Public Service and Professional Identity

Here at the University of Washington Law School, we’re just entering our third year of the Gates Public Service Program. In addition to providing five fullride scholarships with funding for summer jobs and a range of other support, the program provides public service programming for the entire student body.

An innovation last year, in collaboration with the Student Bar Association and a wide range of student groups, was Social Justice Tuesdays during the lunch hour. The Gates Public Service Program and student groups took turns presenting programming around social justice issues and agreed not to schedule other activities at the same time. Topics ranged from Superfund river clean up sites to racial disproportionality in education to fair trade and CAFTA issues.

The idea was a resounding success with attendance at events typically 80 to 100 students (at a school where each JD class is only about 185 students) and even in the weeks preceding exams was never less than 30.

Not only does this address a long-standing problem of competing programming that would lead to inadequate attendance for very exciting speakers. It also provides an opportunity for public service minded students to connect with each other and to create a sense of community. And, it exposes students to a wide range of professionals who have taken different paths in their careers. My sense is that this is a wonderful step towards addressing professional identity issues in a more thoughtful way for at least one segment of the student body.

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