Educating Hearts and Minds

US/Mexico border wall


Situated near an international border, the University of San Diego is unique in its location and focus. A contemporary Catholic campus rooted in its social justice identity, USD is the ideal institution for programs fostering cross-national relationships.

Since 2009, USD has been home to the Oral Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS), a program that brings together attorneys, law professors and jurists to address improvements to the Mexican criminal justice system.

Coordinated through USD’s Justice in Mexico project, OASIS is the largest externally funded social sciences program in the College of Arts and Sciences, having been funded by the U.S. State Department through the Mérida Initiative. The $5.5 million in funding, $2.2 million of which was brought in during the Leading Change campaign, helps foster ties between faculty and legal experts on both sides of the border.

“This kind of educational outreach and policy engagement is often not supported at major research institutions,” says David Shirk, PhD, the program director for Justice in Mexico. “The fact that we’ve been able to sustain this program here — with generous support from private and government donors — is one of the things that helps make USD such a unique place, both for our faculty and our students.”

Since its inception, the OASIS program has trained more than 1,200 law professors and law students, providing litigation workshops, study tours of the U.S. criminal justice system and symposiums on reform opportunities and the impact that law schools can have on the future of the criminal justice system.

“This is a program that involves some of the best lawyers and judges in San Diego, as well as lawyers and law students from the largest law schools in Mexico,” says Shirk. “Since this program is really about transferring skills and building relationships, the impacts will be long-lasting and positive for strengthening the legal system and the rule of law in Mexico.”

As one of the leading legal exchange programs between the United States and its southern neighbor, OASIS not only connects those involved in Mexico’s criminal justice system with their counterparts in the U.S., it also enables USD students and faculty to connect internationally, engaging and contributing to global citizenship. Through the political science and international relations departments, USD students gain firsthand experience with the program and its participants, contributing directly to the collaborative nature of the program.

“There are arguably few issues more important in Mexico and U.S.-Mexico relations today than strengthening the rule of law, security and human rights,” says Shirk. “Our students and graduates are getting to be a direct part of that effort. In this sense, these programs express our university’s commitment to promoting social justice, not to mention working with Mexico and the border community, of which we are a part.” — Allyson Meyer ‘16



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