Spotlight on 2014 Legal Fellow Whitney Knox

Whitney.headshotSpotlight on 2014 Legal Fellow Whitney Knox

WHITNEY KNOX, Seattle University School of Law ’13, was recently named the Urban Youth Justice/RITA Project Legal Fellow for the Racial Impact Transparency & Accountability Project (RITA Project) of the Urban Youth Justice Initiative. The fellowship allows rising 3L and post-graduate students the opportunity to conduct substantive legal research in the area of youth justice and civil rights and shared authorship of a subsequent report published to the community stakeholders, including policymakers and legal advocates.

The RITA Project conducts rigorous detailed research and analysis of public institutional policies and practices to identify patterns of disparate racial/ethnic impact and identify key systemic points that produce disparate outcomes for youth and young adults of color.  The research goal is that the transparency and awareness from exposing systemic disparate impact will promote accountability for multi-level systemic change by identifying unique & distinct advocacy opportunities at different systemic stages and/or youth contact points. Upon completion, all reports generated from the UYJ/RITA Project Fellowship are made available online at:

As the Winter/Spring 2014 Law Fellow, Knox focused her research and analysis on the racial impact of fare enforcement in public transportation, including assessing the risk for racial disproportionality through application of the current fare enforcement rules, regulations, policies and practices.

“Whitney was given the purpose of the research project with discretion to articulate the means and parameters of her work, specifically to encourage her own vision, and Whitney took that discretion and ran with it. Whitney has demonstrated amazing leadership and self-initiative that laid a significant foundation and made a stellar contribution to our racial justice work that other RITA research associates will benefit from and collaboratively build upon,” said Ernest Saadiq Morris, director of Urban Youth Justice.

After completing her Fellowship, Knox is moving on to a staff attorney position with the Georgia Legal Services Program providing legal services to underrepresented populations in SW Georgia.

We talked to Whitney about her background and her fellowship experience with UYJ’s RITA Project:

Why did you pursue the legal Fellow opportunity with the UYJ/RITA Project?

I pursued the fellowship with the RITA project because of my interest in helping to uncover inequity issues in the Seattle and King County area. As a native Seattleite, the systemic issues that the UYJ and RITA projects address are of great concern to me and in some cases are issues that have directly impacted my life or the lives of those close to me.

How was your experience as the UYJ/RITA Project Legal Fellow?

I appreciate the time that I spent working as a UYJ/RITA Fellow. I was given the opportunity to research pertinent issues that were interesting and important to me. As a post-graduate Fellow, my work allowed me to put into practice skills that I learned and developed throughout law school. While I was given clear parameters for my research, I was also afforded broad discretion to put together a research plan that worked for me. Furthermore, the legal issues that I researched, although specific to Washington and 9th Circuit jurisprudence, are certainly not unique to this jurisdiction. My research set a firm foundation for me to build on as I continue to work in public interest lawyering throughout the United States. Working with UYJ was a great culmination to my formal education and start to my legal career.

Do you have any advice to student who are pursuing public interest legal careers?

My advice is to take advantage of experiential learning opportunities as much as possible. It was my experience that the courses I thought to be useful for the type of advocacy I wanted to do were offered infrequently and were difficult to get into when they were offered. As a result, through Seattle University’s Externship Program, I opted to spend a heavy majority of my third year in the field, working with attorneys and clients on real legal issues. This practice and exposure to the law and legal issues faced by target populations helped me to narrow my legal interests as well as provided a forum where I could practice and further develop new lawyering skills. I feel that It was these experiences that made me a competitive job applicant and has allowed me to hit the ground running as I begin my career in public interest lawyering.

Urban Youth Justice Director Ernest Saadiq Morris appointed co-Chair of Education subcommittee by American Bar Association Children’s Rights Litigation Committee

Ernest Saadiq Morris has  been appointed co-chair of the Education Subcommittee  of the American Bar Association Children’s Rights Litigation Committee.

He will be responsible for advancing the work of the Educational Civil Rights Accountability Project.  The Educational Civil Rights Accountability Project will promote vigorous enforcement of education rights by legal advocates and the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice.

Urban Youth Justice podcast: The Color of Education – “Teaching in the School to Prison Pipeline” – feat. Jose Vilson NYC public school teacher, education activist and TEDxNYED speaker – Full Interview

“Teaching in the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Strategies to Empower Youth” featuring New York City public school teacher, education activist and TEDxNYED speaker Jose Vilson.

Urban Youth Justice Director Ernest Saadiq Morris talks to Jose Vilson about his unique perspective as a Black-Latino male teacher and youth advocate regarding the obstacles facing students of color in achieving a quality education while avoiding and overcoming the traps of the school-to-prison pipeline (e.g., education inequality, school discipline, etc.); and shares his strategies to empower students.

RACIAL EQUITY & EXPANDED LEARNING OPPORTUNITY (ELO): Quality Expanded Learning Opportunity Can Help Meet Increasing Racial Equity Challenges in Education

RACIAL EQUITY & EXPANDED LEARNING OPPORTUNITY (ELO): Quality Expanded Learning Opportunity Can Help Meet Increasing Racial Equity Challenges  in Education

By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice *

The rapidly diversifying student population in Washington State, the Pacific Northwest, and across the United States presents educational equity challenges that must be met by Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) programs in the more racially diverse and not-too-distant future.

Consider this changing youth demographic landscape:

  • Minority youth under age 20 currently outnumber white youth in 504 U.S. Counties.
  • More than 47% children under age 5 are non-white minorities.
  • By 2023, youth of color will be the majority of children under 18, with Latino minors comprising the largest segment of that population.

Source: Growing Diversity Among America’s Children and Youth: Spatial and Temporal Dimensions, Population and Development Review, March 2010

If the educational achievement gap (as measured by the graduation and post-secondary education rates among today’s Black, Latino, and other similarly disadvantaged youth of color) increases exponentially similar to the  anticipated growth in minority youth population, then a crippling social and economic crisis may result.

A potential critical mass of economically dispossessed youth and young adults of color with limited education and a lack of advanced trade skills will surely throw this nation into crisis. The impending drain on social services budgets alone would significantly burden state and federal governments and it is doubtful that an aging (future minority) white population could maintain a robust economy alone. This is not a winning formula for a brighter future.

Expanded Learning Opportunity is unique in that it is naturally positioned to address and ameliorate this potential social and economic crisis arising from the failure of the traditional educational status quo to provide equal educational opportunity to students of color– a promise embodied in the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision that was never delivered.

Since the Brown v. Board decision, Black youth and similarly disadvantaged students of color continued to endure a legacy of unequal educational opportunity that has spanned multiple generations, reinforced by white middle class flight from urban public education, and the inferior and unequal allocation of educational resources.

This entrenched educational inequality based on race, ethnicity, and culture is exacerbated by a school-to-prison pipeline that merges inferior educational opportunity with overly punitive (and racially disproportionate) school discipline that increases the risk of criminal justice system contacts, mass incarceration, and chronic under/unemployment,  thus perpetuating a legacy of lifelong economic oppression and intergenerational poverty.

Quality expanded learning opportunity programs aim to improve and enrich the educational opportunity of all youth. Consequently, the opportunity and enrichment provided by quality ELO programs implementing racially inclusive and collaborative strategies can be a crucial intervention to the future success of youth of color and society as a whole.

An ELO program that demonstrates its racial equity awareness through its development of effective equity & inclusion strategies and methodology can have a considerable impact on the achievement gap by providing quality learning opportunity and quality personal enrichment to disadvantaged students of color.

Racial inequity starts with the Pre-K/Early Education opportunity gap. Low-income youth of color that don’t participate in a quality early education program can enter kindergarten up to 18 months behind their peers. [Source: National Institute for Early Education Research, The State of Preschool 2011]. This results in educational achievement disparity that often persists and remains an obstacle throughout that disadvantaged student’s K-12 educational career or until the student drops out or is pushed out.

Quality ELO programs show promising ability to provide enriched early learning experiences to address and bridge the pre-K/early learning education opportunity gap. A quality ELO program can also provide enriched K-12 educational opportunity to address and bridge the entrenched educational opportunity disparity that many youth of color face.

Ultimately, ELO programs must use a proactive approach to assure racial equity within their programs and avoid many of the barriers found in traditional school-based learning environments.

ELO programs must work to acknowledge structural, institutional and subconscious barriers within their programmatic choices that marginalize or suggest cultural, economic and/or political preferences that cut along race/ethnic origin, nationality, and/or skin color lines.

ELO programs should strive to engage in a more flexible pedagogy than traditional school-based learning.  ELO programs can differentiate themselves by emphasizing flexible learning experiences, i.e., active (or experiential) learning in an individualized, peer-to-peer or team learning format.

ELO programs should embrace a wider cultural relevance in their teaching and learning practices to maximize the involvement of youth of color, and increase their recruitment and retainment with more tolerant programmatic choices, including staffing and curriculum.

Moving beyond the entrenched educational opportunity gap requires ELO programs to demonstrate to youth of color that racial equity is a true programmatic goal, i.e., with inclusive strategies,  a willingness to tolerate diverse  cultural viewpoints, and a commitment to empower disadvantaged youth with an enriched educational experiences that does not merely extend the traditional school day.

Quality ELO is the intelligent response to the racial gap in educational opportunity that results in the K-12 education achievement gap. Rather than more of the same entrenched inequities, ELO can provide enriched learning experiences and opportunities for youth of color and similarly disadvantaged students that can resemble the hopeful vision of racial equity in education post-Brown v. Board.

*Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights and liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. He has been defeating the school-to-prison pipeline since 2004, including coordinating the largest successful mass student defense to-date (Round Rock, Texas 2006-2007). You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.