has shaped her career path.
Giving others a voice
While pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Washington University in St. Louis, Fish began to learn more about human trafficking and the exploitation of minors. Motivated to help young people who had escaped desperate situations, she interned in the prosecutors’ office at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri and assisted victims who were going through trials against their traffickers.
“I really liked the intersection of law and social work,” she said. “My career path was becoming clear to me as I moved through it.”
Her calling became even more apparent when she served as a family court advocate for GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Service) in New York City. There, she aided human trafficking survivors, mostly girls aged 12-17, in juvenile delinquency and cases known as Persons in Need of Supervision, or PINS.
“I helped the court recognize that [the defendents] were trafficking victims and that they were completing our program to improve their lives. The judge would use that information to make a decision about their case,” Fish said. “I loved working with the girls, empowering them. You see why all the work matters.”
Fish poses with a fellow activist outside the capitol in Albany, New York, while lobbying for legislative reforms for survivors of human trafficking in 2014.
Fish accepts congratulations during her graduation ceremony at St. John’s University School of Law in 2018.
In 2015, Fish received a full scholarship to attend St. John’s University School of Law in Queens, New York, and joined its international honors program. It was a decision that would prove critical to her path in law: She not only worked on human rights through a pro bono fellowship in France but also interned at the international criminal court of The Hague in the Netherlands.
“I worked in the trial chambers addressing war crimes and crimes against humanity. One of the top commanders in the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda was on trial. He perpetrated a lot of atrocities against women and children. The sad part is that he was a child soldier himself at one point,” Fish said. “In my role, I made sure the judge had all the documents for trial, listened to evidence and wrote memos about questions of international law and human rights.”
She credits Ravenscroft for an essential part of her success in this field. “I had such incredible writing teachers and English instructors who pushed me at a very formative time,” she said. “Because of ‘Law and Order,’ many people think that lawyers just get up and argue their case, but the magic actually happens when you write briefs and papers and submit them to the court. A lot of advocacy is written. I’m a good lawyer and social worker because I’m a good writer.”
As part of her participation in the international honors program at St. John’s, Fish (shown here in 2017) interns at the international criminal court of The Hague in the Netherlands.
“Humans of St. Louis”
Fish’s love of poetry and prose helps to offset some of the heaviness of advocacy. While she was living in St. Louis, one of her creative outlets evolved into a transformational medium for many of the people with whom she shared the city. Working with a friend, photographer Lindy Drew, she launched Humans of St. Louis, an award-winning nonprofit storytelling series that gives its 130,000 social-media followers an intimate look into the lives and struggles of St. Louisans. One photo accompanies each poignant story, which Fish would pen after conducting on-street interviews with participants. The series continues, and many stories have recently been curated into a book by the same name.
“Humans of St. Louis shows how everybody is connected to each other,” Fish said. “It’s important to show compassion. You never know what someone’s going through.”
Fish and her Humans of St. Louis co-creator, Lindy Drew, discuss content for their award-winning storytelling venture.
Stories from Humans of St. Louis have been curated for a book; Fish says their purpose to show “how everybody is connected to each other.” Image courtesy of Humans of St. Louis
Charting her future
Today, Fish serves as a judicial law clerk for a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. She said she finds its broad range of cases — criminal, civil, employment and bankruptcy — insightful and inspiring.
“It’s a pause from regular litigation,” she explained. “This experience makes you a better lawyer because you understand judges better and how they see things.”
She’s scouting out her next opportunity after her clerkship ends in September and offered this advice to other young people pursuing their dreams: “Stay true to yourself, be open to learn and take the path you want to take.”
Fish facilitates a 2019 legal training session in Argentina as part of Justice Institute, a pro bono project of Vital Voices that seeks to advance the fight against gender-based violence by training lawyers, social workers and law enforcement officers on best practices for working with survivors and across sectors.