Faculty Spotlight: Professor Mary Bilder

BC Law Impact Editor’s Note: We pride ourselves at Boston College Law School on our unique community that cultivates an incredible student body with a brilliant faculty. This post featuring Founders Professor Mary Bilder is part of an ongoing faculty spotlight Q&A series to help students get to know the members of our faculty on a more personal level.

What do you love about BC?

I love the community, I love the students, I love my colleagues, and I love teaching. I love being in a place where the university mission is focused on formation and on thinking about how learning is a part of the experience of growing into the people we’re going to be. I love that this place is one where teaching is not just “I am telling you this stuff.” It’s a process of people becoming professionals. It’s so exciting to see people come in, often worried about what law school is going to be like, having imposter syndrome…and watching the same people over 3 years find out who they are, and watching peoples’ confidence grow. 

Why did you choose BC over other law schools in the area?

Part of what was appealing at the time was that my grandfather was living in Massachusetts and there was no other family nearby. I liked being the family member who could help out, and I was able to spend a lot of time with him and help him, as he had dementia. So–part of it was family, and part of it was that the former dean who had hired me was very passionate about BC being a special place to be. I was also really lucky to have gotten to know some of the Jesuits! 

What is your favorite BC Story?

This story embodies what it means to be part of BC. This was years ago before we taped [Panopto class recordings] or anything like that. I taught a section, and it was one where people didn’t know each other much in the beginning. A few weeks into the semester, a student came up and told me, “A few of us aren’t going to be in class because a student’s parent had just passed away and we are all going to the funeral.” That sense of community being formed so early on with people is really important.

There’s another similar story where I taught a section, in which a person in the class had never seen snow. A bunch of them went on a road trip to Freeport to help the student pick out winter clothes. That’s the kind of thing that is really special. I think for a lot of people, learning how to find and make friends within this structure–as well as having a support network–is so important. It’s important to not see people as competitors, and learn how to work with each other.

What do you do for fun?

Right now, I’m spending a lot of time with my dogs. I’m also spending a lot of time with my daughters and stepdaughters; family is very important to me. I love to cook, and I also do adult ballet! 

One of the great things about having adult hobbies is you’re freed from feeling like you have to be good. When you’re a kid you had a sense of seeing if you were good at this. It had its own sense of trying to excel. With an adult hobby, you don’t have to be good. You can do it even if you’re bad at it. You’re freed from the performative aspect of it. It’s a very liberating feeling. It’s really fun to work at something–and for me, it’s also a way to disengage my brain. 

What led you to want to teach property?

The school just told me that was what I was going to teach; but I was happy about it! When I first started, they had just lost a professor, so they needed another property teacher. I liked property and I love teaching it. It has history and modern practical stuff and it’s always changing. I like the fact that it feels real to people but it’s also something people haven’t thought about; we look out in the world and we don’t see how property law invisibly created all of that. It’s a very people-oriented course; and it shows the kinds of ways we include and exclude people. Plus, it’s a course everyone thinks they’re going to hate, so the fact that people don’t always end up hating is always great!

Do you have any advice for 1Ls?

People should think about who they want to be in law school/community [as they settle in]. If people feel that in order to survive through school, they might not make time to exercise, or eat the kinds of foods they want to eat, or have time to watch a movie–[after your first few weeks] is a great opportunity to do so. Pause and think, “I can manage this now, so how can I begin to have a life I can enjoy in a stressful academic situation?” It’s a chance to congratulate yourself and check in with yourself.

[Then at the end of the year] most people are going into a summer work experience that is as challenging as school in different ways– in some ways more challenging because someone’s life can depend on your work. Try to use this time to practice how to balance your workload, mental health, and a personal life, and getting your brain to feel okay with not working all the time. I think especially with the pandemic, work life and personal life have blended together in a way that’s hard to manage. You can always open your computer, phone, etc. and I think that the challenge for your generation is learning how to impose protective mental health and personal boundaries on work which is always invading that space. Law school’s a great opportunity to begin to practice those. 

Our entire section always appreciated the props you brought to class. How do you organize all your trinkets for class?

It’s so funny because I started with a few props and it built up over time. It’s too hard to have a prop for every class! Students have given me a number of the props. But every year I forget some of them. A section a few years ago gave me a bin to stick them in. Every year I go through the bin and find something and go, “Oh my gosh, I found it!” It’s not a perfect system–but for me, something that helps is that for a lot of people property feels esoteric and theoretical and it’s a way of bringing a visual cue to the classroom- even if it’s just a silly thing.

BC Law Impact would like to thank Professor Bilder and her puppy for her time and enthusiasm doing this interview! You can watch a portion of the video below.

Seung Hye (Shang) Yang is a second-year student at BC Law. Contact her at yangben@bc.edu.

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