The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

What is Menstrual Equity? Her Justice Advocates for Women’s Rights

Menstrual equity. This term is likely one that you’ve never heard before. I hadn’t either, until I attended a discussion hosted by Her Justice, a non-profit that recruits caring, talented attorneys from New York City’s law firms, including Proskauer, to provide free legal assistance in the areas of family, divorce and immigration law to women living in poverty, most of whom are victims of domestic violence.

At this discussion, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, Vice President for Development and Democracy Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, spoke about her advocacy efforts surrounding menstrual equity, including legislation and policies that ensure menstrual products are affordable and available for those who need them. While this topic impacts all women in some way, it most significantly affects incarcerated, homeless, or low-income women and girls. Not only is menstrual equity a hygiene and public health issue, but women and girls often have to compromise their productivity to miss work and school because they cannot afford basic necessities. Weiss-Wolf has worked to increase access to menstrual products through, but not limited to, the following initiatives:

  • State and Federal Tax Efforts

Most states impose sales taxes, and many of these states exempt health and personal care items from such tax, but only a handful include menstrual products in such exemption. However, within the last two years, lawmakers in many states have introduced bills to remove what is being dubbed the “tampon tax.” Supporters of this movement argue that menstrual products are a necessity, and should not be subject to any sales tax.

Policy efforts are also underway to push the IRS to amend the tax code so that menstrual products are eligible for reimbursement under flexible spending accounts. Currently, the IRS does not consider tampons or pads medically necessary, despite the fact that the FDA considers such as medical products.

  • Public Accommodations

State and city governments have been active in proposing and passing legislation to achieve menstrual equity. In July 2016, New York City was the first in the nation to pass a legislative package requiring all correction facilities, shelters, and public schools to distribute menstrual products free of charge.

Moreover, on the federal level, in July 2017, Senators Booker and Warren introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which among other things, includes a mandate to distribute tampons and pads to inmates.

As Weiss-Wolf has argued, there is stigma surrounding the topic of menstruation, but if you think it about it from a human rights perspective, women and girls should not have to miss work or school, risk their health, or compromise their dignity because they menstruate. The solutions Weiss-Wolf has championed seem entirely sensible, yet society has a long way to go.

This discussion with Weiss-Wolf was part of the Her Justice “Breakfast Briefing” Series, a quarterly conversation for friends, supporters, volunteers and their networks, featuring a diverse array of external influencers who focus on the issues impacting the clients and work of Her Justice.

In addition to seeking support from volunteer attorneys who take on pro bono cases, Her Justice also relies on the support of institutional sponsors and partners.  Not only do I support Her Justice through pro bono work, but I am also a member of their Junior Advisory Board, which is dedicated to expanding the Her Justice network of young professional volunteers and donors.  I encourage my fellow associates at Proskauer to get involved with pro bono cases through Her Justice to help more women and children get the justice they deserve.

To find out more about how you can volunteer with Her Justice, visit their website at http://www.herjustice.org/.

Betsy Plevan Joins The Office of the Appellate Defender’s All Star Bench

In this Q&A, partner Betsy Plevan shares her experience supporting the Office of the Appellate Defender’s First Monday in October Gala fundraiser, where she served as a mock Supreme Court Justice on the All-Star Bench in support of a great cause. The Office of Appellate Defender NYC provides appellate representation to indigent persons convicted of felonies.

Tell us a little about your connection to the Office of the Appellate Defender, and the purpose of the First Monday Gala.

Betsy: The OAD is widely known as one of the leading private non-profit organizations providing legal services to poor people. I’ve had the privilege of working on many pro bono matters dedicated to civil rights throughout my career, and my specific involvement with the OAD dates back 10 years to when I was a recipient of its annual Milton S. Gould Award for Outstanding Oral Advocacy. Continue Reading

Life Balance Foundation Organized by Lehman Brothers Former CFO Erin Callan Montella

Erin Callan Montella was the CFO of Lehman Brothers in the months before it collapsed in 2008.  After leaving Wall Street, marrying and having a daughter, she wrote a memoir, Full Circle, about the balance between work and family.  She and her husband have created a foundation to help practice that philosophy and help new mothers achieve that balance in their own lives.

Under The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, new mothers are allowed a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave to care for and bond with their children, but many employers compensate their employees for only a small fraction of that time.  As a result, many low- and moderate-income mothers are forced to return to work early. Continue Reading

A Win for Homeless Families

According to a compelling report issued by the non-profit organization Win, every night in New York City over 23,000 children go to bed in a homeless shelter. It is estimated that one in 10 students in New York City public schools experienced homelessness during the 2016–2017 school year. Even more troubling, the number of homeless families and children is growing.

Founded in 1983 as Women In Need, Win started by serving four homeless women and their six children. Today, led by former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Win provides daily shelter to more than 2,400 families, including nearly 4,700 children.  Win now operates 10 residential shelters, and provides 240 permanent supportive housing units, which are primarily financed by the government but require the resident to pay a small percentage of her income as rent.  In response to the severe lack of affordable housing, Mayor DeBlasio launched “Housing New York 2.0,” which promises to create 15,000 supportive housing apartments in NYC over the next 15 years. Win is partnering with various large NYC developers to create these units, and as a Win board member and chair of the real estate committee, I am privileged to be part of these efforts. Continue Reading

Shutting Down the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Public schools across the country too often rely on harsh disciplinary measures. These policies are marked by an in-school police presence, high rates of arrest and suspension, and ineffectiveness. Unduly punitive strategies harm students, exacerbate inequality along the lines of race and disability, and lead to increased dropout rates as well as entanglements with the criminal justice system.  Helping to break this pattern, also known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” has become part of our pro bono efforts thanks to Kate Terenzi, who just completed a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship sponsored by Proskauer. According to Kate, a greater emphasis on mental health services and an increase in trained guidance counselors and social workers as well as a new approach to discipline are key to improving our public schools.

Working at The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), Kate has partnered with youth-led organizations on various policy initiatives and community organizing campaigns, and has represented young people facing school suspensions. At Proskauer, she has conducted trainings and served as a mentor and supervisor, enabling our lawyers to make a real difference in school suspension hearings.  Even when a suspension cannot be avoided, an attorney may be able to help reduce its duration or secure other benefits, such as help for a learning disability, or a transfer to a school that is better-suited to the student.  Continue Reading

Remembering the Victims of 9/11: A Q&A with Timothy McGuirk, Communications Manager at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum

Proskauer is a proud Corporate Member of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. As an annual supporter, the Firm regularly shares the experience of the Memorial and Museum with its employees, clients, summer associates and guests from around the world. In recognizing the 17th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11, we present our readers with a Q&A between Timothy McGuirk, Communications Manager at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and Wendy Dessy, Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility at Proskauer. 

Wendy: What are your mission and goals?

Timothy: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a nonprofit organization located at the World Trade Center in New York City, bears solemn witness to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. The organization honors the 2,983 victims of these attacks, those who risked their lives to save others and all who demonstrated extraordinary compassion in the aftermath through commemoration, exhibitions and educational programs that tell the story of the attacks and explore the continuing global impact of 9/11 and the consequences of terrorism on individual lives and communities.

Wendy: Please describe the process of building and designing the memorial?

Timothy: An international design competition was held in 2003 for selecting the design for a national memorial to remember and honor the people killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. Design submissions totaled 5,201 and were received from 63 nations.

Wendy: Who are the architects?  

Timothy: Michael Arad, in concert with landscape architect Peter Walker, created the winning design, “Reflecting Absence.”

Wendy: Please tell us about the Historical and Memorial Exhibitions.

Timothy: The Museum tells the story of 9/11 through interactive technology, archives, narratives and a collection of artifacts.

Located within the original footprint of the North Tower, the historical exhibition tells the story of 9/11 using artifacts, images, first-person testimony and archival audio and video recordings. The exhibition is made up of three sequential parts: the Events of the Day, Before 9/11, and After 9/11.

Located within the original footprint of the South Tower, this exhibition features portrait photographs of the 2,983 victims of the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, and the February 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Visitors can learn more about each victim by using touch-screen tables to look up individual profiles. An inner chamber projects selected individual profiles, including audio remembrances recorded by family members, friends and former colleagues. Rotating selections of victims’ personal artifacts donated by family members are also on display.

Wendy: It is so important for young people to understand the events of 9/11. How do you engage students?

Timothy: Annually, the 9/11 Memorial Museum hosts “Anniversary in the Schools,” a free webinar that provides a meaningful way to deepen students’ knowledge about the events of 9/11 and the importance of commemoration. The program introduces participants to exhibitions within the Museum, shares personal stories about the attacks from first responders and survivors, and invites them to ask questions through a live chat with Museum staff.

To learn more about this seminar, please click here: https://www.911memorial.org/blog/register-911-memorial-museums-annual-anniversary-schools-webinar

Throughout the year, the Museum offers a diverse set of inquiry-based programs designed to challenge students to think critically about a wide range of topics related to 9/11. All the programs and resources can be found here: https://www.911memorial.org/education-programs

Wendy: Is the exhibit appropriate for all ages? 

Timothy: While the Museum is open to all, it provides age-specific resources due to the sensitive nature of 9/11 content. These resources can be found here: https://www.911memorial.org/talk-children-about-terrorism

The Museum’s historical exhibition, September 11, 2001, may not be appropriate for visitors 10 years old and younger.

For more information about Corporate Membership at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, please visit www.911memorial.org/corporate-membership.

 

A Q&A with Kevin Froner, Principal of Manhattan Hunter Science High School

Wendy Dessy, Proskauer’s Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility, sat down with Kevin Froner, principal of Manhattan Hunter Science, a high school affiliated with CUNY-Hunter College in New York City. Over the last five years Manhattan Hunter Science has emerged as one of the top public schools in America and was recently ranked 17th in the nation by Newsweek for serving high poverty populations.  MHSHS is Proskauer’s Adopt-a-School partner in New York City. Through Adopt-a-School, the Firm’s signature education program, we develop skills and build relationships to motivate and inspire future leaders and help educate young people to their full potential. We provide introductions to a variety of careers, and leverage the core strengths, capabilities and expertise of our people in order to achieve these goals. We work with public and charter schools in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.

Wendy: Please tell us about the unique model for your high school.

Kevin: Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College launched MHSHS in 2003. She wanted to build a high school where students from diverse backgrounds could have access to an early college experience, a model that has proven to substantially increase high school graduation rates, as well as college attainment and completion. Our school was founded in partnership with Hunter College, and all of our seniors take classes there. This provides many benefits to students: they experience college first-hand but under our guidance. We help manage their expectations and acclimate to the new surroundings. The students also take some college-level courses while still in high school. This provides all seniors, many of whom will be first-generation college students, with a preview of the college experience while they still have the support of Manhattan Hunter Science High School (MHSHS) and its faculty.

Wendy: Can you tell us a bit about the student population of Manhattan Hunter Science and how students are accepted into the school?

Kevin: Our school is built upon a foundation of diversity with a large black and Hispanic population. The population of our school and its demographics mirror those of the city. By some accounts, MHSHS has the most competitive acceptance rate amongst all high schools in New York. According to an article published last year by the New York Times, Manhattan Hunter Science had an acceptance rate of 1.7% with 6,472 applicants for only 108 spots.

Currently 60% of the student body live at or below the poverty line. Moving forward, at least 69% of each incoming class will be of the same socioeconomic status. Additionally, 15% of the student body qualifies for special education services.

The application for MHSHS includes essays on why they as students want to be in the academically rigorous environment of MHSHS and its early-college program. Prospective students must have strong academics, strong attendance records, and a strong desire to be there and to learn.

Wendy: According to US News & World Report, Manhattan Hunter Science has 99% graduation rate. This is significantly higher than that of New York City at 74.3% and New York State at 80.2%. What are some of the key factors that support this success?

Kevin: We “shine a light” on any student who is falling behind and provide them with the resources they need. These include a homework center (which is open Monday-Thursday after school), social workers and guidance counselors, with an individualized approach for each student.

We set high expectations for the kids. There is a strong culture of success in our school and with the right mind-set, we can all succeed. That includes Advanced Placement for all. We enroll 100% of our junior class in an AP English Language & Composition course. We understand that writing is a critical skill for college and careers. This is one example of us knowing our kids and providing them with the tools to succeed.

A generous donor, Neil Janovic, provides free college tuition at Hunter College to all MHSHS students who achieve a certain SAT/ACT score and maintain a specific GPA. Approximately 90% of our students receive acceptance at Hunter and about half attend. Many others attend the SUNY schools, NYU and other private schools. We sent our first graduate to MIT this year!

Wendy: Across the country public education is facing insufficient funding. How do you handle budget cuts or limited funding? What is the role of the principal in these situations and what advice do you have for others?

Kevin: MHSHS relies on the support of many partners in the private sector. In general, charter schools are great at fostering partnerships but public schools are not. No one entity, public or private, can solve the issues facing education on their own. It requires a collaborative approach to provide students and schools with all the resources they need.

Schools, school leaders, and their partners need to be creative and assertive when it comes to problem solving. They must think about how partners can supplement school programming and resources to best support the students. If all those in private sector invested in their schools, more schools could provide for their students in the ways we do at MHSHS.

Principals should look at each student as if he or she is their own child and base every decision off that mindset. What if this were my child? What would I want for them?

Wendy: How do you address wellness and mindfulness in your school? These kids are under so much pressure.

Kevin: The students are under a lot of pressure that earlier generations did not experience. Economic uncertainty along with social media and technology places a lot of stress on the kids. We created a Mindfulness Center for the students. Studies have shown that meditation can reduce stress and provide healthier, happier, and more focused students. Our center also offers yoga classes.

Wendy: Anything else our audience should know?

Kevin: Nothing closes the divide more than education, and this is what drives me every day, all day.

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