Levitas Initiative gains momentum

(L-R) Dean Donald Dobin, Chelsea VanOrden '19, Jenna Balaban '19, and Clinic Co-director Michael Pinard at the 2019 Graduation Recognition Ceremony.

In its inaugural year, the Erin Levitas Initiative for Sexual Assault Prevention at Maryland Carey Law began fulfilling its promise to do the unfinished work of the program’s namesake who prematurely lost her life to cancer.

Established in 2018, thanks to funding from the Erin Levitas Foundation, the Levitas Initiative unites Maryland Carey Law’s Center for Dispute Resolution (C-DRUM) and Gender Violence Clinic in an effort to build a program through which law students work with middle school students on sexual harassment and assault prevention.

Already, the initiative is making remarkable progress.

With two semesters representing clients in the Gender Violence Clinic under their belts, Chelsea VanOrden ’19 and Jenna Balaban ’19, along with Emma Duncan ’20 (who continues Levitas Initiative work this year) and Tim VanCisin ’19 from the Mediation Clinic, were instrumental in positively impacting the lives of children in one of Baltimore’s neediest school communities.

Guided by the Initiative’s director C. Quince Hopkins ’89 and C-DRUM’s Schools Conflict Resolution Education Program director Barbara Grochal, who bring extensive experience in sexual violence prevention and restorative practices, respectively, VanOrden and Balaban helped develop a new curriculum for sexual assault prevention education with an emphasis on restorative justice.

The duo then led Levitas Initiative peers Duncan and VanCisin in piloting the program with inner-city seventh-graders.

“Working with Levitas gave me a lot of hope for the future of law and what it means to be a lawyer,” says VanOrden. “So often we only think about lawyers as being reactive and fighting

for someone in court, but with Levitas we have the opportunity to think about the future and how we can teach law, truly working to prevent sexual violence rather than respond to it after it has already happened.”

VanOrden and Balaban spent hundreds of hours researching, writing and practicing before implementing the evidence- based curriculum. The result was an effective model in which Maryland Carey Law students facilitated restorative dialogue circles where the youths could speak freely and feel safe. Discussions were designed to help the middle-schoolers identify, question, and reject the destructive ideas that give rise to sexual violence. Comments from circle participants provided evidence that the engaging curriculum gave them critical new ways of understanding sexual harassment behavior.

VanOrden and Balaban presented on this work at the ABA Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence Annual Meeting. They were awarded the Anne Gallagher Clinical Prize for Service to Children and Youth at the 2019 Maryland Carey Law Graduation Recognition Ceremony.

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