When students at Columbia and other law schools around the country demanded that exams be postponed because they were traumatized by the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, we and many others responded with ridicule. In today’s National Law Journal, a third-year law student at Harvard named William Desmond says that we got it all wrong: the request for extra time for exams was a sign of the students’ strength. For entertainment value, you should read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts:
[O]pponents of exam extensions have declared that to grant these requests would be a disservice to the students. Law students, they argue, must learn how to engage critically with the law in the face of intense adversity. Drawing comparisons to events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and other times of intense turmoil, these opponents portray today’s law students as coddled millennials using traumatic events as an excuse for their inability to focus on a three-hour exam. In essence, law students are being told to grow up and learn how to focus amidst stress and anxiety—like “real” lawyers must do.
Yes, that sums it up pretty well.
Speaking as one of those law students, I can say that this response is misguided: Our request for exam extensions is not being made from a position of weakness, but rather from one of strength and critical awareness.
Although over the last few weeks many law students have experienced moments of total despair, minutes of inconsolable tears and hours of utter confusion…
Total despair? Inconsolable tears? Seriously?
many of these same students have also spent days in action—days of protesting, of organizing meetings, of drafting emails and letters, and of starting conversations long overdue. We have been synthesizing decades of police interactions, dissecting problems centuries old, and exposing the hypocrisy of silence.
Just let that last one sink in for a moment.
The hesitancy to recognize the validity of these psychic effects demonstrates that, in addition to conversations on race, gender and class, our nation is starving for a genuine discussion about mental health.
If I took seriously the claim that law students are suffering “total despair” and shedding “inconsolable tears” over the Brown and Garner cases, then yes, I would say it is time for a discussion about mental health.
Where some commentators see weakness or sensitivity, perhaps they should instead see strength—the strength to know when our cups of endurance have run over and when the time for patience has ended. Perhaps they should instead see courage—the courage to look our peers in the eyes and uncomfortably ask them to bear these burdens of racism and classism that we have together inherited from generations past.
This guy is a really bad writer. He is supposed to be on the Law Review, too. Must be true what they say about declining educational standards.
Our focus and critical thinking are at an all-time peak while the importance of our textbooks is at a low. It is not that law students are incapable of handling their exams. It is that we are unwilling to remove ourselves, even for a few days, from this national conversation.
No, really, you can take a few days off. The rest of us can get along without you.
For most of us, we know that if we get lower grades this semester, this cost will have been worth the importance and privilege of joining a national movement to fundamentally reform this country’s approach to law enforcement and criminal justice. But just because we are willing to pay this price does not mean we should have to.
This is the great thing about law students. If you peel away the endless BS about social justice, you eventually come to their core concern: grades. Because grades lead to jobs.
Our requests for exam extensions are requests for our faculties and administrations to recognize that this movement is our legal education—that when we march, when we advocate, when we demand accountability and action we are employing the analytical skills and legal knowledge that we have learned in our law school classrooms far more than we would be if we responded to a hypothetical exam prompt.
Protesting is better than studying! This is the conclusion:
Each year as classes of law students enter and exit our nation’s legal institutions we are told the same thing: You are the future of the law. Well, the future is now.
Huh. Kid must be a Redskins fan. But that’s not enough to redeem his hopelessly pompous and silly op-ed.