Social justice champions Jim Degel '80 and Jeanne Berwick fund leadership academy

March 17, 2014

Thanks to the generosity and laser-like focus on social justice of Jim Degel '80 and his wife, Jeanne Berwick, the Washington State Equal Justice Community Leadership Academy will complete its four-year plan to graduate more than 100 individuals. 

The Academy is an initiative of the Washington Supreme Court-established Access to Justice Board. It is hosted by the Seattle University School of Law and its Access to Justice Institute (ATJI). Academy participants (fellows) are drawn from legal aid, pro bono, and other equal justice programs, community-based organizations serving the poorest and most disadvantaged in the state, and all three Washington law schools. They are trained together as collaborative partners in year-long cohorts. Four retreats are held each year on-site at SU School of Law, with substantial web-based teaching and experiential learning accomplished between in-person retreats.  

The cutting-edge, rigorous curriculum, developed by the Sargent Shriver National Poverty Law Center in Chicago for the equal justice community, engages fellows in transformative, highly interactive learning of seven core leadership competencies: 

  • strategic and systems thinking;
  • achieving workable unity;
  • communicating strategic intent;
  • self-awareness;
  • delivering on strategic intent;
  • fostering processes of renewal; and
  • leadership development that is consistent with inclusion, diversity, and cross-difference competence.  

These competencies are taught with the anticipation that fellows apply them in their own personal and professional lives, and within the larger environs of their respective organizations, the Alliance for Equal Justice, and the broader movement for social economic justice. The Academy is designed to be multi-generational and accountable to client communities most affected by barriers and obstacles to justice.
Degel Berwick Degel and Berwick are among the law school's most generous donors, supporting the Academy, several two-year fellowships, the Fred T. Korematsu Center, and other social justice projects. Their gift for this project totals more than $241,000.
"As a long-time board member with an immigrants' rights legal aid organization, I have witnessed firsthand the consequences of chronic underfunding of services to meet the justice needs of our state's poorest and most disadvantaged people," said Berwick.  "Although we remain committed to supporting organizations that provide direct legal services and advocacy, we have come to understand this kind of support addresses only part of the problem.

"We believe investment in training and support infrastructure is essential to a sustainable, vibrant equal justice community. Investing in the Academy is our way of contributing to the strength and durability of our equal justice community over time," she noted. "We extend an invitation to members of the bar and the wider community to join us in supporting current leaders and laying the groundwork for the next generation of visionary and effective social justice leaders."  

Degel echoed his wife's sentiments.

"Our support for the Academy is part of our commitment to ensure the equal justice community has a strategic and intentional way of developing its leaders, equipping them with a common language and the concrete tools and skills to engage in effective and competent mission-driven leadership behaviors. And the Seattle University Law School, with its long-held commitment to equal justice, is the ideal home for this critical training.

"We are fortunate to be able to lend our support in this way, to honor the equal justice advocates who have helped, mentored, and inspired us," he added.

Degel has devoted his legal career to serving injured and incapacitated children and adults in his role as guardian and trustee of special needs trusts. Berwick's passion is advancing the rights of immigrants and refugees, including working with a team of other committed lawyers to form the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and serving on its board for 18 years.

"Jim and Jeanne's vision and strategic investment are making it possible for the equal justice community to leverage resource partnerships among our law school, the Washington Supreme Court and its Access to Justice Board, the Office of Civil Legal Aid, the Legal Foundation of Washington, and private donors," SU Law Dean Annette Clark said. "We thank them for their unwavering support, which we see as a vote of confidence and a bond of trust that we will continue to 'walk our talk' on social justice.

"They are role models for all of us in their own work and in their philanthropic investments."