Return to BC, Online Classes, and the Strange Dog in My Backyard

We’re over a month into the fall semester here at BC Law, and things are falling into a new but familiar rhythm. Hopefully the 1Ls are feeling a little bit more on top of what law school entails now that they’re at the back-end of September. For us returning students, hopefully it feels like a return to some kind of normalcy and productivity.

But of course, this semester isn’t business as usual. We are all in a hybrid-learning model, with some classes online and some classes in-person. We track our health and take precautions like social distancing and wearing masks, all while spending most of our time bound in our homes for the sake of public health and safety. I am in a safe and secure place, so I can’t complain; especially considering all the uncertainty 1Ls must be experiencing as they start law school, and the challenges that students are facing from this economic decline, its impacts on the job market and recruiting, its implications for competitive grading among students, and the drudgery of social isolation. These days, I spend what feels like every hour of every day in my all-in-one bedroom/office/home gym/living room, just staring out a window waiting for a dog.  

There’s a dog that sits outside of my window every day. It’s among the fatter dogs I’ve encountered in my lifetime. I don’t know this dog. This dog doesn’t know me. And yet I have wagered my entire psychological wellbeing on the continued presence of the fat mystery dog.

I have my desk set against a window facing my neighbor’s backyard, so anytime I’m working there is a chance I will be granted a visit. The corgi will waddle to its favorite patch of grass under its favorite tree and plop down for hours at a time. During that time, the two of us will proceed to maintain stern, steely eye contact until the dog needs to go to the bathroom and we both look away in shame. I don’t know if this dog and I are friends or enemies. I don’t know if this dog considers me an equal. I don’t know if this dog would appreciate being fat-shamed in the prior paragraph. And I don’t know how this dog would feel about being used as the central allegory of a law student’s blog post about mental health and remote learning.

What I do know is that this dog’s unwavering expression and emotionless eyes haunt me, and inspire me.

I also know that this dog looks eerily like my childhood dog. I noticed the similar appearance the first time I saw my neighbor’s dog sitting under the tree during a Zoom lecture in the first week of this semester. Miraculously, I managed to both remain 100% focused on the lecture and course materials while also dedicating my attention to the dog, and you can’t prove otherwise. Sadly, my childhood dog died last year during Thanksgiving break (and as law students will understand, I mourned appropriately by continuing to work on my contracts outline.)  While I sat at my desk pondering the similar appearances, fond and sad memories of my dog arose, and I realized I was about 5 seconds away from my eyes watering on camera. So, I refocused.

In hindsight, it probably would have been funnier to let things run their course, so my professor could have noticed the tears and think, “wow, this is only week one. The students don’t usually break until week three!” But federal income tax law is already so hilarious; the class doesn’t need any more funny.

Our relegation to remote learning poses numerous challenges that BC Law is actively addressing. For example, students are more prone to lose focus and engage in a staring contest with dogs in a two-hour Zoom lecture than they are in a two hour in-person class. My experience has been that our professors are cognizant of that, and take active and helpful efforts to mitigate it so that students stay engaged without burning out. You’ll hear it 1000 times here, but it really is important for us members of the BC Law community to manage our mental health and emotional wellbeing, particularly during these unusual times.

For me, while the pleasure of getting surprise visits from some dog doesn’t quite match up to Covid-related anxiety, hardship, and grief, it is still nice to indulge in the little things.

My role as a writer for the Impact Blog tends to be providing lighthearted pieces, and my much more qualified and reticent peers have already written on the topics of mental health and remote learning with far greater insight and advice than I could provide. So, I would encourage interested readers to seek them out on the blog. In the meantime, these pieces are an excellent place to start:

(1) 10 Ideas to Help You Survive Quarantine by Courtney Ruggeri.

(2) Celebrate Mental Wellness with BC Law by Erika Craven.


Daniel Riley is a second-year student at BC Law, and a much deeper thinker than he gives himself credit for. Email him at rileydh@bc.edu.

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