NEWPORT, R.I., April 10, 2013 – Nearly 200 advocates, activists and supporters united in Newport this week to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and the forging of a new partnership between Roger Williams University, the Roger Williams University School of Law and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. RWU Law is just the second law school to join the National Fair Housing Collegiate Partnership, and RWU is the only university in Rhode Island to join HUD’s campaign to cultivate a new generation of fair housing experts.
“Our work today defines our tomorrow, and I can think of no better way to show that commitment than to work with Roger Williams University in identifying the fair housing leaders of tomorrow,” said HUD General Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene.
Greene’s remarks came after RWU President Donald Farish and RWU Law Assistant Dean Lorraine Lalli signed an official proclamation articulating that the University and HUD will work in tandem to cultivate students for public service careers via internships, externships and for-credit coursework relating to the issues of fair housing and equality.
“Part of our mission as an institution of higher learning is to ensure that our students become civically engaged,” Farish said. “There’s been a long history of this work at the university, particularly at the law school through the Pro Bono Collaborative and other activities that take law students out into the community before they are finished with their studies. In this way, they arrive at graduation job-ready and fully cognizant of the responsibilities as citizens of the community and licensed attorneys.”
Launched in 2010, the National Fair Housing Collegiate Partnership Campaign was created to educate students about their rights under the Fair Housing Act, which was signed into law one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968. Campuses are called upon to develop service learning opportunities around fair housing issues and to encourage students to consider careers in public service. HUD investigates more than 10,000 reported incidents of housing discrimination annually, according to Region 1 Director Susan Forward. Complaints range from racial and religious discrimination to family status, sexual and gender discrimination, among others.
“Many young people may not know the levels of discrimination we see still in America,” Forward said. “We have a responsibility to educate our students not just about what the law covers, but what kinds of cases we see and what types of discrimination we unearth.”
The agreement between Roger Williams and HUD was described as historic for the State of Rhode Island – one that will make New England fair housing a standout among the nation’s 10 regions, according to Rhode Island native Barbara Field, the Region 1 administrator. Field, who introduced the proclamation at Newport’s historic Touro Synagogue on Wednesday, said she believes the partnership will yield a new generation of attorneys committed to supporting inclusive communities and protecting the rights of those communities.
“I think it’s significant as the only law school in Rhode Island that we step forward and say we are there as partners to ensure that federal and state laws and mandates are enforced,” Farish noted. “That our students become fully aware of what those laws mean, what they are, and can ensure that the citizens of Rhode Island can rely on our graduates to work with them to make sure that fair housing is available for all.”
According to alumnus Benjamin Gworek ’09, RWU Law has a rich history of fair housing advocacy. Gworek, who attended law school to deepen his impact within the fair housing community, currently works for HUD as an attorney/advisor for the New England region. As a student, Gworek fulfilled his public service requirement with the George Wiley Center, working on the successful legislation opposing utility shut off. Knowing that RWU Law is guided by a commitment to public interest legal work and the belief that every lawyer has a responsibility to serve the community, he encouraged the two organizations to join forces.
“RWU Law boasts a faculty that includes many housing advocates, and it’s an existing part of the curriculum in addition to the very strong public interest program,” Gworek said. “Rhode Island is underserved by the fair housing advocacy community – this will fill a niche that exists in the state.”
The partnership with HUD will enhance existing University efforts to promote fair housing and inclusive communities, including a recent research partnership between the Latino Policy Institute at RWU and HousingWorks RI to highlight the barriers to affordable housing for Latinos in the state, as well as an ongoing Community Partnerships Center project that has deployed undergraduate students to evaluate case studies to help identify strategic residential planning practices and development opportunities in downtown Woonsocket.