The UW School of Law is proud to announce the most recent recipients of the Gates PSL Scholarship:
Sarah W. Chaplin,
Michael Jeter, and
Thomas Mann Miller.
The Gates PSL Scholarship, founded in 2005 by a gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in honor of law school alumnus and public service advocate William H. Gates '50, provides a full-ride scholarship each year to five students in exchange for five years of public service law practice.
Meet our 2013 Gates Scholars:
Sarah W. Chaplin – 2013 Scholar
The experience of representing a 13-year-old girl who had stolen a belt from Target first taught Sarah W. Chaplin, then a high school student, the importance of paying attention to people’s stories. “The stories behind these Teen Court cases made me think about my own privilege,” she says. “Talking with that girl, I wondered why I wasn’t in her place.”
While attending UW, Chaplin volunteered at CASA Latina, a resource center for recently arrived Latino immigrants, and heard stories that showed her how a wide range of laws profoundly affect immigrants’ lives. Working as a legal assistant for Columbia Legal Services after graduating, she saw how one attorney’s presentations to immigrants at mobile home parks helped Latino mobile homeowners speak up for their legal rights.
“I thought it was cool to see how that kind of advocacy helped people become empowered,” Chaplin says. “I realized I wanted to become a lawyer and become an advocate like that.”
For the past two years, Chaplin has served as Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic near the border with Haiti. She has helped undocumented children – both Dominican and Haitian-born -- obtain their legal papers such as birth certificates and passports so they can gain rights to education, health care, employment, and social services. She also has trained local people to continue this documentation work after she leaves.
“We take it for granted that if you are born in a country you have citizenship rights,” she says. “But these individuals are stateless and go their whole lives without any citizenship at all.”
While she didn’t plan it, she found that lots of local preteen girls were hanging out at her house, fascinated by the tall blonde gringa who spoke fluent Spanish. She listened to their stories and realized there were no organized activities for girls, who are only valued for looks, marriage, housework, and having children. So she started a girl’s group, including sex education and art work. “I’ve seen a lot of these girls shine, and that’s been an unexpected accomplishment.”
Now Chaplin wants to take her listening skills, train as an attorney, and become an effective advocate for disadvantaged Washington residents. “You tend to want to focus on the big story, the one with the most impact,” she says. “But lawyers have to remember that every single person’s story has a lot of power. That girl who stole the belt from Target, her story is just as important as the O.J. Simpson trial.”
Shizuko Hashimoto – 2013 Scholar
The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks spurred Shizuko Hashimoto into social activism during her sophomore year at Reed College. She joined the antiwar movement to try to head off what she feared would be a violent and racist U.S. response to the attacks. She hasn’t stopped since.
The child of Asian immigrant parents who grew up in rural Maine, Hashimoto has always been sensitive to bias against immigrants and minority groups. “Having witnessed discrimination throughout my life, I feared there would be racialized backlash to the 9-11 attacks,” she says. “I didn’t want our response to violence to be more violence. But it did happen, and that definitely affected me.”
Service learning trips to Nicaragua during college deepened her commitment to serving as an organizer for immigrant rights and for peace. Since then, she has taken the lead in a variety of immigrant rights projects in the Portland area. For the past three years, she has helped organize groups to stop the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office from collaborating with federal immigration officials in the deportation of non-citizens jailed for non-violent misdemeanors or lesser charges.
Those efforts recently led to the sheriff’s office announcing it would no longer hold those individuals for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She calls that a good first step in protecting domestic violence victims and others who might otherwise hesitate to call the police for fear that immigration authorities will be notified.
Hashimoto wants to use her community organizing background in her future public service legal work, helping educate and empower clients so they can work for needed changes. She currently works as a legal assistant for immigration attorney Stephen Manning, whom she admires for taking that approach. “There can be blatant violations of housing or discrimination or labor law, and if individuals don’t feel empowered to challenge those violations, we all lose,” she says.
A related issue she’d like to address is the growth of for-profit detention centers that hold immigrants facing deportation. She’s driven by the knowledge that her grandfather, a physician in China, was jailed for 12 years for opening a private clinic, and her mother was jailed eight times in China for attempting to escape the country before arriving in the U.S. She finds it painful that for-profit jails are being pitched to communities as a new form of economic development.
"The fact that companies are motivated by profit to incarcerate people, denying them their freedom, continues to pose a significant threat to the American ideals of liberty and justice for all,” she says.
Michael Huggins – 2013 Scholar
Michael Huggins’ grandfather left Mississippi and moved north in the 1950s due to bad treatment of African-Americans. He always stressed to his children and grandchildren the importance of getting a good education, even though he himself was illiterate. That inspired his grandson, who attended Stanford University, to want to serve as a legal advocate for children who lack access to the type of education they want. He has in mind not just people of color but those who are lower income, undocumented, and gay or lesbian.
“The fact that we currently are relitigating the issues of separate but equal education and affirmative action means that education rights will play a prominent role in politics for this coming generation and a few more generations,” Huggins says. “People of color who want to get an education are coming under fire, and there need to be more people willing to fight on their behalf.”
Huggins, a Cincinnati native, has participated in a number of service projects nationally and internationally, and found that he learned at least as much from the people he served as they learned from him. Studying abroad in Italy for six months, he taught Italian to low-income immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, many of them undocumented. Even though Italy is an expensive country, many of them somehow saved their earnings and sent money to their families back home. He was impressed by their strength.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Azerbaijan for the past two years, he taught English and organized conversation clubs in a secondary school. He got frustrated watching the local teachers teach students by rote. He’s proud that he encouraged students to engage in critical thinking. By the end of the two years, his students were participating in issue debates -- in English.
A major lesson he learned in his work in Azerbaijan and elsewhere – and that he plans to apply to his future work as a public service attorney -- is the importance of connecting with and respecting the community you serve, what he calls community integration. “Any kind of progress can’t come from the top, it must come from the people,” he says. “The people are on top and the leader is on the bottom, encouraging the people to rise. That’s my idea of public service.”
Michael Jeter – 2013 Scholar
Michael Jeter credits caring teachers and mentors in high school for helping him recover from his troubled childhood and turn a corner educationally and personally. He made a decision at that time to pay forward the help he received by committing himself to public service.
After graduating from University of Massachusetts, he worked with mainly Somai-Bantu refugee and Hispanic immigrant students at a low-income housing complex in the Portland area through the Americorps program. He found it satisfying to help them develop confidence in their ability to succeed.
But his next public service project showed him that achieving change can be tough. As a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Western Samoa, where he taught primary school and trained teachers, he watched in horror as Samoan teachers physically beat students, and many students went through the entire school day without food. “We were advised by the Peace Corps not to challenge it, otherwise you would get backlash,” he says. “I showed teachers alternatives to corporal punishment like positive behavior reinforcement. But I had to pick my battles.”
He discovered that services and protections afforded to Samoan students by law were not enforced. “When I returned home, I decided my next contribution should be to provide and guarantee the legal protections they and others lacked.”
Jeter is excited to have the opportunity to become a public service attorney and do the type of work that matters most to him – advocating for children and young people, fighting for housing and civil rights, and defending indigent clients.
And since he’s returned to his hometown Portland from Samoa, he’s become aware that Portland is a hotbed for human and sex trafficking. “Lawyers are doing very good work prosecuting traffickers and johns,” he says. “When I have a law degree, I would want to sign up for that.”
Thomas Mann Miller – 2013 Scholar
Thomas Mann Miller traveled to Cambodia in 2010 to cover human rights issues as a journalist for the Phnom Penh Post. He met a brave environmental activist named Chut Wutty who was looking into the Cambodian military’s involvement in illegal logging. Last year, Wutty was murdered by military officers during an investigative trip, but the courts dropped the case. Miller said the incident illustrated the challenges of protecting human rights and ending impunity where rule of law is lacking.
“I saw how fragile law can be -- how much it is shaped by social and political forces, and how much its promise depends on persistent and principled advocacy,” he said.
Miller also met and interviewed a former Khmer Rouge military leader suspected of high-level involvement in the ultra-Maoist regime’s policies, which led to the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians in the 1970s. When he met Meas Mut, the former cadre was lying in a hammock reading Buddhist sayings, living comfortably, with little fear of being held accountable despite efforts of a United Nations-backed tribunal. “It is a disturbing fact that Khmer Rouge leaders like Meas Mut are likely to live out their final days without answering for the roles they played,” Miller says.
These and other experiences helped Miller focus on what he’d like to do as a future public service attorney. “My experience in Cambodia deepened my commitment to using the law to promote human rights and accountability.”
Miller was also influenced by the Seattle public schools he attended for 12 years which made him aware of broader inequalities along race and class lines. “That got me interested in understanding how racial inequality persists,” he said. “You can outlaw segregation, but ensuring equal educational opportunities is a different kind of challenge, requiring substantial policy and political efforts that might not look like conventional human rights work.”
Besides working as a journalist, Miller has served as a political campaign manager and an editor at a public policy think tank. He has also worked for a grass-roots advocacy group on the passage of national health care reform and was an active student leader at Whitman College. As he’s learned from his experience, advancing social change requires a range of strategies, from rigorous intellectual work to crafting innovative policies, building coalitions and campaigns, and taking on individual legal cases.
To expand his skills even more, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government at the same time he studies law at UW.
“I can’t bring Chut Wutty back any more than I can erase the history of segregation in my hometown of Seattle,” Miller says. “But I can work toward a better future, leveraging policy and the law to rectify past wrongs, protect human rights, and advance opportunity.”