Connecting my Trial Advocacy and the American Legal Systemcourse to a community engaged learning experience has been an eye-opening endeavor for me. This course teaches students about trial processes in a criminal case and culminates in a full mock trial, with a Jersey City Superior Court judge presiding. Through my work with faculty fellows - and the help of Saul Peterson, Jodi Bailey, and the entire 2017-18 fellow cohort - I modified this course to infuse community engaged learning components into the curriculum. My community partner is the Jersey City Superior Court Assignment Judge, Hon. Peter Bariso. Students travel to a courthouse of their choosing and observe 10 hours of court proceedings during the course of the semester. Students are taught to journal their observations and create field notes, including their perceptions, opinions and concerns associated with their observations. After the observation hours are completed, students form groups to compare their observations and share their various perspectives. For example, were defendants treated similarly, regardless of race or gender? Did race influence the severity of sentence imposed in a case? What dynamics, if any, were observed regarding family members in the audience? Did socioeconomic status seem to play a role? Did the quality of legal representation vary between private and public defense attorneys? Did the race of various court actors (prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, victims) appear to influence the proceedings? Students also have the opportunity to engage in question/answer sessions with judges regarding their observations.
We are only two months in and the response from students, judges, and other court actors has been outstanding. Not only have our students been well received, but court personnel have gone above and beyond to engage students in conversations, listen to their perspectives, and hear about their experiences. Judge Bariso has created an environment where students are welcome to stop by chambers and discuss their observations. One student noted that her biggest surprise (upon talking to one of the judges) was how she viewed the world so similarly to the judge. Students have reported a number of observations that surprised them; I have learned so much by looking at a system – I thought I knew – through their eyes.
Dr. Vaibhavee Agaskar
Assistant Professor and CACREP Liaison
Department of Counselor Education
In general, the Counseling field is embracing social justice and advocacy philosophy from the past few years. As a Counselor educator, teaching social justice pedagogy to our counseling students is a challenging task and thus infusing 'community engagement' in our counseling curriculum and giving them an opportunity for experiential learning is the key to develop students' social justice competency.
Through the faculty fellow cohort of community engagement, a new initiative of NJCU, I learned the language and the necessary tools to develop and implement a counseling curriculum with the community engagement pedagogy. I am hopeful my students and I will become part of the civic-minded community.
Assistant Director of
Gilligan Student Union Room 111