OXFORD, Miss. – The McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi recognizes faculty, staff, students and LOU community members for displaying servant leadership throughout Mississippi.
Through its clinics, academic programs and staff dedication, the law school aims to develop servant leaders. Eleven members of the UM School of Law were honored this week at the McLean Institute’s Celebration of Service.
Karen Peairs, assistant director of Career Services at the law school, and David Calder, clinical professor and director of the Child Advocacy Clinic, were the staff and faculty recipients of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, the McLean Institute and university’s highest honor of service.
The award was established in 1890 to honor those who display selfless service to other members of the community.
In addition to serving law students, Peairs donates her time to the Magnolia Bar Association. When she was president of the organization, she oversaw statewide initiatives of more than 500 African American attorneys in Mississippi. She also introduced statewide Restoration Day Expungement Clinics in north Mississippi, where students and local attorneys help members of the public expunge their criminal records.
Additionally, she solicited plaintiffs on behalf of the ACLU of Mississippi’s lawsuit to allow felons who have paid their debt to society to once again have the right to vote. Peairs served as volunteer counsel for the Mississippi Center for Justice and is a board member of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. She helps facilitate the protections for descendants to ensure there is no loss of land in the absence of a will.
This year, Peairs developed a Pro Bono Lawyers United with Students pilot program in partnership with the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission. The goal of the program is to place second and third year law students with practicing attorneys during wintersession to assist with the state’s need for legal services.
“Communities have so many unmet legal needs north of Jackson,” Peairs said. “I am trying alleviate those needs in my own small way. I am just grateful that Dean Duncan thought to nominate me and excited to be recognized.”
Peairs also initiated the idea to host the law school’s first African American alumni reunion to mark the 50th anniversary of the graduation of Reuben Anderson, the school’s first African American graduate.
“Despite all of this service Karen never seeks the limelight,” said law school Dean Susan Duncan, who nominated her for the award. “She volunteers behind the scenes and people might not even know how much she does for others.
“Even more impressive, she is the caregiver for her mother,” Duncan said. “I cannot think of a better person to give this award to than Karen, as she absolutely exemplifies selfless service to others.”
Calder, who was also nominated by Duncan, is the Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic, which trains law students to serve as guardians ad litem who are appointed by courts as special advocates to protect the interest of children who are victims of abuse or neglect. Calder regularly speaks at trainings for attorneys and child advocates on child protection issues.
In addition to his faculty position at the law school, Calder serves as a member on multiple commissions and task forces, including: Mississippi Access to Justice Commission; Mississippi Commission on Children’s Justice; the Committee on Parent Representation; Governor’s Children’s Justice Act Task Force; Child Welfare and Advocacy Committee of the Mississippi Bar; Board of Directors of CASA of Lafayette County; advisory board for the paralegal program at UM; Juvenile Justice Committee on Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiatives; and the State CAST Committee.
Calder also consults the Mississippi Judicial College, an entity at the university that trains all state judges, on child advocacy issues. His projects include working on handbooks for guardians ad litem in Youth Court and Chancery Court.
“I am very grateful to Dean Duncan for this nomination, and for her strong support of our clinical programs at the law school,” Calder said. “It is a pleasure to work with the outstanding professors who supervise our clinics, and to be part of the important work that our students do by providing access to justice for low income families who would otherwise not have legal representation.”
His passion for child advocacy has also led to him work in improving access to the courts to enable pro se litigants to represent themselves on simple issues. Additionally, he has provided free legal representation to indigent parties, including Michelle Byrom, whose death sentence was reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
“His efforts directly and positively impact the children and families of Mississippi,” Duncan said. “He also could be the most humble person I have ever met. He quietly makes a difference in the world, like many of us aspire to do.
“I continue to be amazed at how selfless Professor Calder is,” she said. “We are so lucky to have him at the law school and in this state.”
Three other projects involving law school faculty, staff and alumni were also named to the Excellence in Community Engagement Honor Roll at the ceremony Wednesday, March 10.
Housing Clinic faculty Desiree Hensley and Jordan Hughes and Transactional Clinic faculty Marie Cope and Cameron Abel were recognized for their fair housing project work with Eastmoor Circle in the Delta. For more than a decade, residents of the small community had been dealing with issues of abandoned structures, crumbling foundations and flooding, with no assistance from their landlord. The Housing and Transactional Clinics worked together to litigate the case, resulting in a settlement where city and county leaders agreed to repair the conditions.
Amy Fisher, associate professor of social work at UM and law school alumna, worked with a team on the Voter Empowerment Project. The project was a yearlong effort, funded by the Council on Social Work Education and supported by Mississippi Votes and the Campus Election Engagement Project, to educate social work students on the professional responsibility of effecting change through voting.
Stephanie Otts, director of the National Sea Grant Law Center, and Catherine Janasie, NSLGC research counsel, partnered with a team of four others including affiliate faculty member and director of the Center for Population Studies John Green in an engaged teaching project. Empowering Individuals to Reduce Lead Exposure from Drinking Water through Community-Based Research is an interdisciplinary project that is focused on raising awareness of the contribution of lead pipes and water treatment to lead poisoning in Mississippi. In order to do this, they are partnering with community organizations to conduct research and outreach through lead in drinking water testing events.
Hans Sinha, clinical professor of law and director of the Clinical Externship program, was recognized along with a large team of UM faculty and staff and community partners for the Lafayette County Lynching Memorialization Project. The group worked diligently to install a plaque in October to memorialize Elwood Higginbottom, who was lynched in Lafayette County in 1935. The plaque is located at the intersection of North Lamar Blvd. and Molly Barr Road. The project also included partnerships with the Higginbottom family, the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.