Jennifer Austin, a Professor in Rutgers University–Newark’s Spanish and Portuguese Studies Department, has been awarded the 2019-2020 Rutgers University Clement A. Price Human Dignity Award for her work as founder and director of the Lives in Translation Project (LiT).
LiT was created in 2016 by Austin and a group of RU-N faculty from the School of Arts and Sciences–Newark (SASN) and Rutgers Law School with a $40K grant from the Chancellor’s Office. The idea was to leverage RU-N’s ranking as the most diverse campus in the country by recruiting undergraduate volunteers to serve as interpreters and translators to help immigrants seeking legal services. That need is especially great in Newark, where 45 percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home.
In being nominated for the award by SASN Interim Dean Denis Paré, Austin was recognized for her and LiT’s “exceptional commitment to promoting the linguistic diversity of Rutgers students, who have gained valuable personal and professional experience through their participation in the program, as well as opportunities for meaningful service learning.”
He continued by saying, “Her efforts in creating the Lives in Translation program have also served to promote inclusion and equity in the wider community by serving the linguistic needs of residents of Newark and the New York City metropolitan area who have limited English proficiency and are in need of legal aid.”
LiT has grown exponentially since its founding, expanding its volunteer database to more than 800 students who speak 49 different languages—nearly double the number of students since last summer—with some now coming from other Rutgers campuses and nearby community colleges.
Students have assisted pro bono attorneys working for two clinics run by Rutgers Law School—the Rutgers Law Immigrant Rights and Child Advocacy Clinics—along with a host of outside groups in northern New Jersey and New York City such as the American Friends Service Committee, the ACLU, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, the NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice, and the New York Legal Assistance Group. They’ve also been recruited to aid private-practice law firms.
“Our students are capable of so much, and this has been a way for them to draw on their linguistic proficiency and cultural knowledge and give back,” says Austin.
The students have worked in a wide range of contexts, helping to conduct know-your-rights, divorce and DACA clinics; lending their interpretation skills for client intakes, medical examinations, court appointments and asylum interviews; and translating hundreds of pages of legal documents, including Individualized Education Plans, birth certificates, affidavits, transcripts, letters of support, event flyers and more.
Our students are capable of so much, and this has been a way for them to draw on their linguistic proficiency and cultural knowledge and give back.
In fall 2019 LiT, Chantal Fischzang, , who is an Assistant Professor in Arts, Culture & Media, and the Design Consortium at Express Newark received a $5K Express Newark Third Space Award to build an interactive online platform to help organizations find student volunteers, and for those volunteers to apply to be interpreters and translators. The platform will also graphically present data that LiT has been gathering to illustrate the level of multilingualism in Newark and at RU-N.
In February, Stephanie Rodriguez was hired as LiT’s new director. Rodriguez, who graduated RU-N in 2013 with a dual-major in Spanish and History, and earned M.A. in Interpreting and Translating at Rutgers–New Brunswick in 2015, has five years of professional experience, including as a Spanish court interpreter for the New York City Housing Authority and translation project manager for two companies.
Rodriguez currently is in talks with the nonprofit group Newark Alliance to discuss how LiT can help conduct contact-tracing throughout the city to limit the spread of Covid-19. She also has contacted area hospitals to see if LiT volunteers can interpret remotely for patients with limited English proficiency who have been separated from their families due to Covid-19.
“So far, Stephanie has done a phenomenal job of supervising and recruiting interns and volunteers, and moving LiT forward, especially when it comes to Covid-19.” says Austin.
Austin was originally scheduled to receive the award, along with four other recipients, at a ceremony on April 14 at The Rutgers Club, on the Livingston Campus in Piscataway, NJ. That event was postponed due to the pandemic, and an alternate date has yet to be announced.
The Clement A. Price Human Dignity Awards honor individuals and groups who have demonstrated extraordinary achievement and commitment to promoting and practicing diversity and inclusion at Rutgers University and in the broader community. Presented by the Committee to Advance Our Common Purposes, they have been given annually since 1999 and are open to all University students, faculty, staff, organizations, departments, and units from Camden, Newark and New Brunswick.
Each recipient receives a citation and a monetary gift, all or a portion of which may be donated to an organization of the recipient's choice for diversity enhancements.
“I feel very honored and grateful for this award, as well as for all the support that RU-N has given the Lives in Translation program,” says Austin. “ It’s particularly meaningful to receive an award named for Dr. Clement Price, whose leadership and service continue to inspire those of us who were lucky enough to have known him.”