Today, we are featuring a guest post in our Spring Break Pro Bono Highlights series from Shawn T. Ross, Access to Justice Coordinator at the University of Tennessee College of Law Institute for Professional Leadership Development. Thanks Shawn for providing the great information on the University of Tennessee’s 2017 Alternative Spring Break!
University of Tennessee College of Law Students Include Trips to Flint, Michigan and Cherokee, NC as Part of Their Alternative Spring Break
By: Shawn T. Ross
The University of Tennessee College of Law sponsored an ambitious Alternative Spring Break program this year. Students volunteered to work on projects at 6 different host sites in 4 states and also conduct remote research. In total, 32 students provided over 900 hours of pro bono service to support those who provide legal services to those in need.
One team of students traveled to Flint, Michigan to contribute pro bono services to assist residents of Flint, Michigan exposed to toxic water after the city switched its water supply to the Flint River. Over 40% of Flint residents live below the poverty line; a majority are black. Numerous class action lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts on behalf of Flint residents who have suffered serious personal injury and property damage, seeking environmental justice and alleging violations of civil rights and environmental laws. Accompanied by Professor Val Vojdik, a Flint native, the team devoted nearly 300 hours of pro bono service, working with Michigan civil rights lawyers and the Michigan ACLU. UT College of Law students also assisted a coalition of community organizations, going door-to-door in some of the most marginalized Flint communities to help identify emergency needs of residents.
While working in Flint courthouse, one of the second year students, Alaina Woodall, was surprised to see that the water fountains had signs warning people not to use them. “I think that if every person in the U.S. spoke with just one resident of Flint, there would be public outrage,” Woodall concluded. Christopher John, a first year student, left inspired by the experience. “Meeting these people and learning about the work they’re doing gave me hope that no matter how hopeless a situation may seem, there will always be people out trying to do good for the community and striving to make things right.”
Another group of students went to Cherokee, North Carolina to work with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a popular project that provides insight into specific legal issues affecting the members of the tribe. This is a unique opportunity because the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a sovereign nation located within the borders of the U.S. As such, Tribal law is similar to, but different than laws in state and federal jurisdictions. Students worked on a variety of research and writing projects, including the Tribe’s Child Welfare Code, Child Custody, and Wills and Estates under Tribal law.
When asked about his ASB experience, one student, Elijah Lovingfoss (1L), reported, “This was an awesome opportunity to learn about something I had no previous experience with. It highlighted the difference between Tribal law and other areas of the law most of us deal with. Additionally, it also highlighted the importance Native American culture has in influencing the laws and judicial process of the Tribal Courts. I would highly recommend this ASB to any student.” Another student, Elizabeth Holland (2L), commented, “My trip to Cherokee was wonderful, as always, and I hope to visit again next year!”
Students also traveled Louisiana for pro bono work centered on immigration issues. Those students observed immigration hearings, visited detention facilities, and worked with non-profit immigration services during their spring break week. Another group of University of Tennessee students volunteered in Ft. Campbell, KY to provide legal services to military personnel and vets.
Thanks University of Tennessee students for your amazing work, and a special shout-out to Shawn Ross for providing a wonderful guest post on your 2017 Alternative Spring Break!