In D.C.’s Public Defender Service

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Vivienne Pismarov, Psychology ’19

This fall semester, through the USF in DC program, I’ve had the opportunity to intern with the Public Defender Service. Everyone working there is tasked with one job and one job only: do everything in your power to support your client. As an investigative intern, I request records, locate potential witnesses, serve subpoenas, canvass the scene of the crime, and more. Even though sometimes this role requires me to work late into the night and over the weekends, I’m honored to do this job because I believe every client deserves someone who is genuinely in their corner ready to fight against the giant criminal justice system. 

Working in the Special Litigation Division, we defend clients who were sentenced to life in prison as juveniles and are now eligible under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act to have their sentences reduced or eliminated altogether. To be eligible for re- sentencing, individuals must have already spent 20 years or more in the prison system. These institutions often do not prioritize the rehabilitation of their inmates; instead, inmates are exposed to terrible living conditions, daily violence, racism and abuse. Such conditions make a transition back into society difficult and also make successful re-sentencing challenging.

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My first client, who I have spent most of my time in D.C. working with, was sentenced to life in prison when he was just sixteen years old after being misidentified as the perpetrator of a drive-by shooting that injured four teenagers in his own neighborhood. While there were witnesses and multiple examples of false testimonies to prove that our client was not at the scene of the crime and that the police involved in the case bribed witnesses to lie, my client has been imprisoned for the entirety of his adult life. This injustice astounds me. I have grown up with the privilege of having a supportive family and an education that has opened up infinite doors for me. Meanwhile an innocent young black man from the Southeast quadrant of D.C. has spent this same amount of time wrongly imprisoned and deprived of experiencing the world that he so desperately wants to be a part of again. Every day I come to work with a goal that one day this man will be able to enjoy a life of freedom.

We have witnesses who’ve confessed that they lied to the police. We have a solid alibi for our client. And we have proof that one of our client’s friends actually committed the crime. But while serving time in prison, our client was provoked by other inmates and was involved in a fight. Before he knew it, our client killed another man in prison.

From the bottom of my heart, I know that our client was not involved in the drive-by shooting that relegated him to a life in prison. However, I also cannot deny that a man in prison was killed at the hands of my client but I certainly believe that he would not have killed anyone if my client was never wrongfully convicted in the first place.

My client’s situation is not an anomaly. He had a great defense going for him and an amazing likelihood that he would be released from prison given the evidence that we had gathered in his favor. However, the prison system cultivated an environment where my client felt that he had to resort to murder just to live another day. Now, my client will likely continue living within the four walls that he has been living in for more than 20 years, while I have the world at my fingertips.

Given my client’s situation, I still will not give up fighting for his rehabilitation and release. Avis Buchanan, the Director of the Public Defender Service in D.C., emphasizes making a connection with a client and recognizing their humanity is required to successfully assist them in their defense. This is the challenge of the criminal justice system.

Avis Buchanan says that when you cannot see the humanity in your client, “that’s when you know it’s time to leave.” My time participating in the USF in D.C. program has taught me to never forget that everyone is human and deserving of someone being in their corner. While my internship is quickly coming to end, I’m not ready to leave and I’m not ready to stop fighting for the people who have been overlooked by society. When I leave this internship program at the Public Defender Service in D.C., I know that I will continue to advocate for people like my client who have been victimized by the prison system.

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On My First Year Of Grad School

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Jessica Lindquist, M.A., Public Affairs ’18

Last July I left my cushy job as an executive assistant at a financial technology company in Mid-Market to try something scary and exciting: graduate school.  I had been accepted into the Master of Public Affairs program at the University of San Francisco.  At my core, I knew it was time to take some risks and pursue the public policy career I had always dreamed about.

The first week of orientation was a whirlwind and admittedly I had a few moments of doubt, which I later realized is a classic stage of starting grad school. I found myself in a classroom of strangers feeling anxious about what the fall semester would bring. Yet, after a few weeks into the program, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I had adjusted to back to student life.

My favorite class of the semester was Applied American Politics taught by Professor Brian Weiner. Our small seminar provided us the space to have intense discussions, applying classic political literature to current events. The 2016 presidential campaign was a subject that we covered substantially in class and Professor Weiner wanted to afford us the opportunity to campaign in Nevada, the closest swing state to California. With a lot of time and coordination on his part, Professor Weiner was able to secure enough funding for anyone in the class who wanted to make the trip to Reno.

On an October afternoon I boarded a Greyhound bus with five of my classmates to persuade Nevadans to vote for the Hillary Clinton. Over the course of the weekend we door knocked in wet weather and unabashedly phone banked strangers. Many of the voters we spoke to were still undecided and it was insightful to talk through some of their concerns about the two candidates. Aside from the incredible campaign experience, the trip also turned my five classmates into five close friends. We spent time talking politics late into the night, swapped stories from the past, and discussed our dreams for the future. The bonds I made during the trip became even stronger when we were back in class.

A few weeks later on election night I watched in horror as Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania turned red. I woke up November 9th puffy eyed and feeling absolutely distraught. My only solace was knowing that later in the day I would go to class and be able to commiserate with my fellow classmates, who I knew were equally devastated about the election results. Together we tried to process the fact that Donald Trump would become the forty-fifth president of our country. In the days and weeks that followed, my closest support group became my academic community .  

Winter break provided an opportunity to reset and reflect. I had time to think about the direction I wanted to take my graduate career. Over the last semester I noticed I kept being drawn to policy topics that were related to how our financial system negatively impacted the lives of low-income consumers. I had a revelation that I wanted to focus on consumer financial protection policy.  I finally had clarity about my policy interests, which gave me direction and purpose.

A few days before spring semester, I traveled to D.C. to attend the Women’s March. The day after the inauguration, I joined hundreds of thousands of people to protest the hateful and discriminatory values of the Trump Administration. The energy in the city was electric and as I marched alongside a few of my friends I began to feel resilient.  I saw so many different walks of life join together in solidarity for a common cause.  At the risk of sounding trite, it was one of most beautiful experiences I have had in my life and it made me feel recommitted to use my voice to stand up for justice and equality.

Spring semester felt different in several ways. I had more confidence as a student and I knew what level of effort was required to get the most out of my classes. The coursework was incredibly demanding and I spent even more time studying. However, each of my professors was incredibly supportive and made themselves available whenever I reached out to them with questions or guidance.

Urban Public Finance was a class that I looked forward to every single week. Ed Harrington was the San Francisco Controller for twenty years and he has an impressive level of knowledge about the inner workings of City Hall. He brought in many guest speakers from the City that spoke to our class on a range of topics including local budgets, economic development and municipal debt. Not only were the speakers experts in their field, they had an obvious deep commitment to public service.  After discussing career prospects with Ed, I became very interested in working at City Hall in the future.

By the middle of the semester my cohort began looking for internships.  Having a full coursework load, working part time, and trying to secure an internship placement all at the same time was daunting. However, my program made sure I felt supported throughout the entire process. Kevin Hickey, one of our faculty members, used his expansive network to connect me to my top choices. Our program manager, Kresten Froistad-Martin, provided coaching on how to navigate the interviews and assess what placements would be best suited for me. References from faculty like Ed Harrington and Professor Weiner helped me secure my top two choices for my summer internship: the Office of Financial Empowerment at City Hall and the California Reinvestment Coalition. The internship search highlighted to me the connections this program offers its students.

The last week of finals, I found myself in the same room as orientation with the group of strangers that over the course of year had become dear friends.  As each of my classmates presented on a research question that they had spent weeks preparing for our Research Methods final, I was struck by how much we each had evolved as students of public policy. My cohort has a diverse set of policy interests, and I’m grateful that I’m able to learn from them about issues that are outside of my focus. Their passion for social change and commitment to challenge the status quo has motivated me to work harder so that I can become a compassionate policymaker.  

People say graduate school is not what you expect, but it is everything you need. This insight has been true thus far in my own experience. In the pursuit of my graduate degree, I’ve deepened my knowledge of public policy, become more open to perspectives that differ from my own and feel a renewed sense of purpose.  I’m incredibly grateful for the strong support of the McCarthy Center, my graduate program, the dedicated faculty and my inspiring cohort. I’m looking forward to what the next year brings.

 

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Five Lessons from Community-Engaged Living and Learning

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Lupita Garcia

B.A. Sociology Major ’18 and triple minor in Criminal Justice, Public Service and Community Engagement, and Chican@-Latin@ Studies

When I started my USF career, I would not have imagined myself accomplishing everything that I have. Participating in the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars Living Learning Community and then the USF in DC program gave me many opportunities that have paid off in the end and have taught me valuable lessons that will continue to follow me as I continue to pursue my career. I am thankful to have found the professors, staff and now mentors through these programs. Through self reflection, thanks to EMDS who helped me strengthen this skill (shout out to my RA, ACE and EMDS roommates) I have listed the common lessons that I have learned through both these programs and how EMDS helped guide me to achieve in DC.

  1. Community Organizing is important wherever you go, whichever career path you take

Walking out of EMDS, I had a basic understanding of how to effectively organize communities as I knew the basics of campaigning. Through the full-time internship om USF in DC, I have been able to continue to strengthen my community organizing skills as my work requires me to work closely with communities and help empower the messages and their campaigns.

  1. “Crossing Borders and Discovering Home”

While this is a quote directly associated to EMDS, USF in DC continued to teach me the same lesson. EMDS pushed me to not only cross physical borders but also personal ones in the ways which challenged me to think about situations. I learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; it is ultimately how a person learns. Living my entire life in the Bay Area, I only new how to picture home within the Bay. Landing in D.C .in August, I honestly wanted to go back home and be surrounded by the USF community I knew but I kept telling myself to discover home in D.C. Honestly, I did and it didn’t take too long . I found similarities between San Francisco and D.C. which helped with the initial discomfort of being in a new city on a new coast. Now I hope to return once I’m done with my undergraduate degress and potentially start my career here.

  1. Look at everything with an open mind

You may think you have a certain stance on an issue/topic but take the time and continue to hear other people’s opinion. You may never know what you may learn. Take the time to have intellectual conversations that push all parties involved to think critically about the issues you are discussing and see whether or not you gain something new. Don’t be afraid to change your perspective/opinion on something. The more knowledge you gain the better. Honestly it’s why the saying “with knowledge comes power” exist.

  1. Self reflect and take time for yourself

This is the one I struggle with the most to this day but have gotten better. Always find time for yourself and do the things that you want to do. I find that through this, I created goals that I never would have imagined creating for myself and this has lead me to the places I have gotten to today. When I have time for myself, I ask myself where in which areas I want to continue to grow and challenge myself, and tell myself failure in life is okay. We are human beings and this is how we learn. Self check-ins are a healthy and important part of self care.

Also, when you’re not feeling 100% percent well, take the day off, it helps you get better sooner. Just don’t take advantage of it.

  1. Follow your passions

You’re at your happiest when you are pursuing what you’re interested in. EMDS pushed me to follow my passions and continue to look for them and incorporate them wherever I go. In D.C., I made sure my passions would be integrated in my internship through the clients I work with at Revolution Messaging and I can truthfully say, I enjoy my job and what I do every day. Working with people who also pursue their passions through the work they do taught me that in order for me to be the best at my job, I need to love the work I do and not just achieve at the skills that come with the job, skills training will always be there but my passions will only be there if I seek them.

I could have not been where I am today if it were not for EMDS, the McCarthy Center and USF in DC guiding me to become the person I want to become. They have pushed and motivated me to become a version of myself that I did not know existed and am forever grateful for the opportunities I have been given.

 

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Apply for our USF in DC program for Spring and Fall 2017 at https://www.usfca.edu/mccarthy/programs/usf-washington-dc

Introducing our Fall 2016-17 USF in Washington, D.C. Fellows

USF in DC participants are undergraduate students selected for a semester-long program in Washington, DC that integrates a full-time internship with relevant coursework taught by USF faculty and University of California Washington Program (UC DC) faculty. Students choose from a range of elective courses and internship opportunities that meet their interests and skill sets and spend their semester engaging with peers from across the country in the heart of the capital, where they will live, learn, and explore all that DC has to offer. Meet our current cohort of USF in DC students and learn about their hopes and expectations for the coming semester.

 

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Ali DeFazio ’18

Internship: Brookings Institution

Ali DeFazio is a junior at the University of San Francisco. While in D.C., she will be interning for the Brookings Institution, voted “Best Think Tank in the World” for the last nine years by the Global Go To Think Tanks Report. Ali says that getting to the front of the bagel line before the 8 AM crowd is the “Best Feeling in the World” voted by USF students. In addition to her internship in D.C., Ali plans to make it on the background of NPR’s “Live in Concert” and go to every Smithsonian.

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Sydney Abel ’17

Internship: Department of Homeland Security – Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Sydney Abel is a senior this year at USF, majoring in Politics, minoring in Legal studies. When she isn’t playing rugby for USF’s champion woman’s team, you can find her slack lining at Golden Gate Park or walking along one of San Francisco’s many beaches. An avid traveler, Sydney transferred to USF from San Diego but not before she studied abroad for a year in Maastricht, Netherlands. Someday she would love to be voted into a public office, or just travel the world. Never one to miss a traveling opportunity, once she heard about USF in D.C., she knew that this program was just right for her. Eager to change the world for the better, she wants to learn everything there is to know about Washington and the political process.

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Guadalupe (Lupita) Garcia ’18

Internship: Revolution Messaging

Lupita Garcia is a Sociology Major and triple minor in Criminal Justice, Public Service and Community Engagement, and Chican@-Latin@ Studies. While in D.C. she will be interning with Revolution Messaging as a Digital Strategy/Client-Service intern where she will be working on advertising projects for campaigns using mobile messaging and social media. Through her participation in USF in D.C., she hopes to gain the skills that will prepare her to gain a career in public policy advocacy and continue to cross borders and discover home.

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Gabbi McDaniel ’17

Internship: UN Population Fund

As a senior International Studies major, Gabbi McDaniel will be applying her USF education in the field as an intern for the UN Population Fund. USF in D.C. will allow her to pursue her ideal internship, take classes on politics and advocacy, and develop a network within our Nation’s capital. She is looking forward to experiencing everything Washington D.C. has to offer especially during a Presidential election.

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Diana Conteras Chavez ’17

Internship: Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund

This fall Diana will be interning with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. She is excited to learn more about immigration policy and advocacy in D.C. Since it is her first time in D.C., Diana is thrilled to see the monuments and museums, and try out all the new brunch spots!

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 Tara Kahn Sac ’17

Internship:  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

Tara Khan is currently pursuing a degree in International Studies with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and focus in Global Politics & Societies. Following graduation, she hopes to relocate to Washington D.C. and work for the U.S. government while also studying for the Foreign Services test. She is spending her semester in D.C. working on Capitol Hill, interning for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Working in the House of Representatives has been an extremely rewarding and eye-opening experience, none of which would have been possible without the Newmark Scholarship. Being a Newmark Scholar has convinced her that she made the right choice in her decision to pursue a career in politics.

 

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Assala Mami ’18

Internship: Center of American Progress

Assala is a Politics major with a double minor in Legal Studies and French Studies. She has an interest in foreign affairs and public policy and is excited to get to know the political scene in D.C. While in the  nation’s capitol, Assala plans to visit all the monuments and museums, of course and take trips to neighboring states.

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MoPA Internship in Washington, D.C.

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Sarah Souza
Master of Public Affairs candidate ’17

As a candidate in the Master of Public Affairs program (MoPA), I am spending the summer completing my internship requirement in Washington, D.C. for theGROUP, an independent strategy, policy and communications firm. The supportive environment on campus helped me find this incredible opportunity. And, the hands-on internship requirement not only allows me to put into practice what I learned in the classroom, but it also gives me the chance to experience living in our nation’s capital!

After one year at MoPA, I felt confident and prepared to work at a prestigious firm. Courses such as Writing for Public Affairs and Research Methods honed my communication and analysis skills – pertinent to this internship. MoPA’s electives allow me to tailor my educational career to my interests and makes me a better intern because I have experience in several fields. Rigorous coursework with experienced professors, such as Ed Harrington teaching Urban Public Finance and Kathleen Koll teaching Immigrant Cities, replicated what the real world is like in public service by combining academia with practicality. Continue reading

USF in DC: The Possibilities Continue

Emily Adsit

Emily Adsit
USF in DC

Writing a big picture, lofty post about my time in the USF in DC program is a tall order — mostly because I want to write about the specifics. I want to write that I got to tour The White House, that I met House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and that I attended briefings around the District and hearings on Capitol Hill. I want to write about how I received amazing support and advice from my internship supervisors and professors, and that the Leo T. McCarthy Center is unparalleled in their dedication to encouraging and mentoring students. However, that is not this post. This post is, instead, an overview of the things I took away from this program, which is knowledge that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Continue reading