Retreat Empowers Law Students and Faculty to Use the Law to Create Social Change

Posted Thu, 03/22/2018 - 09:22

USF School of Law hosted regional law students and faculty at the 20th Annual Trina Grillo Public Interest and Social Justice Retreat on campus March 16-17. 

The event, which creates a forum for public interest-minded law students to network with students, faculty, and practitioners from around the country, is named in honor of the late USF law professor Trina Grillo. She was well-known for her role in academic support work and for innovative methods of incorporating diversity into the curriculum of law classrooms and clinics.  

“This retreat embodies the aspirations of Trina’s work against injustice in its many forms and towards diversity, equality, and inclusion,” said Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Grace Hum, who spearheaded the event. “We chose the theme of this year's conference because our job is to advocate for change and for justice for us all — for all of us here and for everyone in our communities. The status quo just isn't good enough, and we can do this work together.” 

This year’s theme, Advocating for Change: The Different Roles We Each Play to Improve Our Communities, included sessions on mindfulness, speed mentoring, creating a social justice career path, environmental justice, and coalition-building, amongst others. 

Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods ’96 gave the keynote address, recounting what “got me through school: support and motivation.” Support came from USF’s Academic Support Program, which Grillo created, and help from second- and third-year law students. The motivation came from his own personal experiences and opportunities on campus to hear inspiring speakers like Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, talk about his work representing clients on death row.

“I struggle with the word ‘advocate’ a little bit, because advocate means to publicly support or suggest an idea, to develop a way of doing something,” said Woods. “I don't want to just advocate, that is not enough. We need to fight. We need to fight for change, we need to create that change. We have to be proactive to make sure that change occurs.”

There are so many things that lawyers can do to create change, he said. “We are empowered to make change. You can take on all kinds of legal fields, whether it be civil aid, or immigration, or employment law, or housing. There are so many ways that we can fight and advocate to improve our communities.”