"Know Your Rights:" MSU Law Students Empower Detroit High School Students

What qualifies as a constitutional search? How does one determine reasonable suspicion? When is it appropriate to record an incident with police on your cell phone?

Over 500 students at Cass Technical High School in Detroit learned the answers to these important questions and more from MSU College of Law student volunteers and instructors on April 9, 2021, during a workshop titled “Know Your Rights Day.” The workshop opened a safe space for conversations about race, policing, and a young person’s 4th Amendment rights when dealing with law enforcement.

As the nation continues to address injustices facing people of color, conversations like the ones facilitated during “Know Your Rights Day” are significant in ensuring that youth are prepared with the knowledge that will encourage confidence during any possible interactions with police.

This past summer was an emotional one. I remember feeling angry, sad, and – most of all – useless. After the death of George Floyd, and the deaths of so many other Black and brown men and women, it was clear there needed to be a change and I wanted to be a part of that change.

Maya Pascal, ’22

2Ls Megan Shaya and Maya Pascal were the lead organizers behind the workshop, with support from Professors Nancy Costello and Catherine Grosso, hosted by the MSU First Amendment Law Clinic in partner with the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). The inspiration for “Know Your Rights Day” was derived in part from Shaya and Pascal’s experiences as clinicians for the First Amendment Law Clinic.

“Through the First Amendment Clinic, Megan and I began teaching workshops to students at Cass Technical High School. After Megan and I concluded our time at Cass Tech, I had an epiphany. I had just completed my Criminal Procedure exam that covered the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments and I suggested to Megan that we should return to Cass Tech to teach the students about their 4th Amendment rights, something that is applicable to their everyday lives,” Pascal explained. “This was a way for us to use our legal knowledge for a benevolent purpose, promote safer police interactions, and embolden Cass Tech students with the knowledge of their 4th Amendment rights.”

Several MSU Law students volunteered to assist with preparation and instruction for the workshop, including: Lucas R. Adams, Henry Simon, Erin Shrum, Sophie Isabelle Pohl, Grace Carlotte Ketzner, Richard E. Harris, Josalin Sanders Walker, Payton Anderson George, Jamie Katherine Vandenoever, Glynis Gilio, Jonathan F. Liu, and Nikolas Spilson. They divided into pairs to deliver detailed, curated presentations to more than a dozen classes at Cass Tech, sharing critical resources and information, while also guiding the high school students through scenarios and questions to apply their learning.

“For Maya and I, this workshop was an opportunity to challenge ourselves to take an idea, develop a vision, and use our resources and skills to bring it to fruition. Together we were able to build a platform in which law students and high school students could share meaningful discourse about race, policing, and the 4th Amendment,” Shaya said. “The opportunity to foster meaningful conversations with the students at Cass Tech on a subject matter that relates closely to their lives has allowed us to further capitalize on our legal education for a greater purpose.”

With the April workshop a success, the organizers hope to see the program continue.

“This workshop became a true passion project for us. Not only were we able to develop relationships with Cass Tech students, we truly realized the power of knowledge,” Pascal said. “We are so fortunate as law students to learn the law and to delve into the bounds of our constitutional rights, but many are not afforded this opportunity. Our passion for social justice and the law collided in the best way possible to produce ‘Know Your Rights Day’.”