qwe Loyola student volunteers with Orleans Public Defenders - Loyola University New Orleans

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Loyola student volunteers with Orleans Public Defenders

Loyola press release - November 22, 2010

Loyola University New Orleans psychology freshman, Caroline McNeil, is taking a unique approach to service learning by volunteering with the Orleans Public Defenders, an office that seeks to assist defendants and their families following an arrest.

McNeil volunteers every Monday and Friday morning, working as a law clerk, maintaining client information, creating files and conducting interviews. The interviews, which are held during prison visits and first appearances, allow McNeil to assess if those that are arrested qualify for public defense.

McNeil began volunteering through her service learning course, "Diversity in America", taught by Liv Newman, visiting assistant professor of sociology. In the course, Newman challenges students to think critically about how diversity shapes one’s identities, beliefs and daily lives.

“You can't have a conversation about diversity without also having a conversation about inequality. Service learning really drives home every point we cover in class,” said Newman.

McNeil described a situation at the OPD that illustrates that very point, “I interviewed a teen (African-American) boy just a couple months younger than me. He had scoliosis and didn’t even have a cot to sleep on. But a white man in for two counts of rape that I interviewed had a bed and was being ‘treated real nice.’ There is definitely a lot of discrimination in the criminal justice system, and it needs to stop.”

Newman’s course allows students to choose among 29 agencies for which they must complete a minimum of 12 hours of service. According to McNeil, she chose to work with the OPD because of her future career goals. McNeil is currently working on a minor in criminal justice and plans to use her Loyola education to become a criminal psychologist. McNeil is finding her experiences with the OPD to be extremely rewarding and beneficial, helping her to better understand the legal process. McNeil has already completed more than 30 hours of service since the beginning of the semester.

“Diversity in America” is just one of the numerous service learning courses offered by Loyola which are meant to bring education to life through connecting the classroom with the community.

McNeil expressed her willingness to take additional service learning courses in the future and views the courses as stepping stones for students to become better connected with their community.

“I love giving back to the community, and I would definitely recommend service learning to anyone that wants to get involved,” said McNeil.

For more information on community engagement at Loyola, contact Kelly Brotzman, director for Service Learning, at 504-865-2282 or kbrotzma@loyno.edu, or the Office of Public Affairs at 504-861-5888.