Law students use eye-opening trip to jumpstart summer fellowship

May 07, 2018

Four law students traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, in late April to attend the opening ceremony of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the nation's first memorial dedicated to the legacy of slavery, lynching, segregation and other forms of oppression among African Americans. As a result, they will be better prepared to engage in meaningful work this summer to address racial disparity in the justice system.

Hyun-Mi Kim, Michael McCorkle, Noe Merfeld, and Jacob Walsh are the inaugural recipients of The Calhoun Family Fellowship established by Jerry Calhoun to advance equal justice. Mr. Calhoun invited and generously funded the fellows to join him, his wife Andrea, and son Shawn on this life-changing Montgomery experience.

According to professor and fellowship advisor Bob Boruchowitz, the trip served as an excellent prelude to this summer's fellowship activities. "It gave them a tremendous head start on thinking about how to incorporate a sense of the history of racial injustice into the work they will do," he said.

During the summer-long fellowship, students will work on appellate issues relating to youth justice, assisting Boruchowitz with one appeal in particular, the case of an 11-year-old girl who was convicted in Grays Harbor County. Fundamentally, he wants the students to learn to be advocates for systemic reform of a system that perpetuates racial inequity.

In addition to touring the museum and memorial, the students attended a series of lectures, seminars and events featuring notable figures: former Vice President Al Gore; civil rights lawyer Marian Wright Edelman; women's rights advocate Gloria Steinem; Sherrilyn Ifill, director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; “The New Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander; and Bryan Stevenson, an acclaimed public interest attorney who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization that created the memorial and museum.

The students returned with powerful impressions of their time in Alabama.

  • Jacob Walsh: "I almost can't put into words what the experience was like, but it was truly moving. I benefited from being able to hear from people like Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson, who inspired me to attend law school in the first place. I am now even more motivated to be part of the fight to make our criminal court system a more equitable place for everyone."
  • Noe Merfeld: "To me, the most powerful aspect of the trip was touring the museum. It drew a clear parallel between slavery in the past and mass incarceration of people of color taking place today. I will use this experience to inspire me and shape the focus of what I want to accomplish. Achieving equal justice can seem like a big and daunting task, so I am excited to focus on improving the community in Seattle."
  • Michael McCorkle: "My overall impression of the trip was such a collection of joy and sadness; I couldn't help but go to bed each night feeling tremendously full. It was a sobering experience, one in which the gravity of the moment both oppresses you and lifts you right into the air."

Dean Annette Clark, who accompanied the students and Boruchowitz, also praised the memorial: "Visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery was an unforgettable and haunting experience for me, and one that I will be processing for a long time to come. The memorial contains both a lesson and a hope: that national reconciliation cannot come without first facing the truth that our history records a direct line from the inhumanity of slavery to lynchings as a means of terrorizing black communities to mass incarceration, but also that facing that truth can lead to the rebirth of our nation."