August 8, 2007

Maguire Interns Recall Lessons Learned As ‘Servant Leaders’

By Sarah Hanan

Quotes from great thinkers plaster a wall in the office of SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, including this one from Henry David Thoreau: “Aim above morality. Be not simply good – be good for something.”

That saying sums up the philosophy of Law Professor and Maguire Director Tom Mayo on teaching future leaders to put service to society first. It underlies the vision behind the Maguire Center since its founding in 1995: to guide students on the wise and moral use of the power they have gained through the acquisition of knowledge and to encourage ethical thinking and action.

Much of this work is accomplished through public lectures and national conferences sponsored by the center and in classroom discussions across campus, where students and faculty work through ethical issues such as end-of-life care, promise-keeping and trust and the war on terror. “The hope is that exposure to time-honored principles will rub off on students so that they will be better prepared to handle the ethical problems that inevitably will come their way,” Mayo says.

The Maguire Center also awards summer stipends to students to gain real-world experience in public service and ethics research. Since 1996, more than 90 Maguire interns have served more than 80 agencies of their choosing through­out the United States and in nine other countries.

“In addition to teaching service, many of the internships abound with ethical issues,” Mayo says. “How hard should a prosecutor push a victim of domestic violence to press charges and testify against her attacker? What does a community owe the undocumented immigrants who live and work there?

“There’s no better time for students than now to learn the skills they’ll need in only a few years for their powerful new roles of business associate, trusted adviser or community volunteer.”

Six Maguire interns provided excerpts from essays that they wrote about their experiences.

Brandie Ballard Wade interned in the family violence division of the Dallas County district attorney’s office, where she hopes to work after graduating from Dedman School of Law. She assisted with misdemeanor trials and helped educate victims, witnesses and even other prosecutors about legal resources and family violence.

“Every day in the misdemeanor courts presents a new challenge – either from the defense attorneys, defendants, victims, witnesses or the judge. I discovered that sometimes even other prosecutors can create a challenge for you because each comes in with his or her own perspectives on family violence. … As I had to explain to one misdemeanor prosecutor, the job of the officers and prosecutors is to protect the victim even when she does not want to be protected; even when she has forgotten the reason she asked for protection – she did ask. So it is still the officers’ and prosecutors’ and, hopefully one day, my job to remember her reason and fight for her protection and safety at all times.”

“The realization that every nonprofit, every effort to really impact the world and help people on a large scale, is reliant on generosity is frightening. It’s frightening because then one has to have faith in humanity’s ability to be generous. I’ve learned to have faith in that ability. I’ve learned that having that faith gives you the strength to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.”

— Sommer Saadi

Katherine Bartush, a sophomore majoring in business and pre-med and a soccer player who has sustained several knee surgeries, hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon. She spent the summer with the Community Outreach Department at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in her home state of Indiana, where she learned “about being a servant leader in medicine.”

“As part of the medical center’s mission, I organized an afternoon program for underprivileged children at the Martin Luther King Center. The kids who attended came from the neighborhood in my community with the highest homicide rate. The program met one afternoon a week for six weeks to teach young women self-esteem and other life skills. I helped brainstorm topics, called volunteers and set the schedule for a health lesson and a fun activity each day. I was in charge of the activity concerning women’s health and self-respect. A school psychologist talked about cutting (which is on the rise in young women) and self-love, and I showed the girls how to make and decorate their own bulletin boards to hang pictures of themselves, their friends and their family. … My time with Saint Joseph helped confirm my career goals and exposed me to part of my own community that needs the most help. ”

Leah Bhimani served an internship with Immigration and Legal Services of Catholic Charities of Dallas that gave her a firsthand look at the human side of America’s debate on immigration reform. The Dedman School of Law student says she experienced the emotional ups and downs of helping clients seek legal status.

“To our clients, legal immigration status is a coveted luxury, something a person waits years for, saves their money for, spends weeks filling out paperwork and taking time off work for, dream­ing about reuniting family. When finally a legal permanent resident card arrives in the mail, or their family officially crosses the border, it’s like winning the lottery – it’s unbelievable until it actually happens. On occasions where I was the person lucky enough to find a way to make someone’s difficult immigration case successful, I felt the way I imagine my clients must feel. … There also were moments when my heart would sink and I didn’t want to go back to my office to face a client.”

Bethany Johnson, a pre-med senior majoring in Spanish and Latin American studies, worked with the Agape Clinic at Grace Methodist Church in Dallas. Johnson translated for the mostly Hispanic patients, recorded their histories and checked blood pressure, as well as helped the clinic’s “promotoras” – trained community members who visit schools and offer classes on health.

“The focus on community health was one of the most fascinating aspects about working at the clinic. I was involved in researching problems such as diabetes and childhood obesity, which are prevalent in the Hispanic community. I was able to learn a lot about social work, and I now have a better understanding of the health care system in the United States. The waiting room at the clinic seemed to always be overflowing with people waiting for access to health care that would not have been available otherwise. … I realized that I really want to be in a profession where you can get to know people and help them.”

Ethics By The Numbers

Since the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility was funded by an endowment of $2.5 million from its namesake in 1995, it has upheld its mission by supporting student formation and curricular and faculty development; encouraging national dialogue and community partnerships; engaging research and publication; and sponsoring public virtue recognition. All that activity adds up to:

90 students who have been awarded summer grants for public service work in Dallas and around the world
59 ethics-related conferences and other events across campus and throughout North Texas
35 students who have participated in the regional and national Ethics Bowl competition during the past five years
32 teaching fellowships for the creation of a new ethics-oriented course or a new ethics component in an existing course
21 extended essays in its Occasional Papers series
19 public scholar lectures by faculty members from Dedman College, Perkins School of Theology and Dedman School of Law
16 students who have worked on the Design Team to address ethics issues on campus since its creation four years ago
15 major conferences on topics ranging from the ethics of managed care to college athletics to immigration
10 ethics awards presented to members of the Dallas community in recognition of their public-spiritedness and devotion to the common good
2 books co-published with SMU Press – The Ethics of Giving and Receiving: Am I My Foolish Brother’s Keeper? edited by William F. May and A. Lewis Soens Jr. and War: A Primer for Christians by Joseph L. Allen

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Dedman School of Law student Letha Allen confirmed her passion for working in affordable housing during her internship with the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation. She researched a legal case involving residents of a poorly maintained mobile home park whose owner ordered them to move after he was sued for city code violations. Admitting the park needed work, the residents agreed to try to meet the terms of a proposed special-use permit that would allow them to stay for two years, if the landlord paid for some improvements.

“The residents’ problem made me ask what was the most ‘fair’ resolution. They had small mortgages on their homes, which theoretically allowed them to build equity, but in reality their aging homes were worth nothing without the land underneath. They paid an average of $192 a month to rent a space in the park. Was it reasonable for the residents to expect to find alternative housing in Dallas for that little? Was it the city’s or landlord’s responsibility to pay for relocation expenses? I did not have the answers to these questions. I did know that there were not enough good alternatives for poor people who wanted to raise their kids in close-knit communities with good schools and other amenities. When I left CDCDC, the residents were waiting to hear what the landlord’s next step would be.”

Sommer Saadi’s internship with Humanity United in Giving (HUG) Internationally took her from Richardson, Texas, to Romania. The sophomore majoring in history and journalism spent the first part of her summer organizing fund-raisers and donation drives from the nonprofit’s home office and the last part visiting two of the orphanages it sponsors overseas. Along the way, she learned the value of generosity.

“The realization that every nonprofit, every effort to really impact the world and help people on a large scale, is reliant on generosity is frightening. It’s frightening because then one has to have faith in humanity’s ability to be generous. I’ve learned to have faith in that ability. I’ve learned that having that faith gives you the strength to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. … The most rewarding and most influential experience of my internship was my trip to Romania to visit the orphanages HUG sponsors. It was my turn to dedicate myself fully and devote the generosity I had been seeking in others.”