The first time Samantha Hooper (J.D. ’22) played a female character in the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, she felt a sense of ease she’d never experienced before.
“It wasn’t some big lightbulb moment,” Hooper explained, “but it was interesting to figure out what that meant to me. I felt very comfortable inhabiting this female body, this female voice.”
At that time, Hooper, a staunch supporter of human rights, was giving all she could to organizations advocating for gender equality, prison reform, and immigration justice.
“I was working at Chipotle, and I didn’t have a whole lot of money,” Hooper said. She wanted to do more than argue weekly on Facebook about issues focusing on social change. “Eventually, I realized that was a waste of energy. I started to look for more productive ways to help my community.”
Hooper enrolled at Georgia State College of Law. In her application essay, she wrote about Dungeons & Dragons. “The game’s rules are expressed in intensive texts,” she said. “They have to be interpreted and judged by people. I saw parallels between that and law because sometimes the game’s rule books are ambiguous. The community has to work together to figure out exactly what the rules mean.”
While most legal cases involve more research than interpretation, Hooper found a similar community spirit in her internship last summer at the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, working to advocate for low-income tenants seeking housing justice.
“These issues are significant, serious, and, in some cases, life-threatening,” she said. Her internship left her determined to work at a nonprofit public interest organization.
Hooper continued her work for housing justice at Georgia State Law’s Health Law Partnership (HeLP). In March, her team helped a nonprofit client win a $34,600 judgment in a housing case. This money will go directly to helping tenants across Georgia—particularly families with children.
“Children deserve to live happy, carefree lives,” Hooper said. “Safe and stable housing gives children the bare minimum they need to achieve that kind of life.”
Last summer, Hooper took another, more personal step towards her ideal future.
“I started coming out to people. I entered my third year of law school openly trans. It’s the biggest thing that’s happened to me in…forever,” Hooper said with a smile.
After coming out, Hooper discovered a newfound friend group at Georgia State Law and across the Atlanta area.
“I had anxieties and stress about how people would react. How do I keep the person I was before while being this new, fuller version of myself? But my old friends, my new friends, and my family have all been doing everything they can to make me feel welcome and safe.”
Friends helped Hooper learn to do makeup and inspired her fashion sense. “I got to wear all the clothes and styles I’d been jealous of throughout the years,” she said. Describing her transition as a “second puberty,” Hooper watched and read female-focused coming-of-age narratives. “I didn’t get to have a girlhood, so it’s been nice to live that out through these stories.”
After a year of intense transformation, Hooper looks ahead to a future of helping others navigate their own life transitions. She’s applying for jobs at Atlanta-area public interest organizations, hoping to protect human rights at a nonprofit like those she used to support with her meager Chipotle earnings.
“I’ll be really happy to be settled,” she confessed. “Everything has been up in the air for me since I started adulthood. I’m excited to start living a life that I’m happy to live.”