2014 Communitas Awards Spotlight: IU McKinney School of Law

Communitas Awards Organization: Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law
Title: “Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Partnership with IPS Shortridge Magnet School for Law and Public Policy”
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Category: 1.1 Company Sponsored Volunteer Project

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Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law began a unique partnership in August 2012 with Indianapolis Public School’s Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy.

The elective class taught at the public school by IU McKinney faculty has the goal of preparing students for their roles as citizens, while providing them with the opportunity to explore legal and social justice careers.

The elective is taught once during the academic year, and McKinney School of Law faculty take turns teaching the class for a week each, sharing their areas of expertise with the high school students. The professors volunteer their time, and law student teaching assistants receive academic credit for their work.

The class emphasizes student engagement. For instance, Professor Michael Pitts, whose work focuses on election law, conducted an exercise to help students experience what it was like for African Americans to register to vote before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Professor Pitts divided the class into two groups based on gender and asked them to fill out the multipage form citizens had to complete to register to vote prior to the legislation. The girls had assistance with the process, while the boys were intimidated and their questions were ignored. Additionally, if the boys completed the applications, they were told that their voter registration cards would be mailed to them. Students walked away from the exercise with a better understanding of what discrimination would have been like during the voter registration process.

McKinney faculty covered a variety of topics from environmental justice and sexual harassment law to juvenile justice and intellectual property law, with more than a dozen professors volunteering to teach about their respective disciplines.

Law school faculty organizers of the program, as well as faculty and administrators at Shortridge, have called the law studies classes at the high school a huge success. “Feedback from Shortridge has been overwhelmingly positive,” said the program’s initial organizer from IU McKinney, Professor Carlton Waterhouse.

It’s a program that other law schools may seek to emulate. Two law professors from Colorado, Professor Catherine Smith of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Professor Melissa Hart of the University of Colorado at Boulder College of Law, visited Shortridge in March 2014 to study the program.

Voting Rights Exercise with Professor Michael Pitts, IU McKinney alumna & Shortridge adjudicator Kelly Rota-Autry and Shortrdige students.

Voting Rights Exercise with Professor Michael Pitts, IU McKinney alumna & Shortridge adjudicator Kelly Rota-Autry and Shortridge students.