In her remarkable 32 years, Jeanette Acosta was a leader for social justice, a leader in the Latinx community, and a leader for women’s health. She will always be a cherished Fellow in our Tony Patiño community.
Jeanette grew up in Pasadena, California, and graduated cum laude in 2008 from the University of Southern California. Jeanette founded a learning center for Mexican immigrant children in Hollister, California, and, as a Fulbright scholar, focused on improving education policy in Mexico.
While earning her master’s in public policy from Harvard University, Jeanette continued her advocacy work for undocumented immigrants—co-founding the Ivy League Immigrant Rights Committee and serving as a graduate consultant with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education. Jeanette then worked with President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, as a White House Intern, and with the United Farm Workers Foundation, before pursuing her law degree at UC Hastings as a Tony Patiño Fellow-Elect.
While a student at UC Hastings, Jeanette received the Student Leader of the Year award in 2015. Jeanette was an active leader in student organizations, serving as the co-chair of La Raza Law Students Association and as a Ms. JD fellow. Jeanette also worked as a legal extern for the Office of the Attorney General under Kamala Harris ’89, and in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. In 2016, the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly published Jeanette’s note, The Right to Education for Unaccompanied Minors, 43 HASTINGS CONST. L.Q. 649 (2016).
Jeanette’s classmates from UC Hastings selected Jeanette and her partner, Chris Ballard, to speak at their graduation ceremony in May 2016. In her speech, Jeanette challenged her fellow graduates to consider their impact on the world.
After graduating from UC Hastings, Jeanette began her career as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Anna Blackburne-Rigsby of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. However, just months into her clerkship, on December 23, 2016, Jeanette was diagnosed with cervical cancer. After fighting a brave year-long battle, Jeanette passed away on December 18, 2017, a warrior until the very end.
Jeanette’s cancer diagnosis transformed her into an outspoken champion of critical preventative cancer screenings, particularly for low-income women and women of color. Jeanette focused attention on data showing that Black women suffer the highest mortality rate due to cervical cancer and Latinas suffer from the highest incidence rate.
Continued advocacy will be Jeanette’s legacy. On March 26, 2021, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA-34) introduced the Jeanette Acosta Invest in Women’s Health Act in the United States Senate and House. If passed, this bill would expand funding for preventive health care services with a focus on breast and gynecological cancer screenings, particularly for women of color. It will also create training opportunities for health care providers and initiate research studies on awareness and availability of effective cancer screening options.
Jeanette also continues to inspire social justice work in the Latinx community. The UC Hastings La Raza Student Association grants a scholarship in Jeanette’s honor each year to a student who is committed to social justice, dedicated to the values Jeannette represented, and active in helping the Latinx community.
The Tony Patiño Fellowship invited Jeanette to speak at the Selection Day Dinner on August 19, 2017. We invite you to read Jeanette’s inspiring remarks from that evening.