The Washington, D.C. Human Rights Seminar (BIS 403) is a signature initiative of the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (IAS). Launched in the first year of the UW Bothell campus, the course focuses on human rights policymaking at the national and international levels. Students spend a week in the U.S. capitol, meeting with legislators, federal agencies, human rights NGOs, foreign embassies, and think tanks to investigate human rights violations and possible policy responses.
Two IAS alumni who went on the D.C. Seminar have gone on to pursue legal careers in civil rights. Kristi Cruz (’05, Society, Ethics & Human Behavior) works as an attorney with the Northwest Justice Project, a publically funded legal aid program. Liam McGivern (’09, Global Studies) is a civil rights analyst at the City of Seattle Office for Civil Rights.
Both of these alumni credit the D.C. Seminar with having a lasting impact on their lives, academically and professionally, and with catalyzing their passion for civic and community engagement. Below they share their experiences of the seminar and where those experiences have taken them in their lives.
How would you characterize your DC Seminar experience?
Cruz: The D.C. Seminar experience was transformational for me. As an IAS student, with a minor in human rights, the seminar put into practice many of the ideas and concepts I had been learning about in my classes at UW Bothell. It was the first time I was exposed to policy making in the real world and I began to see the ways in which I could engage in issues that were important to me to effect change. At the time of the trip to DC, I was pregnant and would soon be a first-time parent. It struck me as particularly meaningful that at that time I was also about to launch into a new career and was learning so much about myself and the world, a world my daughter would grow up in. This was also a time when my decision to go to law school came into focus.
McGivern: My experiences in the D.C. Seminar were my first real-world exposures to the world of law and policy. We met with thinkers and policy makers, conservative and liberal alike, in professional environments to engage with real world issues. The experiences taught me how to conduct and carry myself appropriately and respectfully when discussing controversial issues. I learned to challenge the theories, facts, and beliefs presented to me, even when presented by authoritative people in fancy offices wearing finely tailored suits. The personal experiences and political views within our cohort were diverse as well. My D.C. Seminar experience taught me how to be assertive but respectful, and how to accept and appreciate the views and positions of others, even when in conflict with my own.
How have your professional and academic paths developed since your D.C. Seminar experience?
Cruz: Since graduating from UW Bothell in 2005, I graduated from law school at Seattle University School of Law (2008). After graduating law school, I was selected as the inaugural Leadership for Justice Fellow, a fellowship created by Seattle University School of Law for students looking to work on social justice initiatives. My fellowship focused on improving language access services – interpreter and translation services – for Limited English Proficient and Deaf individuals in public life. I began working at the Northwest Justice Project in 2009 and have continued to work at NJP except for a short stint at SU School of Law as an advisor to a project for the American Bar Association where I was the co-author of the Language Access Standards for State Courts – standards that were adopted as national standards by the ABA in 2012. My work at NJP now primarily focuses on providing direct civil legal services to Deaf and DeafBlind individuals in Washington State and in working to address systemic language barriers in areas such as education, courts, law enforcement, healthcare, and social services.
McGivern: After graduating from UW Bothell with a bachelor’s in Global Studies and a minor in Human Rights, I attended the University of Miami School of Law on a public interest scholarship. As a law student I worked and volunteered as a law clerk in a legal aid office, advocating for low-income and homeless people in housing and public benefits cases. I also participated in UM’s Human Rights Clinic, where I assisted in researching and drafting a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to halt deportations to earthquake and cholera ravaged Haiti, met with State Department officials about the petition to suspend deportations, and worked with a farmer worker advocacy organization. After graduating law school I was awarded a Skadden Fellowship to work as a poverty lawyer in a legal aid office where my work focused on military discharge advocacy and removing illegal barriers to receipt of food assistance benefits. My food stamp advocacy resulted in several changes to state and federal food stamp policy. I now work as a Civil Rights Analyst with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, where I investigate allegations of illegal discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations in the City of Seattle.
How did your experiences in the D.C. Seminar inform the paths you just described?
Cruz: Academically, the D.C. Seminar was where my decision to take the LSAT and apply to law school came into focus. For me, this was a second career. I had been an American Sign Language interpreter for over a decade when I went back to school to finish my Bachelor’s degree. I thought it was a long shot that I’d ever get accepted to law school, but the D.C. Seminar and my professors – Bruce Kochis, Ron Krabill and many others – encouraged me to continue working toward that goal. Also my classmates encouraged me and influenced my decision to apply to law school.
The D.C. Seminar also influenced my professional track because studying human rights was foundational to my decision to become a public interest lawyer and to work in civil legal aid. The D.C. Seminar helped inform my understanding of policy work and the role of institutions in creating and maintaining systems of power.
McGivern: Looking back, I can trace the path from where I am today back to my participation in the DC Seminar. Because I participated in the DC Seminar, I wrote a seminar paper which required legal research, participated in a human rights student group, and earned a minor in human rights. These experiences helped to earn me a public interest scholarship to law school. The programming associated with that scholarship exposed me to educational and volunteer opportunities in the public interest field, and gave me the skills, knowledge, and experiences which led to my post-graduate fellowship as a legal aid lawyer and my current position as a Civil Rights Analyst for the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. The DC Seminar is a large piece of the foundation which led me down the career path which I currently enjoy.
Would you recommend that other students at the UW take the D.C. Seminar?
Cruz: Students should think carefully about taking the D.C. Seminar. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I see it as a fantastic opportunity and one that I wouldn’t want to see wasted, to be honest. It has the potential to be life changing if you really engage in the process. You will be challenged by the work – your ideas and assumptions will be challenged, too. I would recommend students take the seminar who are ready and willing to take this challenge and benefit from the experience.
McGivern: Students should participate in the D.C. Seminar because it’s fun. They’ll make friends and spend time in, and experience, a beautiful city. Students should participate because they’ll learn a lot, both about human rights law and policy, and about operating within the world of professional thinkers and policy makers. The D.C. Seminar is a wonderful combination of challenging academic work, real world experiences, and friendship.
2008 D.C. Seminar participants
You can help to ensure that the Washington D.C. Human Rights Seminar is open to all students, regardless of their financial means. You can give via our secure giving site or contact Victoria Sprang, Associate Director of Advancement, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-352-3716.