Former Clinic Director Val Vojdik has been hard at work bringing her experiential teaching knowledge to bear outside the clinic. Last summer she received a UT Teaching Impact Grant to redesign her Civil Rights Actions Course to focus on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Using an extensive simulation based on an actual civil rights issue in the early stages of investigation and litigation, Vojdik’s students engaged in active problem solving and strategic thinking. They worked in teams assigned to various categories of injured Flint residents, immersed themselves in the underlying facts of the case, developed legal theories, contemplated defenses, and strategized about discovery.
Becky Jacobs debuted a new course, “Law in the Community,” that honors Fran Ansley’s tradition of community-based fieldwork. The course was designed to teach the theory, and provide an opportunity to experience, the intersection of law and community improvement for a greater understanding of how the law impacts those outside established legal institutions. Initially, students absorbed readings on law and social change, then worked individually and in groups to develop a project proposal within strictly defined parameters. After Jacobs approved each project, she partnered with students and their community partner(s) via online tools, in-person discussions, simulations, on-site interviews, and field visits to facilitate students’ critical thinking and develop civic skills as they completed their projects.
During the course of the semester, students produced and secured a means of distributing resources including: a guide for applying for Social Security Disability benefits, a resource guide for victims of revenge pornography, a comparison of the various approaches that the juvenile court systems in Shelby, Davidson, and Knox Counties have implemented to combat juvenile delinquency and status offense rates, a “plain English” pamphlet and resource guide on the use of expert witnesses in domestic violence cases, and a guidance document detailing the possible steps a student group might take to organize an LGBT+ group within their school. In addition, students developed and delivered several community presentations on affordable housing options for Knoxville’s homeless population, conflict management for veterinarians sponsored by the Knoxville Veterinary Medical Association, mediating environmental disputes at the 2016 Appalachian Public Interest Environmental Law conference, and a mediation simulation for law students and community mediators, positing increasing tensions between ethnic communities, residents, and merchants in a major urban area. Students in the course were able to act upon their individual social and moral commitments while empowering community patners to engage more confidently in a legal system that previously may have seemed impenetrable, or even hostile.