Rob Vischer

Solidarity at St. Thomas Law

School of Law Dean and Mengler Chair in Law Robert Vischer discusses the importance of solidarity.

Pope Francis has urged the world “to educate ourselves in solidarity, to rediscover the value and meaning of this very uncomfortable word.” Why would the Holy Father refer to solidarity as an “uncomfortable” word? Perhaps because, as his predecessor Pope Paul VI explained, solidarity “binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception, and of actively helping him when he comes across our path.”

At St. Thomas Law, our national rankings for practical training, clinics and best professors are empty accolades unless they reflect an effort to prepare our students for a cause greater than themselves. That cause is captured best by the term solidarity, and this issue of our magazine explores how we equip our students to make themselves “the neighbor of every person without exception.”

Given the tensions we face as a nation regarding the continued viability of a shared vision of the common good, our law school’s efforts to practice solidarity have never been more vital. If we aspire to train students to be agents of solidarity in the broader world, we have to start by making sure that solidarity is a reality within our own law school community. A feature story in this issue explores our efforts in this regard.

And as our nation debates how best to secure our borders, the students and faculty in our immigration clinic continue to come alongside the refugee, providing a voice to the voiceless.

For our cover story, rather than expressing the clinic’s impact through charts or statistics, we have chosen to capture the impact through the eyes of our students: as the face of a real person, often scared but hopeful, looking back at them in a deeply human encounter. The stranger becomes neighbor.

Practicing solidarity is not often an easy road and does not always culminate in a feel-good story. It compels us to run toward some of the most polarizing debates in our communities in an effort to contribute more light than heat as we speak up for otherwise neglected perspectives. In this issue, we describe efforts by our alumni working as advocates for Native American tribes as they navigate questions of sovereignty in the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Alumni are active on many other fronts, of course. Santo Cruz ’10 reflects on the trade mission to Cuba he helped lead on behalf of the state of Minnesota, building bridges across decades of acrimony and alienation. We also profile Amanda Mortwedt Oh ’12, whose work for The Committee on Human Rights in North Korea reminds us not to forget those who suffer outside the world’s gaze. Professor Robert Delahunty is also profiled. His scholarship brings attention to shortcomings of our international legal order, and his legendary hospitality toward students reminds us that solidarity begins with the person right in front of us.

Why does St. Thomas Law exist? If our answers extend no further than job training or socially beneficial legal research, we have settled for an incomplete vision of our law school’s potential. Now is the time, in the midst of seemingly intractable divisions in our world, when we can help show what solidarity means in the real world, and why it matters.

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