Re-reading my admissions essay this week was a strange experience.
My aim was to communicate what had ultimately brought me to the point of applying to law school. For me, law school was not something that I’d set my heart on from a young age. I grew up in London, far removed from matters of American jurisprudence, and a severe stutter had frequently left me wanting to avoid any public speaking situations rather than enter a profession where it is so central. My decision to apply was ultimately the culmination of a realization – built gradually over an extended period of time – that law school offered perhaps the only real avenue to pursue my goals in public service and social justice.
Re-reading my essay now, I realize the extent to which the way I ultimately decided to tell my story was impacted by the unique post-March 2020 context: a period indelibly marked by the outbreak of COVID and police murder of George Floyd. Having spent most of the last seven or so weeks getting to know my new classmates, I recognize similarities in many other students’ stories. For the incoming 1L class, all of our applications were forged in this period of tumult and grief where the world seemed to be undergoing a process of deconstruction and re-making in front of our eyes. This cannot help but impact the ways in which we conceive of ourselves as lawyers in training, and ultimately, the way we decide to practice law. I see this reflected in a collective determination to question the status quo and re-examine structural inertias, and ultimately, a commitment to equity among many of my fellow students.
For those interested, I’ve shared my essay below.
It was 2011 when I first fully comprehended the power of the law. My local council had threatened to close our neighborhood library—a vital community resource in what is simultaneously the most diverse and most impoverished borough in the UK. In response, I co-founded a charity with other community members and, when our efforts to pressure local elected officials failed, we took the council to the high court to seek a judicial review of their decision. As I sat in court, enthralled, for two days as our attorney argued that the council had failed to comply with equality legislation, I had a moment of revelation. Decisions from higher up were not something to be simply accepted with resignation; rather, they were something to be interrogated and scrutinized, even overtly challenged. As our attorney deftly navigated webs of associated law and litigation, I had a deeper realization. The law was a guarantor of rights and protections, but it was also a living thing: an inherently participatory project reliant on there being individuals on both sides to make their cases. It requires people to “show up” on behalf of the less powerful, the under-resourced, and marginalized. In order to function, it demands individuals continue to make the case that all groups factor equally into public policy.
“The most meaningful thing someone said to me after my father’s death was the following: ‘be kind to yourself. This phrase, although simple, is truly powerful. You may be angry, depressed, tired, happy, manic, etc. This is all okay. Allow yourself to feel. Do not be hard on yourself…There is no timeline for loss.’”
I received that email early the morning after I had learned that my father had passed away in the fall of my 1L year. It was from a 3L who I barely knew. And yet rereading the email today, I realize that not only was he right about the whirlwind of emotions that comes after loss, but how badly I needed to receive the message when I did.
It is one of those things that is never talked about, and yet when I brought it up to friends, even professors who I barely knew at the law school, I always received that reassuring, comforting nod: I’ve been there too, and I know what you’re going through.
That is why I wanted to write about my experiences coping with grief. Death is one of those things that unites us all. Losing a loved one, whether unexpected or not, hurts. And yet, until the pandemic, for many it was rarely talked about, especially for people my age who had yet to lose someone close in this early stage of life.
During the past two years, I have experienced both forms of death: unexpected and expected. Nonetheless, it has taken me all of this time to write about my experiences. I originally wanted to write about coping with grief during the height of the pandemic—a time in which many people have been suffering. If there can be a silver lining to the past year and a half, it has been how discussions about grief have been brought to the forefront of our personal lives as we have comforted each other in our time of need. Sadly, I was not able to get myself to put pen to paper until now, ongoing proof that my grief persists. (To this point, my family still mourns on the same day every month.) In fact, because none of my losses were Covid related, I think my story shows the necessity of facilitating this discussion outside the time of a global pandemic. For those who needed this message earlier, I apologize.
The young girl was sick, afraid, and ashamed when she came to the hospital. She had had an unwanted pregnancy. In Uganda, abortion is illegal. Without access to safe, legal reproductive health care, she turned to a traditional healer. The traditional healer helped her end the pregnancy but she developed an infection. Given the legal jeopardy and social stigma of abortion, the girl tried to keep it a secret and delayed seeking care; by the time she came to the hospital, she was septic and needed surgery to survive.
My friend was serving as a visiting physician at the hospital, teaching obstetrics and gynecology to medical students and resident physicians. She quickly performed surgery to control the infection. But that was just the start of the girl’s treatment. Northern Uganda is under-served and remote. Public health resources are lacking and hygiene can be difficult to maintain. Surgery is dangerous, but so is post-operative care. The risk of infection remains high. So, the girl had to spend months in the hospital, where doctors and nurses monitored her and changed her surgical dressings on a daily basis until she healed. She had to go back to the operating room three more times during that period. Through care and great perseverance, the medical team avoided having to perform a hysterectomy to eliminate the infection. When she could finally go home, she left quickly and quietly. My friend said it was likely her youth, the resilience of a teenager’s body, that allowed her to survive.
“By welcoming such a large class of Black students, Boston College Law School has demonstrated that Black education, issues, and lives matter. We are not token students, but rather our voices and experiences are welcomed and sought after by the Law School. This new class of future Black lawyers will enrich our community as a school and as a profession.” John-Henry Marley, BC Law Class of 2021
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has dominated conversations in almost every institution in the United States over the past few years. Whether sparked by the cultural backlash to President Obama’s election, or the rise of Black Lives Matter movement, or perhaps simply an overall reckoning of the need to repair past discriminatory harm, many schools and workplaces have adopted DEI into their core values and strategic plans. Unfortunately, that’s usually where the conversation ends. DEI goals often stay just that: goals without action or results.
BC Law is different. Here, DEI is not merely a tagline to fit into a trendy movement, but rather a commitment to ensuring an “inclusive community, where people from all backgrounds are celebrated for their unique perspectives and lived experiences.”
“Mary’s gaze fell on Henrietta’s feet, and she gasped: Henrietta’s toenails were covered in chipped bright red polish. ‘When I saw those toenails,” Mary told me later, “I nearly fainted. I thought, Oh jeez, she’s a real person. I started imagining her sitting in her bathroom painting those toenails, and it hit me for the first time that those cells we’d been working with all this time and sending all over the world, they came from a live woman. I’d never thought of it that way.’”
As part of the summer reading before my high school biology class, we were asked to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The book offers a fascinating take on the ethical issues surrounding the first immortalized human cell line, discussing the injustices at the intersection of class, gender, and race within the American research and medical system. What most resonates with me from the story – even years later – is the excerpt above. When Mary Kubicek, a lab assistant, is performing the autopsy on Henrietta Lacks’ body, she notices Lacks’ bright red painted toenails. For months up until that point, Kubicek had been focused on the scientific aspect of the HeLa cells and how significant they were for advancing medical breakthroughs. In that exact moment, she grasps the personhood and humanity of the woman whose body lies in front of her.
I want to make it clear that this article is not reflective of every single immigrant student’s story here at BC Law. Every experience is different, but I hope that my fellow immigrant first-gen students who read this article might relate to the internal conflict I feel as a student in law school. I also fully believe that one does not have to be an immigrant to relate to the sentiments here. I hope this can help other students feel heard and not alone.
Whether it’s the sentiment of feeling like I don’t quite belong, or the constant internal turmoil concerning my career path, a big portion of my experience as a law student has been shaped by my immigrant identity–and perhaps not in the healthiest way.
My mother works from 9AM to 7PM, 7 days a week in her small beauty supply store in Brooklyn. She moved here over 20 years ago when the “American Dream” was still a prevalent sentiment that encouraged immigrants to move and seek out better lives for their children, notwithstanding the fact that the “American Dream” is mostly a myth for people who are not on equal footing with those who were already born with qualities that are favored in this country. While she worries about affording the next rent payment on the store or ordering enough products to stock her shelves, my worries mostly lie with struggling to understand the Rule of Perpetuities.
Into the fourth week of 2L, I’m still waiting for it to be “easier than 1L,” as I’ve been told more than once. At BC Law, students are back on campus full time since the Covid-19 outbreak. For many of us, balancing in-person classes, work, student leadership, and free time is a new challenge. My recommendation for anyone who hasn’t started their 2L year yet is to avoid unnecessarily overloading your schedule. I’ve outlined a few tips that apply to classes and extracurriculars that are helping to ease the stress:
I did my hair, threw on my dress, and took a picture of myself that would inevitably end up on my mother’s Facebook. It was time to make my way to Stuart House for a very important milestone.
No, not for my first day at BC Law. It was Newton Prom, a coveted event for the Boston College freshmen that live on Newton Campus–and I was one of them. While I sit and review case briefs in the Yellow Room today, I can’t help but reminisce about the middle school-esque dance party that I attended in the same exact spot five years ago.
I graduated from Boston College in May 2020 from the comfort of my living room. On March 11th, 2020 at approximately 5:20 pm, I received an email telling me I had four days to move out. My time at Boston College was cut short–by 64 days to be exact. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Fast forward through a year of attending Zoom School of Law, I clicked my heels three times chanting, “There’s no place like home,” and I was sent back to the Yellow (Brick-less) Room.
As we creep ever further into the month of September, new students are coming up on the one-month mark of their first semesters at BC Law. Remember back in August when no one was pestering you about what the district court ruled, or whether there really was a breach of duty? Alas, syllabus week is over, add/drop has expired, and now there is nothing but the next deadline, the next reading. 1Ls have gotten a sense of law school’s rhythm and flow – what the workload is like, where the classrooms are, how cold calling works, and so on.
They’ve also got a sense of who the gunners are.
Let’s define terms (this is law school, after all): a “gunner” is someone who takes up too many class resources for themselves – in particular, too much class time. A gunner goes beyond the scope of ordinary academic or competitive behavior in order to succeed in law school (or simply appear to be succeeding in law school), all while violating the most important rule in the unwritten student code: probably don’t behave in a way that makes all of your peers think you’re a bit annoying.
One of my professors doesn’t allow laptops in class. Two others strongly suggested that we not use laptops, citing the potential for distraction and the multiple studies finding that note-taking by hand is more effective than type-written notes. Beyond that, however, my professors haven’t weighed in with any additional guidance on note-taking.
But behind every page of notes there’s a unique mind and learning style, so I thought it would be interesting to ask a few classmates to share their notes from a class we took together in order to see how their distinct personalities and preferences come through. They also said a few words about what they hope to capture or accomplish when they take notes.