CLASSROOM

Make it real

Make it real
At home: Liz Carney ’11 visits Casa de Clara. Photo by Charles Barry.
by Liz Carney '11 |
A new class in law and social justice brings the stuff of legal seminars into the undergrad classroom. And sends students out into the community to understand where theory meets the street.

Our assignment: Put a face to the legal theory we were studying in the class “Law and Social Justice.” The place: a local community center—perhaps a soup kitchen or a legal clinic. I found myself drawn to Casa de Clara in San Jose. The description for it read: “Interact and have dinner with homeless women (and young children) in an intimate home-like shelter.”

It’s one thing to read about complexities ... but that learning really hits home when you’re helping a homeless woman navigate the complex process of filing a request for food stamps.

During my weekly Wednesday-evening visits to the shelter, serving dinner and listening and learning, one of the residents I met was a woman I’ll call Deanna M. She grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Birmingham, Ala., in the 1950s. Deanna, who is African-American, shared memories of her daily journey to school: being shot at and riding a school bus past dummies hanging from nooses. Only more amazing than Deanna’s having survived such oppression was her attitude toward what she had endured—and the fact that she is homeless now.

“You don’t give up hope, you don’t give up your dreams,” Deanna said.

That, and she takes pains to point out that the South today is a very different place.

Casa de Clara was founded in 1978 by Peter Miron-Conk ’71 and wife Norma. The dinners I experienced at this Victorian home gave life to the concepts taught in class by law professors Deborah Moss-West J.D. ’94 and Stephanie M. Wildman, who modeled the course on a law school seminar in law and social justice.

It’s one thing to read about complexities—and bias in the system—that are part and parcel of federal assistance programs; but that learning really hits home when you’re helping a homeless woman navigate the complex process of filing a request for food stamps. That’s why the experience at Casa de Clara, arranged through the Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Partnerships for Community-Based Learning, is described by program director Laurie Laird as “the textbook that you live.”

Advocates one and all

“Theory informs practice and practice informs theory,” says Wildman, co-author of Social Justice: Professionals, Communities, and Law: Cases and Materials. “Giving people vocabulary to talk about issues is important.”

Also important is learning how to access legal aid—something most students didn’t know how to do when the class began. Although the course is structured from a legal background, its emphasis on critical thinking and social awareness are applicable to any career path. “Whether students want to become a lawyer or not, these skills enable them to become advocates,” says Moss-West.

Winter 2014

Table of contents

Features

Rise up, my love

There are the sanctuaries built for worship—and that carry beauty and grace for all to see. Then there are the improvised places of faith, perhaps more subtle in how they speak to the wonder worked there.

The chaplain is in the House

With the way things have gone recently in Congress, looking to the heavens for some help and guidance might seem like a very good idea. In fact, that’s what Pat Conroy, S.J., M.Div. ’83 is there to do.

Welcome to Citizenville

Who published the one book on government in 2013 that conservative firebrand Newt Gingrich told all true believers that they should read? Well, the author is now lieutenant governor of California. Before that, he was mayor of San Francisco. That’s right: It’s Gavin Newsom ’89.

Mission Matters

Goooaal!

Women’s soccer wins the West Coast Conference championship.

Patent trolls, beware

The White House has brought on SCU’s Colleen Chien, a leading expert in patent law, as senior advisor.

A sight of innocence

George Souliotes went to prison for three life sentences after he was convicted of arson and murder. Twenty years later, he’s out—after the Northern California Innocence Project proved he didn’t do it.