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Equalizing Access to Justice
Equalizing Access to Justice

In Professor Khalil Zonoozy’s “Equalizing Access to Justice” Capstone course, students take on the challenges of structural barriers to justice for racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. and the differential treatment they receive from the justice system.

“I believe that when justice is compromised for the marginalized members of society, justice is compromised everyone,” Dr. Zonoozy said.

Over the course of a ten-week term, Dr. Zonoozy’s students work together in small groups alongside community partners to apply their skills and knowledge in support of the causes of groups like Black Lives Matter. They dedicate their time and energy to address race issues such as the overrepresentation of Black people in the Multnomah County justice system. And they explore the impact of policies such as community policing and policing practices in minority communities, and the use of Measure 11 (mandatory minimum sentencing) on area youth.

The Equalizing Access to Justice Capstone asks PSU students to explore barriers in access to justice and the differential treatment of minorities in all aspects of the administration of justice. They unpack the concepts of racism and justice at societal, institutional, and personal levels to develop a better understanding of the roots of disparities in the justice system. Equipped with this knowledge, students apply what they’ve learned about justice, racism, and majority/minority relations in service of developing community-level solutions that support the eradication of injustice in our justice system.

To supplement the student learning experience, Dr. Zonoozy partners with Resolution Northwest’s Understanding Racism program (UR). For six weeks during the course, Dr. Zonoozy and the UR facilitators conduct a dialogue among students that begins with a conversation about equity and racial biases. The dialogue encourages self-reflection and open communication in order to raise awareness of implicit biases and the structure of race and racism in the U.S. in order to promote racial reconciliation and justice.

“In order to guarantee fairness, equity, and justice for all, we have to address the root causes of barriers in access to justice and the differential treatment of minorities. Those causes are the structural racism woven into the fabric of society and our institutions, and our own implicit biases that operate on a subconscious level. I believe the best way to accomplish that is to educate our students, to help them become the change-makers capable of equalizing access to justice, fairness, and equity for all.”

By Shaun McGillis