PUBLISHED:April 28, 2010

Spring Break spent in service

While their friends enjoyed the beaches in Florida or ski slopes of Lake Tahoe, 54 Duke Law students made community service the focus of their Spring Break this year. Ten students traveled to Brazil to conduct research relating to land rights and socio-economic development of the Quilombos, which are traditional communities descended from Afro-Brazilian slaves (Read more here). And 44 students participated in the Southern Justice Spring Break Trip, working at sites in New Orleans; Atlanta; Jackson, Miss.; Prestonburg, Ky.; Whitesburg, Ky.; and Richmond County, N.C.

Chris Grant JD/LLM ’12 spent his week with the Mississippi Center for Justice in Jackson, Miss., researching the Charity Care program — a program offering low-cost or free medical services to indigent individuals — and its use in hospitals across the country.

“The project wound up being really interesting,” Grant says. “I enjoyed it a lot and learned that public interest is really rewarding. Everyone loved what they did and kept telling us over and over how the work we did would have a direct effect on people’s lives.”

The desire to experience Southern culture draws many students to participate in the Southern Justice Spring Break Trip. Reed Lyon ’12, a self-described “West Coast native,” chose New Orleans as his destination.

“Between wanting to see New Orleans for the first time and being able to work with the public defender’s office, it seemed like a great opportunity,” says Lyon, who spent his week with the Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office using a software database and interviewing incoming detainees to determine if they would need representation.

“It was pretty interesting to see where the school work meets real work,” he says. “You don’t necessarily see a lot of nuanced constitutional issues; it’s more blatant misapplications of justice.”

Lyon, who hopes to return to New Orleans next year as a Southern Justice Spring Break Trip leader, says the experience also helped to inform his participation in Duke Law School’s Innocence Project. Citing examples of individuals being arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he observes that he could see “how wrongful convictions are started.”

For Sean Lobar ’12 and Shiran Zohar ’12, who traveled to Whitesburg, Ky., to work with the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, two serendipitous events during their days off allowed them to better understand the impact of their legal work.

“We went to the dedication of a monument for a mining disaster that happened 34 years ago and also got to attend a public hearing about mine safety standards in relation to black lung disease,” says Lobar, who spent his time at the center researching laws intended to provide benefits to miners with black lung disease or their widows.

“Those events made the whole experience very personal and showed me the importance of the work being done,” Lobar says.

Zohar agrees. “We had exposure that previous volunteers at that location were not afforded, which brought our work into perspective,” she says.

“I loved the people that we worked with and for,” Zohar continues. “I enjoyed that immensely. And I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about Appalachia. I had no idea what it was like; I’m from Southern California. It was very different from there and very different from North Carolina, as well.

“The trip was a lot of work for Spring Break, but it was good.”