The Stanford Law Review, a prestigious student-run legal journal, elected its first Iranian-American and Muslim-American president on Nov. 11. The newly elected second-year law student Daniel Khalessi ’13 J.D. ’22 attended Stanford as an undergraduate and majored in International Relations with a minor in Iranian Studies. He went to Yale University for his Master’s degree, and spent a year at Peking University in China as a Yenching Scholar. He has now returned to Stanford as a law student and is interested in constitutional, national security and international law.
The Stanford Daily [TSD]: You are the first Iranian-American and Muslim-American to be President of the Stanford Law Review. How does that make you feel?
Daniel Khalessi [DK]: I think the hope that I have for my election, if it has any symbolic meaning or anything like that, is that I want people to know that there is a more tolerant America beyond the America that we’ve seen in the last four years. There’s a lot of challenges, there’s so many problems going on and they’re not going to get resolved. But, I think, electing people of color and minorities to these positions and opening doors for others is really important in showing that America can be a very inclusive and tolerant place.
TSD: In what ways do you think that the Stanford Law Review, or Stanford Law School itself, is working toward being more tolerant and diverse? How do they still need to improve?
DK: I think that improving the diversity of the faculty is going to be very important. And that’s not just at the law school, but across the entire university. By diversity, I’m talking about diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, background — all the things that encompass diversity, including diversity of opinion and ideas. I think it’s very important for us to be a university where people can feel comfortable bringing their whole self to the university. I think that’s something that every institution can do better at, but I know that there are professors here at Stanford in the law school and outside who are really eager to push that forward.
TSD: Why is diversity a priority for you?
DK: It makes us better. Having diversity of background and experiences improves the quality of the articles that you select and the opinions that you get, because we can’t see the world only through one lens, we have to see it through the lens of the experiences of a multitude of people from diverse backgrounds. That’s crucial. I believe diversity is something that enhances legal scholarship and the journal.
TSD: How do you think your personal experiences have impacted your perspective on law?
DK: I think it’s very different to be on the side of people who are harmed or subjugated by certain laws, than to not experience it and witness it on second hand. I do think that there are so many people who are allies out there who have a lot of empathy, but also support diversity. For me, as a Middle Eastern American growing up during the 9/11 era, it was very difficult to get bullied at school, but then at the same time, you have a broader global perspective. That makes you, in many ways, a stronger person.
TSD: Why did you decide to go to law school?
DK: I was always interested in going to law school; I was a debater in high school. But I think more importantly than that, I viewed law as a way to deal with institutions and how power is balanced among competing interests and competing parties. But, especially during this very divisive time in our country, and with the Trump administration, I felt that it was important to become a lawyer. One of my long-term goals is to become an international legal scholar and focus on law, so coming to law school was part of that.
TSD: How has representation, or a lack of representation, impacted you in your professional pursuits?
DK: It’s not very common to have a Middle Eastern man in national security. But, I learned early on that people can serve as mentors to each other. I think two of the people that were my role models: I interned for Ambassador Susan Rice, who’s also a Stanford alumna and a woman of color and very accomplished, and then I had Dr. Condoleezza Rice as a professor at Stanford. To see people of diverse backgrounds in these positions, from opposite parties, demonstrating standing up and being strong, was very inspiring.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
This article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Daniel Khalessi’s name. The Daily regrets this error.