Major gift supports experiential learning at UW Law

The UW School of Law is the recipient of a major gift that will support clinical law projects aimed at addressing issues facing Indigenous communities and people at risk of homelessness.

The $100,000 gift powers efforts led by UW Law’s Tribal Court and Mediation clinics, where students will leverage opportunities to gain hands-on legal experience working on behalf of clients from underrepresented populations. The gift is part of a larger donation to the University of Washington made by The Purple Crayon Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit founded by artist and philanthropist Alyson McGregor.

“Through experiential learning, students are not just getting a new lens through which to see — they’re experiencing a whole new landscape,” McGregor said. “We have an old way of seeing things, and so we are really challenged to change the conversation. And I feel that with this hands-on learning and the sense of community it brings, we start the creation of the new conversation.”

These gifts will open up new opportunities for students to explore the power of interdisciplinary collaboration — using the law in conjunction with other disciplines to make positive changes in the world.

Mediation Clinic

Directed by Associate Dean for Experiential Education Christine Cimini, the Mediation Clinic provides free and confidential mediation services for clients in the Greater Seattle Area. This new project design is innovative in that it differs from traditional private alternative dispute resolution services and community mediation alike.

The project is designed to provide rapid response de-escalation measures before problems are exacerbated. To effectively address conflict, the team will include interdisciplinary and multicultural negotiators who can navigate the nuances of each problem.

In addition to mediation services, the project will include the delivery of integrated social services support and connections to affordable and supportive housing opportunities. The project will employ online dispute resolution tools during the COVID-19 pandemic but will “go to the conflict” once restrictions are lifted.

Cimini has assembled a collaborative team from units across the University of Washington. The team will work with the Housing Justice Project and the King County Dispute Resolution Center on mediation that seeks to prevent homelessness through tenant advocacy and landlord support. In addition to UW Law, the team comprises representatives from UW Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance; the School of Public Health; the School of Social Work; and the West Coast Poverty Center.

“I could not be more excited about the opportunity to work with experts across the campus on a new and innovative approach to intervening in the housing crisis in the ways that reduce the risk of homelessness,” Cimini said.

Tribal Court Clinic

The Tribal Court Clinic: Criminal Defense and Family Advocacy is part of the Native American Law Center at UW Law. The clinic partners with the Tulalip Tribes to serve as primary public defenders in criminal cases filed in their Tribal Court.

The gift funds a new project that builds on the clinic’s ongoing work led by UW Law Teaching Professor Brenda Williams. In partnership with the School of Social Work, School of Law students will work collaboratively in teams to develop alternative resolutions within the Tulalip Tribal Court system. The teams will focus on alternative resolutions to cases in the interest of identifying restorative justice outcomes in the place of punitive punishment measures.

“We are thrilled to begin this partnership with the School of Social Work, as holistic client representation necessarily requires working collaboratively with other disciplines,” Williams said. “The first social work students commenced classes with the law students [by Zoom] at the start of Fall 2020 and have contributed substantively to the doctrinal portion of the course in a way that enhances the comparative learning aspect of this project.”

Throughout the year, UW Law’s Clinical Law Program provides students with real-world legal experience working with clients. With 11 clinics available, students are able to apply their lawyering skills learned in their first years in a diverse range of specializations.

Fueled by this new philanthropic support, these newest projects are extensions of the experiential learning program’s mission to foster opportunities for students to make an impact in communities across Washington.

“We are incredibly grateful to Alyson for her contributions,” Cimini said. “These gifts will open up new opportunities for students to explore the power of interdisciplinary collaboration — using the law in conjunction with other disciplines to make positive changes in the world.”