SU Academic Resource Center Alumni Pay It Forward
By Paula Lustbader
KCBA September 2010 Bar Bulletin
Coming from a white, upper-middle-class, American family with two college-educated parents, I was raised with awareness that these privileged circumstances were shared by less than 2 percent of the world's population.
From a young age, it was clear to me that I was obliged to use my opportunities to empower and serve others. Nearly 25 years ago, Professor Dave Boerner and I designed the Academic Resource Center Program at Seattle University School of Law, the only one of its kind in the Northwest and one of the few remaining true access programs in the country. I can't imagine any other work that would be more fulfilling than directing this program. I wake up every day full of gratitude that my work enables me to provide access to justice for the underserved by increasing the number of underrepresented students in the law school and in the profession.
ARC looks beyond traditional admission criteria of the LSAT scores and GPAs of applicants from underrepresented populations to provide opportunity to promising students. ARC not only provides a vehicle for access to law school, but equally important it provides tangible academic and non-academic support specifically for the ARC students and generally for the entire student body.
Over the years, Boerner and I have seen more than 600 ARC students become lawyers. Over half were told they were not college or law school material. Over half overcame unimaginable challenges and obstacles to become lawyers.
Given access to legal education, ARC alums enrich and transform both the law school and the profession. Although they comprise only 10 percent of the student population, ARC students are disproportionately overrepresented as faculty scholars, Student Bar Association presidents and graduation speakers. They go on to be leaders in the legal profession, bar associations and their communities. They continue to serve the law school long after they graduate. Alumni continually come back to the law school to mentor and help entering "ARCies," participate in alumni events and serve on alumni boards.
ARC alumni are thriving in all forms of practice in King County and beyond. They are state and federal court clerks; partners and associates in large, medium and small firms; prosecutors and defense attorneys; U.S. and state assistant attorneys general; public interest lawyers; attorneys for nonprofit organizations; educators; corporate counsel in large corporations such as Boeing and Microsoft; and judges.
Many are recognized leaders in our community. Karen Murray, Municipal Court supervisor for the Associated Counsel for the Accused, received the KCBA's 2010 President's Award. Among her service, she co-chaired the KCBA Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon Committee, and used vacation time and spent her own money to travel to New Orleans several times to serve the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Craig Sims is Seattle's Criminal Division chief and serves on the KCBA Board of Trustees, and Chach Duarte White is the Washington State Bar Association's diversity manager. Another alumna is an executive policy advisor for the governor, handling issues of public assistance and human rights.
Among the varied careers and service, Geri Simon is general counsel for a Native Alaskan corporation. Jeanette Rodriquez works as a policy analyst and director of a nonprofit organization assisting people with immigrant rights, health and domestic violence issues. She introduced a bill that provides human trafficking and domestic violence victims with access to Medi-Cal, cash assistance and job training. Lee Lambert, president of Shoreline Community College, was named one of the top community college presidents in the country.
Carla Lee and Tracey Flood serve on the Washington State Bar Association Board of Governors, and many ARC graduates have been WSBA Leadership Institute Fellows, including five of the 12 fellows for 2010. Three of the most recent presidents of the Loren Miller Bar Association and four of the most recent presidents of the Latino/a Bar Association of Washington are ARC alumni.
Many alumni broke barriers. Judge Frank Cuthbertson was the first African American on the Pierce County Superior Court. Two pioneered as elected prosecutors in their respective counties - one as the first African-American woman and the other the first woman to be elected.
Many are serving their communities in other ways. Kabbie Konteh works as a legal advocate in Seattle and created the Restoration of Cultural Sierra Leone (ROCS) foundation, which aims to provide accessibility to education for students in Sierra Leone, his home country. Fellow ARC alum Lydia Koroma is working with him.
Lorena González founded the LBAW Legal Clinics to provide access to legal services by offering free topic-based legal education and advice to low-income and underserved Latino community members. Fé Lopez helps to administer the clinics. Both are leaders in the Latino/a Bar Association of Washington, and González received the 2010 WSBA Civil Rights Section Award in recognition of her hard work and dedication to advancing civil rights in Washington.
Among other recent recognition, WSBA presented the Award for Courage to an African-American alumnus who represented a white supremacist; James Bible received the 2009 Champion of Justice Award from the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for his work as the president of the Seattle King County NAACP; and Ernest Radillo received WSBA's 2009 Courageous Award.
ARCies have been supported not only by Seattle University School of Law in providing access, support and belief in potential, but also through the generosity of an anonymous donor who has created an endowment of more than $8 million to provide scholarships for ARC students. The ways in which ARCies have achieved success and serve their communities exemplifies how one act of support and belief in their potential has a powerful ripple effect in touching the lives of so many.
In June, I was deeply touched to receive the Loren Miller Bar Association President's Award for my work with ARC. When I accepted this honor, I asked the ARCies in the room to please stand because for me the greatest honor has been in serving them.
As I looked around the room and saw the number of people who stood, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was able to see in a tangible way how much the legal community respects these alumni and I was able to imagine all the people they have touched. I don't take credit for their accomplishments, but I do take pride in all they have done.
The Dalai Lama says that the purpose of life is to be happy and that the path to happiness is in serving others. I think he is right. Don't tell the dean, but I would do this job for free.
Professor Paula Lustbader is co-founder and director of the Academic Resource Center at Seattle University School of Law.