Next Assignment: Get a Law Passed

Lance Pauker
April 4, 2023
Four Pace students sitting on the balcony of the NYS Legislative Building

Ensuring elephants are protected from cruel treatment for entertainment purposes. Giving New York State greater control over what constitutes an endangered species. Requiring veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse.

These victories by the Pace Environmental Policy Clinic, founded in 2016, inspired its evolution into the new Animal Advocacy Clinic, where a select group of Pace students build on that legacy to lobby Albany lawmakers for better protection of the state's animals and wildlife. The Clinic is one of the many components of Pace's robust and growing Animal Policy Project, an initiative whose mission is to safeguard animals through policy design, reform, and advocacy.

The Clinic is far from your ordinary class. While no semester looks exactly the same, it typically starts out with intensive research about a particular topic, followed by lobbying simulations, sometimes with elected official, and concludes with trips to Albany to bring their bills to state assemblypersons and senators.

“The course trains students in legislative and regulatory lobbying and advocacy skills,” says Dyson Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Studies and Animal Policy Project Director Michelle Land, JD, who teaches the class alongside John Cronin, Seidenberg Director of Blue CoLab. “That means they can come into an issue as early as the initial research and understanding phase, where we have an idea of a problem, but don’t know much about it yet. The policy design is approached in collaboration with the students. We run it as if Professor Cronin and I are principals in a law firm, and the students are the associates.”

At the beginning of the semester, students are generally divided into three groups—with each group focusing on a particular issue the Clinic hopes to influence legislation around. This semester, for example, students are working on:

  • Legislation that would make animal killing contests, competitions, tournaments, and derbys unlawful, has been introduced by NYS Assemblymember Deborah Glick and is currently In Committee
  • Regulation that would prohibit the sale, trade, and import of the invasive red-eared slider turtle (as a pet) in New York State
  • Redefining “wild animal” in New York State, so that animals like sloths are no longer permitted to be owned as pets (it is illegal to own a sloth as a pet in NYC, but not NYS)

After weeks of intensive research to understand all sides of an issue and the legal intricacies, students then begin to formulate their pitch and work with external partners for deep experiential learning. This semester, for example, the Clinic is partnering with the Humane Society’s New York State Director for the animal killing contest bill, and the class was recently treated to a Zoom session with the Sloth Conservation Foundation. The Clinic has also been taking advantage of the many resources Pace itself has to offer, including Haub Law School, who just so happens to have the number one environmental law school in the nation, to help with legal expertise.

“Yesterday in our clinic we had two law students joining us in a strategy session about one of our issues, and we also involve experts from outside,” notes Land. “We recently had the Sloth Conservation Foundation zooming in from Costa Rica to talk to us about sloth behavior related to a new issue that has come to our attention.”

Yesterday in our clinic we had two law students joining us in a strategy session about one of our issues, and we also involve experts from outside. We recently had the Sloth Conservation Foundation zooming in from Costa Rica to talk to us about sloth behavior related to a new issue that has come to our attention.

Then, toward the end of the semester, students are provided a unique opportunity to present what they’ve learned not to their professors—but to legislators and their staff. And in many respects, students present their findings not as undergraduates—but as de-facto lobbyists.

“We’re scheduling a day in April when we’ll have four or so meetings with legislators and their staff. Professor Cronin and I blend into the wall. The students are leading the discussions.”

For Madelyn Garcia ’24, the course has provided an opportunity to learn about the legislative process in a collaborative and supportive environment. Garcia notes that the skills she's learned from the class were instrumental in helping her secure an internship with the conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife this summer.

"It has been a pleasure to learn about the legislative process and engage in campaigning with my classmates," says Madelyn. "The chance to convey crucial messages to our campus community is essential in fostering activism and driving change. It also benefited working together as a team—we were able to get 500+ signatures in support of Assembly Bill A.5746, both in person and on our campaign Instagram account."

Land has been thoroughly impressed by the students’ dedication and drive and continues to be inspired by their professional transformation over the span of a few short months.

“You see their confidence develop,” says Land. “From the first time they practice their elevator pitch, to when they’re in Albany lobbying for real. The confidence and level of polish is remarkably transformed over a couple of months.”

While the course technically ends in the spring, the successive wins that Land, Cronin, and students have built over the past several years have enabled the Clinic to evolve into something more.

“While it is a Dyson undergraduate course, we’re starting to build this scaffolding that makes it more than a three-credit, spring class. By bringing in the Haub Law students to tackle things unique to environmental law, or maybe partnering with Seidenberg to involve real-time monitoring technology—I would love to see us create this network that bridges the technical expertise across the University. That’s my vision.”

Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved in the Animal Advocacy Clinic, that vision is steadily becoming a reality.

Want to learn more about the Animal Advocacy Clinic? Learn about what they’re up to on Instagram, or visit the Animal Policy Project website.

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