LSJ "tells the story of hope"

Submitted by Alex Lynch on
LSJ Major Clara Manahan addresses the UW Foundation Board

Law, Societies, and Justice was provided an opportunity recently to present to the University of Washington's Foundation Board, which is composed of individuals "committed to increasing the level of private giving to the UW."  Professor Herbert described the Program's history and emphases, and LSJ major Clara Manahan outlined the impact of her LSJ coursework on her life and future trajectory.  Her moving and heartfelt speech earned her a standing ovation.  Because it so poignantly illustrates the value of an LSJ education, we include its full text here:

In January 2015, I sat down in LSJ 200 and Professor Beckett welcomed us to class. At that moment, I didn’t know how influential LSJ would be in my college career. I didn’t know that someday I would ride in the front seat while Dr. Beckett drove up to the Monroe Correctional Complex or that I would help conduct research on the juvenile justice system. I didn’t know that LSJ would take me to Amsterdam, or that I would spend two years working at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. I didn’t know I would find alumni who would become mentors or that I’d find a home amongst my classmates.

I think it’s safe to say that the world is far from perfect. We are imperfect individuals running imperfect institutions in the midst of imperfect situations. I also think that most people are trying their best to make the world a little bit better. In my experience, the main goal of LSJ is to equip its students to use their gifts to make a difference. It could be a big difference or a small one, but a difference that leaves the community a little bit better than you found it. In the Law, Societies, and Justice program, you find a community of individuals who have committed themselves to caring, even when it hurts.

LSJ focuses on how law on the books and law in action differ—it thrives in that grey area. It fearlessly dives into the heart of issues we face as socially conscious beings, and begins to equip students with the skills necessary to approach the world with analytic eyes, a determined spirit, and a compassionate heart.It tells the stories of people whose lives have been broken by systems, and the stories of those who help put those lives back together. In a way, it tells the story of hope: it presents to its students the harsh realities of the world and then has the audacity to convince them that they can change it.

LSJ faculty also ask their students to immerse themselves in the community, so that they have the capacity to impact it. Only so much can be taught in a classroom. It’s during these immersive experiences that I have learned the most about the community and about myself.

For example, for two quarters earlier this year, I worked with ten other LSJ students to conduct an honors research project under the supervision of Professor Herbert. We studied juvenile diversion programs. Essentially, the King County Prosecutor’s Office can choose to send a young person to a diversion program before or instead of filing charges. Diversion programs keep thirteen year olds out of jail.

Our group researched the patterns in how these programs were connecting with youth. We studied statistics and went into the community. On Saturdays we could be found at the Seattle University Law School attending a diversion program and chatting with individuals who work with youth. On some Tuesdays, we could be found in Kent or Federal Way, listening to community boards tailor programming and services for an individual youth. On a Monday morning, we could be found in Smith Hall, de-briefing the rest of the group on the interviews we conducted with prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation counselors, and judges.

Not only did each of us individually develop professional skills that will benefit us in the future—working under a strict deadline, representing an organization, preparing for interviews and presentations—but we also were able to make a difference. When we presented our findings to the King County Juvenile Court, they let us know that our work would have an impact. They could use what we had found to reform the way they did things, and make these programs more accessible to youth.

As undergraduates, LSJ encouraged us to authentically engage with the world around us to make a difference. For that, I am grateful.

LSJ has opened my eyes to things that broke my heart. It has walked me through the theaters where Dutch Jews were held before being sent to concentration camps; led me through iron gates and past fences of razor wire to go to a class; and watched murder trials with me that began and ended with tragedy. But LSJ has also put my heart back together and showed me beauty in places I never could have expected. Behind those razor wire gates I found individuals who defied every stereotype I had been taught; inside those systems that lead to prison, I found individuals fighting to keep kids out; and within LSJ I found powerful mentors who inspire me to leave my mark on the world.

Right now I’m finishing my third year at UW, and I feel so lucky to have another year. I don’t pretend to know exactly what I’ll do after graduation. But it isn’t that I feel lost, it’s that LSJ has inspired me in so many ways that I don’t know how best to channel the energy I feel. I hope I’ll help people, and get to hear their stories. I’d like to challenge systems of injustice. I hope to continually be challenged. I would love to be part of something that inspires someone else the way that LSJ has inspired me. I hope that future students will be able to continue to take advantage of these opportunities, because these experiences have defined my college career and what it means to be a Husky. Thank you.

Clara Manahan, LSJ Class of 2018