Digital skills to fight ‘real world’ inequities

By Elisabeth Schnebele 

Equal justice under law is a long-held ideal in the United States. It is inscribed across the front façade of the United States Supreme Court building. But according to Adam Wicks-Arshack, staff attorney at Snohomish County Legal Services, the phrase can be a bit misleading. 

“When most people think of their right to equal justice, they think of the Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights which states, among other things, the right to an attorney. That only applies, however, if a person is accused of a crime,” he said. “So what happens if you are facing a non-criminal, legal problem and don’t have the means to an attorney?” 

This situation has become increasingly prevalent in Snohomish County, Wicks-Arshack added, as more residents are getting evicted from their homes. “In the past year, we have seen a significant number of our community members get evicted, many of whom were evicted illegally but didn’t have the resources to prove it in court,” he said. 

To respond to this crisis, Snohomish County Legal Services, a nonprofit organization, is working to connect people in poverty with quality legal services — in part with the help of students from the University of Washington Bothell. 

courthouse

Drake Monfregola and Jordy Solorio Valdovinos in front of the Snohomish County Courthouse

Two recent contributors to this initiative are Drake Monfregola and Jordy Solorio Valdovinos who, through UW Bothell’s Digital Scholars program, spent their summer working at the organization. 

Skills across disciplines 

“The work Drake and Jordy did over the summer will have an impact on almost every client whom we serve,” Wicks-Arshack said. “They leveraged their digital and communication skills to create informative fliers that will help low-income families in our county.” 

The Digital Scholars Program is in its inaugural year at UW Bothell. Spanning three quarters, the program began in spring 2022 and will continue through this autumn. One of its primary goals is to provide first-generation students with skills in digital marketing, data analytics, social media and data visualization. 

“Regardless of whether students plan to pursue a career in business, engineering, communications or health care, they will more than likely need digital skills,” said Kara Adams, director of connected learning. “This program is centered on providing students with necessary skills — while also helping them build their social network and make connections with professionals in the field.” 

Sophomore Drake Monfregola

Sophomore Drake Monfregola

Monfregola, a sophomore planning to study Interactive Media Design, said the program has been extremely beneficial. “I have learned so many useful things,” he said. “Even if I might not see myself going into a legal-based field in the future, there are skills I gained from working at Snohomish County Legal Services that will translate to other careers. 

“Designing an informational flier, for example, required a number of interdisciplinary skills such as finding relevant data, writing in a way that is easy for readers to digest and using helpful imagery.” 

Fighting with fliers 

Monfregola explained that most of his work focused on helping people with E-File, a new mandate that requires eviction notices to be filed electronically. 

“People on the receiving end of these evictions are required to respond through the website, and navigating online spaces isn’t always intuitive,” he said. “The flier we created provides phone numbers and email addresses of people who can help them learn the site so it’s not so intimidating.” 

Sophomore Jordy Solorio Valdovinos

Sophomore Jordy Solorio Valdovinos

Solorio Valdovinos noted that they also included educational resources and best practices on the flier. “We made sure to highlight information about free training sessions on how to E-file as well as ways to practice and become more comfortable with the website,” he said. 

The flier will be distributed around the county in the courthouse as well as restaurants and grocery stores. “We actually just sent the E-Filling guide and flier to the lead judge for Snohomish County,” Wicks-Arshack said. “He is reviewing it now, and it will likely go live on the county website and printed out in hard copies at the courthouse in the coming weeks. 

Win-win 

In addition to making an impact on residents in Snohomish County, the work made an impact on Monfregola and Solorio Valdovinos, too. 

“I am so grateful for this experience — not just for the skills I was able to gain but also for the people I got to help,” Solorio Valdovinos said. “It was a privilege to engage in such meaningful work that will help many people who are at risk of eviction.” 


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