Lawyering for Change Podcast: Episode Two

Program Officer Doug Wood

The second episode in the "Lawyering for Change" podcast series features an interview with Douglas Wood, a program officer working on the Higher Education for Social Justice initiative team at the Ford Foundation. During this interview, Mr. Wood elaborates on his efforts to provide place-based education opportunities for communities that are often marginalized in the United States, including the formerly incarcerated and undocumented immigrants. Emphasizing the need for both sustainability and an understanding of the community you are working in, Mr. Wood explains that one key aspect of these education initiatives is that local partners - organizations, teachers, and students from the community itself - drive them. He also discusses the importance of (1) identifying those systemic barriers that hinder educational opportunities for the community he is working in; and then (2) connecting the efforts being done on the ground to federal and state policy to address and break down these barriers. 


About the Podcast

 “Lawyering for Change” is a podcast series that engages with lawyers and other practitioners in an effort to break the mold around what you can achieve with a legal education. Created by the Center for Institutional and Social Change at Columbia Law School, each episode features an interview with one or more individuals working to improve public education, organize grassroots campaigns for prison reform, provide leadership and advocacy training, build the capacity of non-profit organizations, and more.


Lawyering for Change Podcast Launches

What do lawyers do?

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Some may think there is a short or simple answer to that question, but in fact lawyers work in a wide range areas and have a significant impact on social change across the country. “Lawyering for Change” is a podcast series that engages with lawyers and other practitioners in an effort to break the mold around what you can achieve with a legal education. Each episode features an interview with one or more individuals working to improve public education, organize grassroots campaigns for prison reform, provide leadership and advocacy training, build the capacity of non-profit organizations, and more.

Created by the Center for Institutional and Social Change at Columbia Law School, the “Lawyering for Change” is a resource for both law students and attorneys as they consider beginning or shifting their legal career. Each episode provides insight into the strategies and skills that lawyers use in undertaking social change. The series is also an opportunity to learn more about areas of public interest law including public education reform, prisoners’ rights, and immigration reform.

Creating Connections Consortium (C3) Summit

A group of 175 faculty members, undergraduates, graduate students, administrators, and higher education leaders from across the nation gathered in March for the inaugural Creating Connections Consortium (C3) summit. The event, held at Connecticut College, brought together leaders from top liberal arts colleges and research universities to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion in higher education.

The Center for Institutional and Social Change (CISC), which serves as an innovation hub and strategic planning partner to C3, worked in partnership with the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers (LADO) consortium and five partner universities (Connecticut, Middlebury, and Williams Colleges, University of California at Berkeley, and Columbia University) to set the agenda for the summit, the theme of which was “launching transformation.”

Organizers described the C3 Summit as the culmination of a year’s worth of collaborations between partner institutions to address the gaps in the diversity pipeline of higher education institutions. Participants focused their conversations around not only investing in talented students and faculty from underrepresented groups, but towards the type of system building and design thinking required to create structural changes within their institutions.

A key tenant of C3’s mission—and one of the driving concepts at the summit—was the idea of “full participation,” initially developed through the work of CISC Executive Director Susan Sturm. Sturm has written extensively in the past on the need to push for change in higher education so that students and faculty of all backgrounds can succeed at the highest levels possible—to “fully participate” in all areas of higher education, from the classroom to the campus to the community.

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Summit participants engaged in conversations on how to effectively apply the concept of “full participation” in their respective colleges and universities, discussing how to build capacities and structures that will allow for change. A major point of the discussion was the lack of mentors and faculty members who share life experiences with those who enter higher education from places of different social and economic status, as well as those of different races, class, sexual orientation and disability.

In order to address this shortfall, C3 has launched programs at critical junctures along the higher education pathway. The program includes graduate school visits aimed at providing information, support, capacity building and new connections at a time when undergraduate and graduate students are contemplating what to do after graduation. C3 has also recently sponsored visiting fellowships on liberal arts campuses for historically underrepresented groups in higher education—students with backgrounds of limited economic means, parents without education, and/or who are ethnic minorities. Almost all were women.

Without mentors and a supportive environment, such underrepresented students are often left to find their own way—a situation which puts undue responsibility on the students themselves. One veteran of C3’s 2013 Undergraduate Fellowship, Sade Williams from Middlebury College asked: “How do you go about changing the culture of the campus without putting the onus on those people who are already silent, already marginalized?”

A good chunk of the Summit was dedicated to breakout sessions, where students like Sade who participated in some of the workshops and programs C3 ran at partner schools brought greater specificity to the conversation. Many brought up the difficulties they face in dealing with a lack of cultural diversity in the communities where liberal arts colleges are typically located. Williams College, for example, is located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a town that, as of the last census, is 90 percent white and primarily middle class (median household income is about $52,000—just about the national average). As a result of these demographics, mentors from backgrounds similar to students of color, or from low-income backgrounds are hard to come by. In addition, such students are less likely to engage with the community, due to a lack of shared background and culture.

The Summit closed with the keynote address by Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, the current president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Hrabowski is no stranger to the issues; he was born and raised in the segregated south of the 1950s and 60s, and has written and spoken at length about the challenges of and need for minority participation in STEM education and industry. In his address, Hrabowski drove home the point that there needs to be practical approaches to enact change and work towards truly embedding diversity in higher education.

“If the climate is not one in which people expect that every student will get necessary support,” said Hrabowski, “so many of the students, who are not part of the main group, can be slipping through the cracks.”

Architecture of Full Participation Key Note at NC DIP Annual Conference

Professor Sturm’s key note, titled the Architecture of Full Participation, described the role that higher education institutions can play in addressing the challenges of inequality. Professor Sturm explained that “At a time of growing inequality and shrinking confidence in our country’s ability to address the complex problems facing our communities, higher education institutions are key to building societal capacity for meeting these challenges.” She offered a new institutional framework for integrating diversity and equity, publicly engaged scholarship, and student success initiatives with each other and with higher education’s core values. The “full participation” framework focuses on creating settings that enable people—whatever their identities, backgrounds, or institutional positions—to enter, thrive, realize their capabilities, engage meaningfully in institutional life, and enable others to do the same. She described a process that builds the architecture for full participation by linking projects, people, resources, practices, and networks, and building these values and practices into the hardwiring of institutions.  She demonstrated how this strategy is responsive to the legal risks exemplified by the affirmative action case before the Supreme Court and highlighted the risks and challenges that accompany full participation work and strategies for navigating them.  Following her key note, Professor Sturm conducted a workshop for participants to enable them to engage with the challenges and opportunities for advancing full participation at participants’ home institutions.

The North Carolina Diversity and Inclusion Partners (NC DIP) is a consortium of public and private institutions of higher education in the State of North Carolina established to coordinate a statewide network among chief diversity officers, equal opportunity compliance officers, human resources practitioners, experts in multicultural affairs and other professionals interested in issues related to equal opportunity/affirmative action and diversity in higher education. Over 200 members include chief diversity officers, EEO compliance officers, HR practitioners, experts in multicultural affairs, and others from across the State of North Carolina interested in issues related to diversity and inclusion in higher education. The NC DIP annual conference sought to provide participants with an interactive platform to hear and share ideas and engage with colleagues around some of the critical challenges that practitioners may face, across different institutional types, in building inclusive communities in difficult political and legal climates.

Educate Don't Incarcerate: Reversing the School to Prison Pipeline

On November 20, the Center, NYREN, the EIO Coalition, and John Jay College’s PRI co-hosted “Educate Don’t Incarcerate” at the Talking Transition tent to call for increased educational access and support for New Yorkers with criminal records.

Our team was selected to organize and host an event at the Talking Transition tent in Hudson Square. The event, “Educate Don’t Incarcerate: Reversing the School to Prison Pipeline,” which took place on Wednesday, November 20 from 4 to 6 pm, drew more than 200 attendees who came to participate in the call for increased educational access and support for New Yorkers with criminal records.

The event provided a platform for the public and Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s transition team to hear from students and graduates whose lives have been transformed through educational opportunities while in prison, after being released, and/or while under community supervision. During the event, NYREN also launched its 2014 City Policy Recommendations designed to create a comprehensive cross-sector education and reentry strategy that emphasizes systems alignment and communication and increased access to quality programs for justice-involved people.

Speakers included Glenn E. Martin, Marlon Peterson, and Stacy Soria from the Fortune Society, Vivian Nixon from College and Community Fellowship, Trevor Polyte Mobley from Getting Out & Staying Out, Ray Tebout from College Initiative, Bianca Van Heydoorn from the Prisoner Reentry Institute, Terrence Coffie from The Doe Fund, and students from Future Now at Bronx Community College. The event closed with a performance by College and Community Fellowship’s Theater for Social Change.

Talking Transition, a city-wide effort sponsored by several international, national and local foundations, was intended to engage New Yorkers in the transition to the new mayoral administration, which will begin on January 1, 2014, and create a forum for informing Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s team about New Yorkers’ priorities and vision for our city’s future. In addition to “Educate Don’t Incarcerate,” other events included “Are We There Yet? Next Steps in New York City's Journey to LGBT Equality,” “Protecting Affordable Housing in New York City,” and “Protecting the Waterfront and Revitalizing it for Fun, Recreation, Commerce and Transportation.”