The path that led Jack Xiang to the Bronx District Attorney’s office, where he will begin working in September as an assistant district attorney, was long and meandering.
But it has primed him—the first in his family to graduate from college—to make an impact on the criminal justice system, he said.
And as an added bonus, Xiang, who gets his diploma on Monday, May 23 from the law school, will be doing it in the borough where he was born.
Xiang’s parents immigrated to the Bronx from Guangzhou, China, but eventually moved to Elmhurst, Queens. Xiang grew up there as an only child, and returned to the Bronx for school—he was admitted to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science.
He did his undergraduate studies at Hunter and Stony Brook colleges, where he tried his hand at chemistry before realizing he wanted to spend more time with people. He settled on political science and Asian studies, and as part of his studies, he ventured to Tibet and Western China to study minority populations.
After he earned his degree, Xiang took some time to travel and “figure out” what was next. He lived briefly Texas and San Francisco, and then returned to New York City, where he worked as a bartender and waiter. He briefly considered pursuing a doctorate in Asian studies, but ultimately Fordham Law School attracted him. He said he felt it would deliver concrete results.
“At Stony Brook, I did a lot of research and a lot of writing, and it seemed like law was an area where I could use those skills to further my career,” he said.
Xiang found his calling in law when he was given the opportunity to work in Syracuse for the Honorable Frederick J. Scullin Jr., justice of the Northern District of New York. His colleagues spoke of putting in long hours that they found worthwhile, because they could see the tangible benefits of serving in the community. Xiang became intrigued.
“That’s really what I wanted to do. I’d done a lot of jobs where I worked a lot of long hours, but those jobs didn’t resonate very well with me,” he said. “Law is for a good purpose, and you can see the effects on the community. That matters to me.”
Xiang initially considered doing defense law, but he says he wants to be a prosecutor who is in a position to effect change from within. He credits some of this perspective to having studied in China, where the government is fully in control of the justice system.
When those on the outside pushing for change find no one on the inside is listening, change becomes a Sisyphean task, he said.
“If you only have very conservative prosecutors who believe every small crime should be prosecuted to the full extent, then [you won’t find]more reasonable prosecutors who will balance the sentencing and balance the prosecution,” Xiang said.
“Do you want to really put someone with a small marijuana offense away from their family for five years? Does it benefit their family? Does it do society any good? Is there a sense of justice? These are the questions that you ask yourself.”
He credits professors Mark Costello, adjunct professor of law, Ted Neustadt, legal writing professor and associate director of legal writing, Deborah Denno, PhD, Arthur A. McGivney Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Neuroscience and Law Center, and Clare Huntington, associate dean for research and professor of law, for helping guide him. He is also proud to have formed a tight group of friends, many whom are also taking jobs in district attorneys’ offices in New York City. Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island have all recently elected new DAs, which makes prosecutorial work exciting area of law to work these days, he said.
“All my life I’ve been watching New York change, and it’s interesting being part of that progressive front now as an adult,” he said.
“I’m glad I made the choice to go to Fordham because of the people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve built. It’s created a foundation for who I want to be.”