Support for social justice leads to $1M in gifts

Author Credit: Julia Mace

While social justice was brought to the forefront of the national conversation in 2020, the University of Cincinnati College of Law has long been a leader in this arena, training and cultivating scholars, leaders and activists committed to systemic change through education, research, theory and practice. 

Donors supported this work by giving more than $1 million in 2020 to the Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. These individuals include Cincinnati Law alumni as well as those who were inspired to give because of the college’s reputation for outstanding work and dedication to change.

Michael L. Wright, BS '93, JD '96

Michael L. Wright, BS '93, JD '96

The Jones Center, named after one the nation’s most respected jurists, reflects Judge Jones’ impressive career as a champion for justice. Scholars at the Center teach, research and work to combat harassment, violence against women and economic inequalities that target the most vulnerable. The Center’s programs give students real-world experience, whether supporting clients in the domestic-violence clinic or moderating "urgent conversations" about issues of the day.

"Judge Jones is a legend, his name is synonymous with making a difference," Dean Verna Williams said. "The work to move this nation toward eqaulity and liberation is far from over but I think Judge Jones would be pleased abou the impact these gifts will make in moving us forward."

“Judge Jones had a dedication to service, excellence and the pursuit of justice,” said Michael L. Wright, BS ’93, JD ’96. “He was inspirational. He came at a time when it was tough to be a Black man and an attorney and fight for social justice causes.”

Harry H. Santen, JD '57

Harry H. Santen, JD '57

Wright, along with fellow alumni Michael L. Cioffi, JD ’79, and Harry H. Santen, JD ’57, donated to the Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice Fund. This fund provides resources for the Center’s activities including expenses related to its director, research and program assistants and events.

Wright shares that he attended UC Law with the aspiration of helping those that need assistance and believes the Jones Center plays this role in the community.

“I believe in Dean Verna Williams and the course she has the law school on,” Wright added. “I wanted to support her, the Center and honor Judge Jones. Attending UC Law was the best career decision I ever made so giving to the Center was an easy decision.”

I believe in Dean Verna Williams and the course she has the law school on... Attending UC Law was the best career decision I ever made so giving to the Center was an easy decision.

Michael L. Wright, BS '93, JD '96

Jeff and Jennifer Davis are not UC alumni but were moved to act after the national events of 2020. The university’s commitment to positive change and social justice work influenced their decision on selecting both the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Law for a gift.

“In this moment of urgency and increased advocacy—not only from those most directly affected by bias and discrimination but from everyone in our community—there is hope for greater inclusiveness and understanding, as well as systemic policy changes,” they said. “We hope this is a positive step toward increased social justice.”

The Davises created the Theodore M. Berry ’31, Directorship of the Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice Endowment Fund; this will allow the Jones Center to have a dedicated director, training the next generation of social engineers who will create tangible change.

Bill Morelli, A&S '74, JD '78

Bill Morelli, A&S '74, JD '78

Alumnus Bill Morelli, A&S ’74, JD ’78, was also intentional about his donation. He created the Bill Morelli Endowment Fund for the Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender and Social Justice.

“At a time when national discussion—often divisive—is taking place on issues of race, gender and justice, it’s important for the legal profession to take the lead in framing issues and developing solutions,” he said. “The Jones Center is at the center of thought leadership in this area and I hope this gift can bring together scholars and practitioners in the field to inspire the next generation of lawyers to shape public policy and help build bridges of understanding in the broader community.”

The fund established by Morelli will be used to establish a practitioner-in-residence program, allowing the College of Law to host a social justice advocate or innovator to teach courses on race, gender and social justice. On alternating years, it will also allow the college to host a conference at which scholars in law and other fields such as philosophy, sociology, political science, or public health, will come together to address, and explore solutions for, issues of race, gender and social justice. On April 8, 2021, the Jones Center hosted the Inaugural Morelli Colloquy on Belonging and Difference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Invited speakers in law, the humanities, and social sciences discussed their work on a wide array of topics and framed these issues in terms of belonging and difference. These interdisciplinary conversations opened up new ways of thinking about how to address issues of trenchant inequality and inequity.

At a time when national discussion—often divisive—is taking place on issues of race, gender and justice, it’s important for the legal profession to take the lead in framing issues and developing solutions.

Bill Morelli, A&S ’74, JD ’78

Francie Pepper

Francie Pepper, a longtime advocate for victims of domestic violence

Long-time advocates for victims of domestic violence, Francie and John Pepper’s donation directly supports the Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic within the Center. Since 2005, the Clinic has helped Cincinnati Law students represent more than 1,400 survivors of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and human trafficking in civil protection order hearings. Thanks to the work of the Clinic, Cincinnati City Council was the first in the nation to pass a resolution declaring that freedom from domestic violence is a fundamental human right.

“Judge Jones is a legend, his name is synonymous with making a difference,” Dean Verna Williams said. “The work to move this nation toward equality and liberation is far from over but I think Judge Jones would be pleased about the impact these gifts will make in moving us forward.”