Eleven Gonzaga Law Community Members Volunteered Time and Expertise
On October 9th, about 180 recent refugees and immigrants living in the Spokane area attended a workshop intended to help build understanding of civic responsibility and the American legal system. The American Law and Justice Workshop for Refugees and Immigrants was initiated by Refugee Connections Spokane and sponsored through Community Colleges of Spokane. Gonzaga Law professor Megan Ballard worked behind the scenes to organize the half-day event as a volunteer for Refugee Connections Spokane. Professor Mary Pat Treuthart, along with six Gonzaga Law students and three alumni joined the team of volunteers presenting the workshop.
An Introduction to American Legal Structures
“So many refugees have fled from their homes, in part, because of corrupt or violent legal structures,” said Ballard. “To be able to introduce refugees to our legal system and some of its actors in a way that helped reduce their fears was quite powerful.” For example, Ballard cited reactions to a short talk by Spokane Police Officer Theresa Fuller. “One refugee reported that it was the first time he had ever been comfortable in the presence of a police officer.” An ESL instructor from Community Colleges of Spokane who accompanied her students confirmed that the Workshop “changed people’s lives today.”
This workshop was the first of its type offered for refugees in the Spokane area. Refugee Connections Spokane’s objective is to empower refugees to be fully engaged and contributing members of the community, and this workshop addressed the unique legal challenges of immigrants and refugees who are learning how to live in their new country.
A Spokane Area Team Effort Led by Professor Ballard
Community Colleges of Spokane hosted and funded this free workshop. In addition to providing the workshop space, CCS provided ten interpreters, translated distillations of legal rules into ten different languages and provided them to participants as printed handouts, and transported refugees and immigrants from their English as a Second Language classes at the Institute for Extended Learning. Ballard structured the event, created the curriculum and materials, coordinated volunteer facilitators and guest speakers, and served as a liaison between institutional sponsors.
“Let me sum it up this way. She made it happen! This program was a pipe dream of mine for more than 15 years until Dr. Susan Hales, executive director of Refugee Connections brought Megan and I together,” said Francis Adewale, Refugee Connections board member.
“I shared the vision with her and she put the entire program together. Everything was researched by her, and prepared to the smallest detail.
“She is a terrific person and I am glad I get to work with her. Her passion for the poor and the dispossessed is telling. She represented Gonzaga University Law School well. The immigrant and refugee community come out of the program with a lot of respect and regard for the Law School. Similar kudos goes to other faculty brought on board by Megan, folks like Professor Mary Pat Treuthart as well as all the students who participated in the program.”
A Variety of Perspectives
Guest speakers and small group facilitators included:
- Bridget Condon, Public Defender in Spokane and 1999 Gonzaga Law graduate
- Justin Bingham, from the City of Spokane Prosecutor’s Office and 2000 Gonzaga Law graduate
- Judge Linda Tompkins, Spokane Superior Court judge and 1984 Gonzaga Law graduate
- Mary Pat Treuthart, Gonzaga Law Constitutional Law and International Human Rights professor
- Megan Ballard, Gonzaga Law Comparative Law and Property Law professor
- Francis Adewale, Attorney and Public Defender in Spokane
- Theresa Fuller, Spokane City Police Officer
Six Gonzaga Law students, working through the law school’s Center for Law in Public Service, volunteered their time at the workshop as small group facilitators: Catherine DiSarno, Morgan Griffin, John Harper, Anna Kecskes, Katie Shircliff and Holly Timmerman. Treuthart also provided research and structural support.
Serving A Wide Community of Refugees
Among the 180 participants in the workshop, there were at least 8 different countries represented and approximately 18 different native languages spoken. “It was thrilling to see the diversity that exists in the Spokane area. The enthusiasm of the participants was evident from their questions and spirited discussions,” said Treuthart. “The event was a smashing success!” Refugee Connections Spokane is already planning to offer more workshops like this one next year.