Anthony Arnone | September 22, 2023

Fight for Social Justice

African and African-American studies and political science double major turned an opportunity at a prestigious law school into a career as a labor and employment law attorney.

Sidnee McDonald ’17/’19 made the most out of every experience she had at SUNY Brockport, helping her secure a position at Cozen O’Connor as an associate in the firm’s Labor and Employment Practice.

“I always thought I wanted to work on the plaintiff side of employment law, but after attending law school I realized that type of legal work was more reactive, not proactive,” McDonald said. “Co-founding an organization focused on social justice and meeting with administration to craft initiatives that were intended to create an inclusive campus was the type of proactive social justice work that I liked participating in. My time at Brockport really helped me figure that out about myself.”

During her second semester of her first year, she took an African and African-American studies course with Professor Michael Boston. By the end of the semester, McDonald was working with Boston to switch majors, but she had one important question before making the leap.

He (Boston) then mentioned that Michelle Obama studied African-American studies and went on to become an attorney. That was when I knew I wanted to go to law school. 
Sidnee McDonald

“I asked him (Boston) ‘What can I do with this degree?’ and he pulled out this book filled with successful people who majored in African and African-American studies,” McDonald said. “He then mentioned that Michelle Obama studied African-American studies and went on to become an attorney. That was when I knew I wanted to go to law school.”

McDonald double majored in political science and African and African-American studies before pursuing graduate school and earning her Master of Public Administration (MPA). Throughout her time at Brockport, she went on to study abroad in Ghana, Spain, and Trinidad and Tobago, co-founded the MOVEMENT, was an active member of the Organization for Students of African Descent (OSAD), and was a justice for Brockport’s Student Government.

McDonald also interned with Pamela J. Hunter and later Crystal Peoples-Stokes as part of the New York State Assembly internship program.

“I really enjoyed working with her (Hunter) because she was very intentional with making sure I was doing tasks that I was interested in,” McDonald said. “Working under Karen Podsiadly as a graduate assistant in the Office of Community Development and taking courses with Dr. Althea Tait were absolutely instrumental to my success as a student at Brockport.”

During her first year of law school at Penn State Law, McDonald attended an event with a panel of various attorneys where she met a management-side employment attorney at Cozen O’Connor.

Sidnee McDonald holding an award

Sidnee McDonald being sworn in

“I was surprised that a Black attorney was working on that side of the law and wanted to speak with him about his practice,” McDonald said. “He talked to me about how his practice allowed him to be proactive and not solely reactive when it came to matters of discrimination. Shortly after that conversation, I applied for an internship with his firm.”

McDonald went on to intern with Cozen O’Connor in both 2020 and 2021 and the firm offered her a full-time job after completing her internship. As a labor and employment attorney, she works on a variety of different legal issues such as discrimination, unionization, termination, and retaliation.

“Having the opportunity to work with clients to educate them on how to comply with the law and still support those who are a part of their organization,” McDonald said. “Especially in light of the Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. V. President And Fellows Of Harvard College Decision, has allowed me to see how instrumental management side employment law attorneys are.”

Today, McDonald is pursuing her passion of practicing law and actively participating in social justice initiatives that focus on ending discrimination and creating a more just and equitable society, and she recognizes how her time at Brockport helped her achieve her goals.