New donation expands Sheller Center’s resources, community reach

The $1.5 million donation helps more students advocate for Philadelphians on issues like access to higher education for undocumented students.

Vice Provost JoAnne Epps sits in her office at Sullivan Hall on Monday. | HANNAH BURNS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Sandy and Stephen Sheller envisioned students working with the North Philadelphia community to address social injustice when they helped found Temple University’s Sheller Center for Social Justice.

“Our vision was to harness the ability and power of the students, faculty and alumni to address significant issues of social injustice through research, state and local advocacy and strategic solutions and remedies, including legal and policy changes, in combination with other pro-bono and partner organizations,” Sandy Sheller said.

In September, the Shellers donated $1.5 million to the Beasley School of Law to continue to support that vision. The funding created a full-time chair, increasing the number of issues the center can tackle. As a result, more students can get involved in the center’s work.

“The new gift to the Center will ensure its permanent establishment at Temple Law and in the community, and we hope to build on the Center’s present success,” Sandy Sheller said. “It will also ensure that the level of the faculty involved with the Center will be of the highest caliber and have a passion and commitment to the Center and its work for social justice change.”

Through the center, students and faculty members are working on projects to support a legislative campaign for domestic workers, who face a disproportionate amount of worker abuse and exploitation, said Gregory Mandel, the dean of the Beasley School of Law. Students are also working on a domestic worker bill of rights.

“The gift provides fabulous support so that we can continue to address the many social justice needs that people face throughout the city of Philadelphia while at the same time allowing us to provide stronger education for our law students,” Mandel said.

Previously, students have been able to respond to issues across the city, like access to higher education for undocumented students and wage theft across Pennsylvania, sometimes with the goal to change laws.

In the students’ investigation into wage theft, which is the illegal non-payment or underpayment of wages, they issued a report entitled Shortchanged, which illustrated the extent of the issue in Pennsylvania.

“Their efforts allowed them to represent victims of wage theft but sought to change the laws in the state to make it easier for victims to speak up and prosecute employers,” Provost JoAnne Epps said.

Created in 2013, the center’s two clinics partner with nonprofits and community groups through research efforts and advocacy projects. Law students who work with the Sheller Center advocate in the community and provide direct legal services. Clinical faculty members work in the Center alongside the students every semester to identify problems that the center could address.

“They focus on problems that the community is facing and figure out how they can not only work on the problem to have a large impact on policy that the city or state may be applying but also helping some individual clients as well,” said Gregory Mandel, the dean of the Beasley School of Law.

The Shellers hope to see more work of this caliber in the future.

“We wanted to build on the work of the Center and its positive impact both in scale and scope, as well as, create an endowment that would ensure the Center’s success in perpetuity,” Sandy Sheller said.

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