ENCOURAGING EXCHANGE: Providing Opportunities for Connection Through Legal Studies

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Encouraging an open, respectful dialogue of different viewpoints is an integral part of the college experience. At The University of Toledo, students study our nation’s laws through diverse programming that fosters civic debate and active citizenship.

The new Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at UToledo offers students the opportunity for deeper exploration of how the 236-year-old Constitution continues to shape our country’s political, cultural and legal norms and arguments.

Created and funded by the Ohio Legislature earlier this year and led by Lee Strang, J.D., the John W. Stoepler Professor of Law and Values in the UToledo College of Law, the center aims to help develop future leaders within the legal profession and to provide a space for diverse voices to discuss and debate key questions about American society, history and politics, both past and present.


“The academic heart of a university is a place where there is an open, respectful dialogue of different viewpoints,” Strang said. “Providing opportunities to both model and engage in the kind of civic dialogue and debate that citizens in our shared republic should have is extremely important, and that’s going to be one of the primary goals of this center.”

Focused on the American constitutional tradition, the institute is an independent center within the University that will engage students across the University.

UToledo has a long history of pioneering new programs and initiatives to expand students’ understanding of and engagement with key societal issues and questions.

For more than 20 years, UToledo’s Law and Social Thought undergraduate program has advocated for the study of law in the context of the liberal arts. The interdisciplinary program — which was the only one of its kind in Ohio when it launched in 2000 — provides an opportunity for students to explore connections between law and morality, politics, language, history and power.

Directed by Renée Heberle, Ph.D., professor of political science, and Jerry Van Hoy, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, the program is a natural choice for students with sights on legal careers, and more than half of graduates go on to attend law school. However, it also prepares students for careers in business, advocacy and more. UToledo also was a trailblazer in establishing the International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Created and directed by Celia Williamson, Ph.D., Distinguished University Professor of social work and director of the UToledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, the conference is the largest academic conference of its type in the world, having drawn attendees from all 50 states and 50 separate countries.

Celia Williamson environmental portrait Distinguished University Professor, Social Work Executive Director, Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute(Daniel Miller)

Over the years, attendees have heard from world-renowned academic researchers, law enforcement officers, activists, survivors of sex trafficking, and even reformed traffickers. Those conversations have inspired college students to change their major, professionals to change jobs and served as a launching pad for new programs, organizations and safe houses.


“The ripple effect of our conference will probably never be truly quantified, but we know the conference and the work that it has helped to inspire has made a direct impact, both here in the United States and across the world,” Williamson said. “We have really been able to shape the narrative and change the conversation about human trafficking.” UToledo students also are presented with unique opportunities to think about legal issues on both a local and international stage.

In the College of Nursing a clinical experience run by instructor Karen Mortland prepares nurses to best treat the whole patient by connecting students with the Lucas County Drug Court, a jail diversion program of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas. By observing and engaging with leaders who actively address substance abuse and approach treatment through a public health lens, students gain a deeper understanding of a complicated problem — and a community resource that might one day help their future patients.

In the College of Arts and Letters, a terrorism simulation course taught by Joel Voss, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Homeland Security puts students in groups that work throughout the semester to either plan and execute an attack or defend against a threat to better understand extremism and counterterrorism.

“Throughout this semester, the students are learning theories that help explain extremism and regional terror groups from every region in the world,” Voss said. “The hope is that they can tie all the theories together for case studies from class and then their ‘field’ study.”

Learn more about how UToledo is encouraging exchange through innovative academic programming at utoledo.edu/features/law.


1. Lee Strang

Lee Strang, left, the John W. Stoepler Professor of Law and Values in the UToledo College of Law, is the director of the new UToledo Institute of Constitutional Thought and Leadership.

2. Celia Williamson

Celia Williamson, Distinguished University Professor of social work and director of the UToledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, is preparing for the 20th annual International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference that will take place virtually Sept. 20-22.

3. Law and Social Thought

Dr. Jerry Van Hoy teaches an introductory Law and Social Thought Gateway course. Van Hoy and Dr. Renée Heberle are co-directors of the undergraduate program that teaches the study of law in the context of the liberal arts.

4. Nursing Population Health Course

Brittany Ellett, left, and Amber Durliat, both senior nursing students, participate in a Population Health course that gives fourth-year students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program an inside look at Lucas County Drug Court.