Center for Social Justice students to lead new initiatives
Each year, the Seton Hall Law Center for Social Justice (CSJ) selects two students from the first-year class who have demonstrated a strong commitment to public service and who are planning public interest careers.
Each scholar focuses on a particular area of need within either the International Human Rights/Rule of Law Initiative, focusing on human rights litigation, advocacy and reporting, as well as issues impacting immigrants in New Jersey; or the Urban Revitalization Initiative, which addresses issues of urban poverty, with a focus on education and housing. The Scholars, who will serve until graduation, are offered a range of public interest opportunities and benefits, including the chance for an externship at the CSJ during their second year of law school, financial assistance, and a full-year of clinical courses in the final year of law school.
Chris Keating ’14 is the 2012 CSJ Scholar in the Urban Revitalization Initiative. After graduating from Rutgers University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Keating joined Teach for America and taught at a Newark charter school. “I developed an interest in education-related issues prior to coming to Seton Hall Law School,” explains Keating. “Having the opportunity to work in such an outstanding school in Newark, learning from some of the most hard-working, intelligent leaders in the education reform movement, really made me a believer in what Newark schools, and their students, can achieve. A law degree will enable me to remain involved with education issues, while allowing me to take on a role in which I will be most effective.”
As a CSJ Scholar, Keating will serve as an extern in the Fall 2012 semester with Professor Kyle Rosenkrans and Professor Shavar Jeffries. Keating explains, “We’re working on a parent empowerment initiative, which reaches out to parents in the community to inform them of their rights and their childrens’ rights, in regard to special education services. I will also be working with Professor Linda Fisher and Professor Rosenkrans on housing-related issues involving foreclosures and affordable housing in the community.”
Keating has found the right fit with Seton Hall Law and the surrounding community. He says, “There are so many opportunities in Newark and throughout New Jersey, that if you are passionate about any issue, the CSJ can assist you in finding an organization that’s right for you.”
Karol Ruiz is the 2012 CSJ Scholar in the International Human Rights/Rule of Law Initiative. She graduated from Drew University in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. Ruiz’s life-long interest in human rights, and in immigration in particular, prompted her to apply for the scholarship.
In Ruiz’s own words: “I emigrated from Colombia when I was seven. I was undocumented for a very long time while living in the United States, which was frustrating and depressing. It was not until January 6, 2011, that I finally became a U.S. citizen. Because of this, I still identify with undocumented youth.”
The consequences for undocumented youth in America are severe. According to Ruiz, “Undocumented youth are not eligible for federal student financial aid, a driver's license, or any other benefits that citizens receive such as Welfare, Medicaid or Medicare. Some schools, like the county college I attended, barred admission to undocumented students. Now undocumented students are admitted to my county college, but even though the affected students pay in-county taxes, they are charged out-of-state tuition rates, which are triple. Even though education is a human right and these students are American in every way but on paper, they still face additional obstacles because of their undocumented status.”
As a result of this experience, Karol never thought she could become an attorney, saying, “While in college, I was not even a citizen, some people did not think I should even be admitted to the college, let alone a law school! I thought, ‘law school is not for immigrants.’ So instead, I got into social work, and the more activism I took part in, the more I realized the great value of lawyers. So I applied to Seton Hall Law School . . . and was accepted!”
As a CSJ Scholar, Ruiz has jumped right in to apply her community organizing experience. In August, she worked with CSJ Professors Margaret Martin and Lori Nessel to organize volunteer lawyers and law students to assist undocumented youth and young adults in applying for the new deferred action program, introduced by President Obama in June. The directive ensures that certain immigrant youth are eligible to apply for deferred action from deportation and for work authorization permits. Ruiz, the volunteer team and the NJ Dream Act Coalition (NJ DAC) assisted the youth in completing the forms free of charge in the Paul Robeson Center of Rutgers-Newark. This is the sort of work that has inspired Ruiz to practice law.
I chose to attend Seton Hall Law School because I realized that the law is so crucial to changing injustice,” says Ruiz. “I came to Seton Hall Law School because I knew I needed legal knowledge to affect the kind of change I hoped to effect.”