Leaders for justice

Three fellows will work for underserved communities after graduation

Three May graduates will tackle difficult social justice problems through post-graduate fellowships, including two awarded by Seattle University School of Law.

Anupa Iyer received the law school's Leadership for Justice Fellowship to report on human rights issues faced by women with mental disabilities in Africa, and Andra Kranzler was awarded the law school's two-year Justice in Action Fellowship to help people of color find living wage jobs in South King County.

Reyna Ramolete Hayashi earned the Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship at Empire Justice Center in Rochester, N.Y., to combat the growing problem of wage theft - the systematic underpayment of workers' wages.

"These fellows exemplify the mission of Seattle University School of Law to create a more just and humane world," Dean Mark C. Niles said. "Their work will make a difference to many people who have been marginalized or ignored."

Seattle University School of Law is the only law school in Washington to offer a post-graduate fellowship program. Since 2009, the law school has funded the one-year Leadership for Justice Fellowship for a graduate to work with an organization on a specific social justice project involving underserved or marginalized individuals or communities. Thanks to the generous donation from social justice champions Jim Degel '80 and his wife, Jeannie Berwick, this year the law school was able to offer the two-year Justice in Action Fellowship.

"These fellows exemplify the mission of Seattle University School of Law to create a more just and humane world," Dean Mark C. Niles said. "Their work will make a difference to many people who have been marginalized or ignored."
Dean Mark Niles

"Especially in these economic times, it's crucial to make sure the most vulnerable have access to legal services and that graduates are able to pursue their passion for social justice," Niles said. "The law school is proud to be able to make their important work a reality.

Anupa Iyer, Leadership for Justice Fellow

Anupa IyerAnupa Iyer will work with the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, an international NGO based in Budapest, Hungary, to create a report that will be used to conduct advocacy before the United Nations and African human rights bodies. Her project will focus on the human rights of women with mental disabilities, a particularly vulnerable and disenfranchised group.

Iyer's passion for this issue stems from her own experiences with mental illness and being institutionalized in psychiatric facilities across the country.

"I will never forget the feeling of losing my freedom and identity as a unique human being. As a patient I was just a disease needing to be cured," Iyer said. In fact, doctors told the young woman who had graduated from UCLA at just 19 and worked as a union organizer that she might never be able to work again.

Open about her own experience, she wants others to have stories of success. "I spent two years of my life just in and out of hospitals," Iyer said. "The hardest part is there is so much stigma attached to it. That is what brought me to this field. The only way to change societal perceptions of disability, especially of mental illness, is for people to share their stories."

Iyer was a spring intern for Commissioner Chai Feldblum of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C., working on new EEOC guidance relating to the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act. In summer 2010, she was an intern for the Mental Disability Advocacy Center and drafted a critique of a World Health Organization Declaration and Action Plan. Iyer has also interned with Disability Rights Washington and the law school's International Human Rights Clinic.

Iyer said it's hard enough to deal with a mental disability or illness in the United States, where there are protections in place, but what she has already seen abroad made her focus on those people who are even more marginalized and isolated in rural areas in Africa. Her clinic project working with the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights motivated her to do a fellowship based in Africa. She is eager to start her work after a summer internship with the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C.

Though she has found her calling, it wasn't an easy road. She said she realized after years of bouncing in and out of facilities, she was tired of "being defined by my disease."  She contacted her former employer, found a job in Seattle and walked out of the facility where she was being treated. In Seattle she found a way to manage her disease through talk therapy and became healthy.

Knowing she had the benefits of an education and a supportive family, she wanted to find a way to help people like her who weren't so fortunate, so she enrolled in law school.

 "People have the right to live with dignity and to have the lives they dream of regardless of the fact they have a disability," Iyer said. "People should have the chance to live their lives, to go work or school, not be isolated and locked up."

Iyer is grateful for the support of the law school, both while she was a student and for the fellowship. Professors who took the time, staff in the Center for Professional Development and others helped her through her difficult first year and encouraged her along the way.

As a student she was the President of the Health Law Society, Faculty Standards Representative for the Student Bar Association, and worked as a research assistant to Professor Lisa Brodoff. Volunteering with the Housing Justice Project and helping to produce a video for Columbia Legal Services strengthened her devotion.

"I'm so appreciative of the school, both the administration and the faculty. I've had some amazing professors that taught me to believe in myself. I couldn't have gone to a better school for me to discover my potential and pursue my passion."

She is committed to helping others do the same.

"We shouldn't undermine people's potential because they have a disability," Iyer said. "If we want to make the world a more just and humane place that means it's just and humane for everybody."

Andra Kranzler, Justice in Action Fellow

Andra Kranzler Andra Kranzler and her mother moved to Renton, Wash., from Montana seeking a more diverse community with more opportunities. They found the diversity they desired, but a 15-year-old Kranzler was exposed to racism and classism that has guided her work and life.

After graduating from high school, she worked for several employers in South King County and attended Highline Community College.

"I was exposed to the many different forms that racism and oppression can take, and I began trying to understand the racial and economic injustices that surrounded me," she said. "As the working poor, we were treated without dignity while trying to figure out how to break the boundaries of poverty."

Those experiences caused her to further her education and seek solutions to problems that had been exacerbated by "urban renewal" and gentrification. She earned a degree in urban planning, and became a housing advocate in Seattle and South King County. She will now continue the work she began in law school as the recipient of the two-year Justice in Action Fellowship.

 The Jobs and Race Equity Fellowship Project will be based at Columbia Legal Services to provide legal support to communities of color in the construction industry in South King County. The project evolved out of the work she did as an extern and intern with the organization.

Kranzler will provide legal advocacy and support for four community organizations as they work towards getting their constituents sustainable jobs. She received the American Bar Association's 2010 John J. Curtin Scholarship on Homelessness and Poverty to work at West Tennessee Legal Services and has also worked with the Solid Ground Family Assistance Program. She was a Rule 9 intern in the law school's Predatory Lending Clinic. In law school, she was active in the Black Law Student Association and the Social Justice Coalition.

She is passionate about strengthening communities and families.

"Why are our communities so weak when there is so much potential here?" she said.

After college, Kranzler worked with the Low Income Housing Institute and was then a case manager and counselor for HomeStep, helping families transition from homelessness.

"That changed my life," she said. "I realized it was the system that was the problem, not the people. I learned the power of wrap-around services and the challenge of securing a stable job with a livable wage."

In law school, Kranzler continued working on housing issues as she turned her focus toward employment and how that affects housing.

"If you don't have good stable employment, you don't have housing, then all these other factors come into play," she said.

She will be working to ensure that jobs created by federal funds to provide the construction of housing, infrastructure and other projects go to the people who live and work in those communities. She will be conducting oversight, monitoring, policy work and litigation when necessary.

"We need to make sure that the people who live in that community are benefiting from these well-paying jobs," she said.

Kranzler said her passion has been fueled by the law school and the people she has met and the experiences she has had.

"Seattle University School of Law is a wonderful school and a great leader for social justice. I have been introduced to people doing this work. In law school, you learn how lawyers impact the law," she said. "It's a whole different thing to see how they impact the community."

Reyna Ramolete Hayashi

Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellow

Reyna Ramolete HayashiReyna Ramolete Hayashi competed with law students across the country for the Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship at Empire Justice Center in Rochester, N.Y. The fellowship is awarded to a talented, committed law school graduate at the beginning of her or his career in the area of poverty law. Her project is aimed at empowering low-wage workers to eradicate wage theft through community education, impact litigation, legislative reform and cooperative development. 

"Wage theft reproduces an underclass of workers whose labor is exploited and what little wealth these workers have earned is stolen," Ramolete Hayashi said. "This project will help workers re-assert the most fundamental workplace right - the right to be paid."

The project is especially timely because New York enacted the Wage Theft Prevention Act in April 2011. Some workers are routinely being paid less than the minimum wage, denied overtime pay, forced to work off the clock, misclassified as independent contractors, or not paid at all.  Wage theft is a national epidemic that has only intensified in the current recession, she said, and foreign-born workers, women, and people of color fall victim to wage theft at disproportionate rates.

The problem has ripple effects, from workers who can't support their families, to law-abiding employers who can't compete with those who don't follow the rules, to the public, which loses out on tax revenue.

"I feel so blessed to be able to work in solidarity with low-wage and immigrant workers to fight this economic and racial justice issue," Ramolete Hayashi said. "This project is especially meaningful because it incorporates so many of my practice values - law and organizing, community lawyering  and systems change - to advocate for wage justice for working people."

Ramolete Hayashi, who is one of the law school's Scholars for Justice and one of this year's Faculty Scholars, has been dedicated to working with underserved communities since before law school and has been one of its most passionate social justice advocates.

She said her refusal to accept the status quo is rooted in the economic struggles and perseverance of her mother, who emigrated from the Philippines. "The strength of character and perspective that my mother nurtured in me provided an unwavering foundation for me to pursue my purpose, helping other  immigrant workers bear those economic burdens with their dignity intact, their labor valued, and their rights respected."

Ramolete Hayashi has extensive experience, ranging from working as a social worker with the homeless in Vancouver B.C., before law school, to helping Casa Latina research, draft and pass the city of Seattle's Wage Theft Ordinance. It provides increased penalties for employers who cheat workers, including business license revocation, and increased protections for immigrant workers, including a provision that protects workers from being retaliated against based on immigration status.

She is an advocate with CASA Latina's Comite De Defensa De los Trabajadores (Worker Defense Committee) where she educates immigrant workers about their rights and empowers workers to recoup unpaid wages through direct action, organizing, and lay-lawyering.   

She has interned for the National Employment Law Project, the Unemployment Law Project, the Northwest Justice Project, Medical Legal Partnership for Children and was in the Ronald A. Peterson Law Clinic's Domestic Violence Clinic. Among her law school activities, she was president of the Public Interest Law Foundation and student content development editor and author for the Seattle Journal for Social Justice.

She is the second graduate of the law school to win this fellowship. Persis Yu '09 was named the Hanna S. Cohn Fellow in 2009.

- Summer 2011