Conference activates academics to fight poverty

February 18, 2016

A conference at Seattle University School of Law this weekend aims to take academics out of the ivory tower and into the streets.

"Poverty Law: Academic Activism" will bring together about 120 scholars, students, advocates, lawyers, and community organizers to talk about ways their work can make a real difference for people living in poverty.

Sara RankinThe issue is near and dear to Professor Sara Rankin's heart. The Homeless Rights Advocacy Project (HRAP) that she directs at Seattle U Law has already had a major impact in Washington. Student research on laws that effectively criminalize homelessness has helped leaders in several communities take another look at discriminatory laws in their cities and towns.

"It was wonderfully gratifying to see how legal research could really make a difference in the lives of the visibly poor," Rankin said. "It motivates us to keep going."

The students who wrote four comprehensive policy briefs last year as part of HRAP will present their work at the conference. This year's cohort of HRAP students will also present preliminary research on topics for seven new briefs that will be released in May.

Gene NicholGene Nichol, the Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, will be a featured speaker on the first day of the conference. His North Carolina Poverty Research Fund fights policies that contribute to economic injustice in a state with one of the fastest growing poverty rates. In fact, his work became embroiled in controversy when critics accused Professor Nichol of overemphasizing anti-poverty activism.

There is no such controversy at this weekend's conference, which will focus on "how to educate the next generation of poverty warriors."

The conference, which has drawn participants from as nearby as downtown Seattle and as far away as Nigeria, features presentations on housing, gender, storytelling, scholarship, criminal law, and teaching strategies. Dozens of law schools are represented, including Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, Temple University, Georgetown, and Northwestern University. (See the full schedule here.)

The event is an annual conference, hosted this year by the Seattle Journal for Social Justice and the Seattle University Law Review.