Osgoode devotes resources to support student-led community partnerships

Osgoode Hall Law School main foyer hallway

In keeping with its commitment to cultivate law graduates who will serve and strengthen the communities in which they live and work, York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School will devote substantial resources over the next three years to support ongoing and new student-led Osgoode projects that partner with community groups.

The newest of these community collaborations – the DUKE Heights/Osgoode Community Impact Project – will officially launch on Oct. 6. The two-year pilot program will see DUKE Heights, which is located on Finch Avenue in North York and is the second-largest Business Improvement Area (BIA) in North America, working with Osgoode to create a Virtual Employment Hub and, in particular, an online legal information service. The Virtual Employment Hub will offer one source through the DUKE Heights website where employers, entrepreneurs and job seekers can find resources to help them succeed and grow.

The law school will also begin implementing a Social Procurement Strategy this year with a goal of significantly increasing the its support for independent businesses in the vicinity of York University, social enterprises and businesses supporting equity-seeking communities, as part of the broader AnchorTO initiative of which the University has been a founding member.

In addition, the law school intends to grow the number of Public Interest Summer Internships that it supports (including those funded by donors). In the 2016-17 academic year, Osgoode awarded internship funding of $240,000 to 24 students ($10,000 each) who attained summer employment at a public interest organization. In 2018, two additional internships will be offered.

“Greater community engagement is one of the key priorities to which we have committed in our Access Osgoode strategic plan,” said Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin. “We are investing energy and resources in creating and supporting opportunities for students to make community engagement a central and positive part of their experience at Osgoode.”

Matias de Dovitiis, executive director of DUKE Heights BIA whose boundaries run from Steeles Avenue to Sheppard Avenue and from Keele Street to Dufferin Street, explains the importance of the partnership with Osgoode: “Duke Heights BIA has over 2,500 businesses and is right at the doorstep of York University. We have a mandate from our Board of Directors to develop a relationship that will make our area a hub for innovation and growth, and this Osgoode partnership is a step in that direction.”

To ensure the success of the collaboration, de Dovitiis said DUKE Heights has hired a new team member – Symone Walters – as community impact coordinator.

“Symone Walters will be working as a liaison for Osgoode Hall Law School and the DUKE Heights BIA between our members, employment organizations and potential employees,” de Dovitiis said.

Encouraging employment growth in a community is vitally important, according to Sossin.

“What has become clear over years of working in a variety of community-oriented law school partnerships and outreach is that employment is a key to community building – and to overcoming the kind of legal barriers which many face.”

Sossin noted that, as part of the AnchorTO initiative, York University has defined itself as an “Anchor Institution” within the Black Creek and Jane-Finch communities and has targeted four areas – employment, engagement, infrastructure and social procurement – where it could be mutually beneficial for the University and its neighbours to work together on selected projects.

“The DUKE Heights/Osgoode Community Impact Project fits in nicely with the Anchor YorkU framework,” Sossin said. “Legal innovations around social enterprise and social procurement can help fulfill the potential of the University to support and strengthen communities.”

In addition to the above, Osgoode is also advancing its engagement in the community in a number of other ways, including through the Law in Action Within Schools (LAWS) program, hosting of the Success Beyond Limits (SBL) youth leadership camp and new partnerships with Indigenous communities. A significant component of Osgoode’s commitment to community engagement supports access to justice through the Osgoode Public Interest Requirement (OPIR), Osgoode’s 19 clinical and intensive programs, and Osgoode faculty members’ many research contributions to the access to justice field.

View a 30-second video interview with Symone Walters of DUKE Heights: