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2014 Mississippi/Arizona Service Learning Report

Friday, May 2, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Libertelli
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                      This year’s School of Law Service-Learning program, led by Professor Susan L. Waysdorf, was a wonderful capstone opportunity for an amazing and diverse group of 3Ls and faculty.  It was also the largest group of third-year law students that we have ever convened for these alternative spring break trips, since we began doing these service trips to New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina.  The trips, which are combined with a weekly Service-Learning seminar, were made possible by the generous contributions of private funds brought to the program by Professor Waysdorf - $10,000 from the Gertrude and William C. Wardlaw Fund and $20,000 from the Edna Wardlaw Charitable Fund.

                       Twenty-six UDC law students and seven faculty members participated in the Spring 2014 service-learning trips, which occurred March 8 through March 15th.   This year we once again organized three trips:  one to the Arizona-Mexico border area, centered around Tucson, Arizona, and two trips to Mississippi.  One team of students and teachers went to Jackson, Mississippi and the other team to the Mississippi Delta, specifically Indianola, in the heart of the historic Delta.  Both Mississippi teams worked with the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) on a variety of poverty law legal services and law reform efforts and projects. The MCJ is a nationally recognized leader in the civil rights movement and the current struggles to bring economic and racial justice to the disenfranchised in the state of Mississippi. The students worked on legal projects affecting the Delta communities, including special education claims, parental education and self-advocacy rights and issues, and projects to empower the local communities to organize in the midst of historic and enduring poverty and discrimination. In Jackson, students worked on a variety of legislative, policy and law reform efforts, as well as several community-based initiatives in the state’s capital.

                      This year’s theme for our Mississippi delegation was to carry forward the legacy of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer and the 50th year commemoration of that historic summer that changed our democracy forever.  We had the opportunity to tour the major Civil Rights heritage sites and to hear from heroes and heroines of the freedom struggle of the 1960’s.  The week’s activities ended on a high point with a visit to Tougaloo College, the HBCU that has served as a center for the Civil Rights struggles.  We heard from some of the original organizers of Freedom Summer 1964 and the 1961 Freedom Riders, including Mr. Hollis Watkins.  He also led us in the singing of freedom songs in Tougaloos’ historic Woodworth Chapel. 

                      The UDC delegation of students and faculty that traveled to Arizona assisted immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border with legal and humanitarian issues, as well as in the Tucson area and across the Mexican border.  UDC law students worked with a variety of humanitarian, immigrant rights and legal services agencies advocating for immigrant rights.  Their witnessing the conditions at the border and in Mexico for recent immigrants and deportees was a key part of the “learning” component in the service-learning pedagogical model.  Students reported these experiences were life transformative and they re-doubled their commitment to using their law degrees to seek social justice and equality for all.  The service-learning program at UDC, which originally began as a response to Hurricane Katrina as a disaster law course with a practicum component, is now an essential and central part of the School of Law’s curriculum.

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