Columbia Law School agreed to postpone exams for “traumatized” students in response to, in effect, a demand by “The Coalition of Affinity Group Student Leaders and Students of Color” at Columbia. Here is the full text of the Coalition’s statement:
Dear Columbia Law School Faculty and Administrators,
We are writing to you as students who have been deeply affected by the recent events in Ferguson, in New York, and across the country. As people of color, we have always had to maintain an awareness of the ways in which our bodies are policed by the state, are under constant threat of violence, and the ways in which we make sacrifices within the institutions of which we are a part in hopes of making the passage through this world, of our bodies and bodies like ours, easier. Recent events have severely impacted us and the need to respond has never felt more urgent.
We have been traumatized over and again by the devaluation of Black and Brown lives. We are falling apart.
In the midst of our trauma, we are, of course, still formally members of the Columbia Law School community. As student leaders of color at Columbia, we have been asked to bear the burden of educating the broader community about issues that have wreaked havoc on our psyches and lives, with some support and some dehumanizing moments of dismissal by our peers and faculty. Nonetheless, we have borne the burden and done so with unfailing grace.
We will not continue to be asked to make sacrifices in the name of informing the broader school community of our struggles without, in turn, demanding that the community care for us too.
Recent events have unsettled our lives as students. We have struggled to compartmentalize our trauma as we sit and make fruitless attempts to focus on exam preparation. We sit to study with the knowledge that our brothers and sisters are regularly killed with impunity on borders and streets; we sit to study with the understanding that our brothers and sisters are marching to have our humanity recognized and valued by a system that has continually failed us. We join marches with the looming anxiety that spending our time organizing events and attending rallies could put our studies and positions in the law school community in jeopardy.
Our trauma will be present with us on exam day, our trauma is inhibiting us from sleeping at night, and our trauma is ever-present among the words in our textbooks. Moreover, the violence that the law has done to Mike Brown and now Eric Garner is a legal violence that affects and implicates us all. We are now asked to use the same legal maneuvers and language on our exams this Monday that was used to deny justice to so many Black and Brown bodies. In being asked to prepare for and take our exams in this moment, we are being asked to perform incredible acts of disassociation that have led us to question our place in this school community and the legal community at large.
We write to you not only from a place of love and concern for ourselves, but also from a place of care and concern for our institution. We maintain some semblance of hope that our institution can be better; indeed, if we did not, we would not be so invested as community leaders. However, we know that Columbia Law School will not be better until its faculty and administration centralize the needs of its students of color. Accepting and matriculating students of color is not enough; we must also adopt and continue to reinvent strategies to make us feel at home here.
We feel that the institution we have worked hard to improve is failing us. Administrators at our peer institutions have reached out, unprompted, to students of color to acknowledge the hurt that many of their students are currently experiencing. We have yet to see that sort of response from our school community and it has left us feeling further devalued and isolated. Instead, Columbia’s Midnight Pancakes event took place as scheduled while students of color sat in tears and despair in the floor below or marched in the streets of New York City. The strategies currently in place to attract and retain students of color are in dire need of repair.
We need time to process and breathe. We need your support. We need it now.
We expect the following:
· 1. That faculty and administration recognize our trauma as legitimate and worthy of a response
· 2. That students who have been deeply affected by recent events be allowed to postpone exams
· 3. That an emergency event occur on Monday, December 8, 2015 for the administration, faculty, and students to discuss the concerns of students of color in the wake of recent events
We look forward to working with you to continue to make Columbia Law School a more welcoming place for students of color.
The Coalition of Affinity Group Student Leaders and Students of Color
(Emphasis in the original.)
A few comments. First, congratulations to the students for bearing their burdens at Columbia with “unfailing grace.”
Second, the students say, “We are now asked to use the same legal maneuvers and language on our exams this Monday that was (sic) used to deny justice to so many Black and Brown bodies.” This statement is true only in the limited sense that, with any luck (but let’s not take it for granted), Columbia students will be asked to engage in legal analysis on their exams. Apparently, this doesn’t sit well with the Coalition.
But how will a postponement help? Will the students be ready in a few weeks to engage in “the same legal maneuvers and language” that they say produced the two traumatizing grand jury outcomes? Or will they “expect” exams that do not require the use of familiar legal maneuvers and language, but instead call for them to express their outrage?
Third, what has the law school done to these students to make them feel unwelcome? All that’s cited in the statement is the holding of a Midnight Pancakes event at or around the time that a grand jury returned a no-bill.
It’s my understanding that, like all elite law schools, Columbia accepts “students of color” whose credentials (i.e., grades and LSAT results) are significantly lower than those of white applicants who are rejected. That alone should tell these students that they are welcome and that their presence is valued.
What other favoritism is necessary? Does the curriculum need to be purged of the “legal maneuvers and language” that are used in cases that reach results the students find offensive? Must textbooks be purged of the “ever present words” that cause the students “trauma” (and what are these words, anyway)?
And just what are the “needs” of “students of color” that they insist must be “centralized”? Why don’t preferential admissions and the proliferation of courses about race sufficiently “centralize” these students and their “needs”? Must a law school education be degraded in the fashion of college debating in order to satisfy those needs.
I wonder whether elite law schools bargained for these sorts of “expectations” when they opted for significant race-based preferences in admissions. They should have. In any context, preferential treatment and the lowering of standards rarely beget gratitude and “unfailing grace.” Instead, they beget the reasonable expectation of more preferential treatment and lower standards.