ASUO legal services director receives national service award

Ilona Koleszar

Ilona Givens, ASUO’s Student Legal Services director, has been awarded the 2017 Elizabeth Berg Streeter Community Service Award, a national award given each year from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association Student Legal Services Section for “excellence in service to the legal community, social justice and equality.”

“It’s kind of sweet, and touching, to be recognized by my peers,” Givens said. “It’s kind of an odd and interesting job to have, and that’s why this group of people are so dear to me. These are lawyers that really get how it is to work for students on a campus in the United States.”

The award’s namesake, Elizabeth Berg Streeter, was the founding attorney at Southern Illinois University’s student legal services. Recipients are those who have shown they work diligently to uphold Streeter’s legacy of giving students access to legal information and representation, something Koleszar has made a priority.

“Access to justice is kind of one of my things,” she said. “Our legal system is getting harder, in every possible way, to use successfully. If you’re an individual without money, without power, and you can’t afford a lawyer, your chances of getting successfully through any kind of criminal or civil process is greatly diminished. It’s really hard to recognize a justice system as just if you can’t get to it.”

She also focuses a lot on student education. If they have to write a letter to their landlord, Givens would rather show them how to do it themselves instead of writing it for them. She wants them to gain something that will help them when they no longer have easy access to legal services.

She said it has been both a privilege and a pleasure to work for UO students. “I wake up every morning happy about going to work,” she said. “I love working with students. I think it’s righteous work.”

Givens recently celebrated her 30th year at the UO. She started back in 1987, making up the entirety of the student legal services department. Over the years she’s watched it add three other attorneys, able to help even more students with their problems.

“I’ve had students come in and tell me I helped their parents when they were in school, and that tells me I’ve been here a long time,” Givens said. “Maybe the first time a grandchild of a former student comes in that’ll be my cue to exit.”

ASUO’s Student Legal Services provides all currently enrolled UO students free legal advice and assistance free of charge. It was one of the first university student legal services departments to be entirely funded by student incidental fees, now a common practice at schools around the country.

Contact information for ASUO’s Student Legal Services can be found on its website.

By Noah Ripley, University Communications