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During this year’s winter break, 20 students from Pace’s Haub School of Law and Dyson College embarked on a profound interdisciplinary field study in Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama. Led by distinguished Haub Law professors Randolph McLaughlin, Debra Cohen, and David Dorfman, the immersive program delved into the heart of civil rights history, hosted at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Headquarters and various Legacy sites.
Very thoughtful, mature, and respectful discussions were generated by what we witnessed and experienced during this field study.
The learning objectives were ambitious, seeking to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the historical trajectory of race in the United States—from slavery through emancipation, reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights movement, to the present-day challenge of mass incarceration. The course also aimed to explore the intersection between this history and the realms of criminal law, criminal procedure, prisoner rights, and civil rights litigation.
“The experience was eye-opening and life changing. The students were receptive, open-minded, and curious,” says University Counsel Terryl Brown, who served as a chaperone on this inaugural trip. “Very thoughtful, mature, and respectful discussions were generated by what we witnessed and experienced during this field study.”
The field study experience emphasized the need for every student to walk back into history, understand its impact on the present, and actively seek ways to eliminate injustice and inequality.
The Pace team visited various sites, including the Freedom Rides Museum, Department of Archives Museum of Alabama, and the Alabama State Capitol. The journey began at the Legacy Museum, where the students were confronted with a poignant portrayal of the Atlantic crossing, human trafficking, economic justifications, and the heartbreaking stories of families torn apart. The subsequent visits to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, meetings with EJI attorneys, and discussions with Judge Myron Thompson provided hope and inspiration for actions to address the lingering injustices.
I was absolutely blown away by the beautiful Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
Mckenna Crenshaw ‘27 highlighted the emotional impact of the trip. Crenshaw, inspired by reading Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy while still in high school, rediscovered her passion for the Equal Justice Initiative, emphasizing the importance of public awareness about issues within the legal system. The trip left a lasting impression on Crenshaw, reigniting her commitment to pursuing a career in social justice.
“I was absolutely blown away by the beautiful Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The heavy history and themes that the organization explored took its toll, but gave you space to digest and take in,” says Crenshaw. “If the sophomore year of high school version of myself learned that I was given this opportunity, she would be in tears and beyond excited.”
This intersession experience was not just a field study; it was a transformative journey that immersed Pace University students in the heart of civil rights history, fostering a profound understanding of the past and inspiring a commitment to addressing present-day injustices.