July 23, 2014
Law/social work student Erin Rumsey is working as a Schweitzer fellow with the Office of the Independent Police Monitor in New Orleans.
Erin Rumsey undertook a joint degree in law and social work at Tulane University in 2012 believing it would prepare her to better assist crime victims such as those she had encountered while working at a sexual assault crisis center.
But an internship with the Orleans Public Defenders office shifted her thinking. Now, she hopes to help those who’ve been victimized by the criminal justice system. And through a new Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, she’ll spend the next year working with the Office of the Independent Police Monitor to assist residents whose encounters with New Orleans police have resulted in lingering emotional trauma.
The police monitor handles complaints against police officers, and the goal of Rumsey’s project is to develop a method of screening for post-traumatic stress disorder, compile a network of referral agencies that can offer low-cost treatment to complainants who need it and work with the police department to decrease brutality incidents.
While the undertaking most likely will take more than a year, Rumsey said, “hopefully, I can put out some good groundwork for them.”
The Schweitzer Fellowship program aims to improve the health of populations in underserved communities. Fellows, most often medical students, are chosen through 12 U.S. chapters and in Lambaréné, Gabon, at the hospital Albert Schweitzer founded in 1913.
The 12 New Orleans fellows for 2014-15 include three students from Tulane’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and four from the Tulane School of Medicine.
New Orleans Program Director Sofia Curdumi Pendley said Rumsey embodies the characteristics of Schweitzer fellows, including passion for service and community involvement.
Rumsey, whose undergraduate degree is from Eastern Connecticut State University, said she hopes to practice in New Orleans as a criminal defense lawyer. She is scheduled to complete her masters in social work in December and her J.D. in 2016.
She said her experience with Orleans Public Defenders broadened her perspective of the criminal justice system and showed her there’s much work to be done in dealing with “injustice right under the surface” in the city.
New Orleans, she said, is “just the best place to really make a difference.”