Students Choose Social Justice Values Over KCBA Scholarship

Janet Rodrigues, a student in the Seattle University School of Law, faces a $3,000 deficit after refusing scholarship money from the King County Bar Association (KCBA) because of the organization’s support for the King County Youth Detention Center.

Another law student, Miguel Willis, has also taken a stance against the KCBA’s involvement with the detention center, a project which he believes targets and harms communities of color in King County. Rodrigues, Willis and several of their peers are critical of Seattle U for not supporting their stance against the project.

“It’s really difficult to go to law school as a person of color,” Rodrigues said.

Rodrigues decided to go to Seattle U because she was attracted to its emphasis on social justice and accountability. In addition to Seattle U’s regular grants for high-achieving students, Rodrigues was given the opportunity to obtain aid from the King County Bar Association (KCBA) due to her impressive end-of-year grades.

As a KCBA scholar, Rodrigues is obligated to speak at certain KCBA events to discuss the impact of the financial aid the association has given her. When she noticed a protest during one of those of the events earlier this academic year, she learned about the KCBA’s involvement with the King County Youth Detention Center.

“I went and saw students with ‘no new youth jail’ signs,” Rodrigues said. “I started learning about it.”

Rodrigues was frustrated that the KCBA gave money to the Youth Detention Center and wanted her to advocate for their contribution at events. In solidarity with the youth, she opted to refuse their aid in hopes of raising the $3,000 she needed through a gofundme initiative.

Several students already donated to her initiative, but Rodrigues hoped to get equivalent aid from another organization in order to cover her loss. With law school’s academic year nearing its end, the university was unable to replace her end-of-year scholarship provided by the KCBA.

These students’ experiences are just a few of many critiques students have expressed about Seattle U’s School of Law.

In 2008, law students of color began publishing on an online forum to express their frustrations and negative experiences with their peers regarding how students and professors communicate with each other. Some law students wrote that they felt professors and classmates used offensive terms during class discussions.

A reincarnation of this blog has been established at Seattle U, with various Facebook and Tumblr feeds dedicated to bringing to light microaggressions from non-black students and faculty on our campus. Tensions among students of different backgrounds got so heightened that a listening forum occurred on April 14 for students to interact with representatives from the school to address the situation.

Second-year law student Amy Bouldin used to work in the Admissions Office, but resigned from her position because of racial tension.

“Law school generally has a lot of issues with race. Professors allow racist things into the class,” Bouldin said. “[The] environment for people of color is unbearable.”

Bouldin wrote a resignation letter that thoroughly addressed her grievances with the school.

“Unfortunately, as a woman of color at Seattle University (SU), I am constantly subjected to microaggressions and overt racism from fellow students and faculty,” she wrote in the letter. “My recognition of the oppressive atmosphere at SU is not only my own, but is shared by a large number of people of color on campus.”

In lieu of this series of events, two listening forums were held in the law school. In her resignation later, Bouldin stated that “these listening forums were planned without the input and leadership of the students who are most negatively impacted by the racialized climate at SU Law.” Bouldin still attends the law school but refuses to work for an institution that she believes doesn’t value her needs as law student of color.

Outside of her classmates, Rodrigues has been able to find support from activist students. Miguel Willis, another law student at Seattle U, supports this separation from KCBA. Willis was KCBA’s student representative, until he found out more about the organization’s association with the youth detention center. To show his solidarity, he also resigned from his position as student liaison.

Annet Rangel, a sophomore communication studies major has also shown her support. She and Rodrigues developed a friendship at a protest event.

“Winter quarter, there was a no youth jail protest and we kind of camped there for the day, at King County Youth Jail,” Rangel said. “From there they [law students] have invited us to different things. We’ve been keeping in contact since the encampment.”

From Rangel’s point of view, the KCBA supports the youth detention center.

“[Rodrigues] didn’t feel comfortable taking money from an organization that had a connection to the school to prison pipeline,” Rangel said. “It’s pretty inspiring to see a student taking on something like that, willing to put her education on the line.”

For Rodrigues and her allies, all of their efforts attempt to create a just and humane world for everyone.

The editor may be reached at [email protected]