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.
It’s hard to believe that just four months ago, we were nervously waiting in line to pick up our name cards in the Law Library. In a way, that first day of school in August was a lot like the first day of kindergarten, in that we were completely alone in a room full of strangers with nothing but a homemade sandwich in our lunchboxes and a nametag on our chests.
I was told by many upperclassmen that the first semester of 1L year would probably be the most difficult in terms of the steep learning curve–and they were right. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post; what makes 1L such a difficult time for many students is not only the new way of learning material, but also the uncertainty of a new city, new environment, with new people you have never met before. September was the worst period of adjustment for many people, including me. I had nights where I doubted whether or not law school was truly for me. Could I really see myself reading convoluted legal jargon for the rest of my life? Was this really what I wanted to do?
Thankfully, because it was such a prevalent sentiment, I was able to bond with like-minded people who ended up becoming some of my closest friends, and we constantly pushed and supported each other whenever things became difficult.
With abortion rights before the Supreme Court this term, I’ve been thinking about the metaphor that brought privacy—and by extension, reproductive health rights—under Constitutional protection. In Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice Douglas reasoned that enumerated individual rights “have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” Douglas analyzed these penumbras to extend the zones of individual rights, frustrating dedicated textualists who saw no justification for them in the language of the Constitution.
It might be helpful to pause here and clarify exactly what a penumbra is. Hold an object up in front of a light source so that it casts a shadow on a nearby surface: at the center of the shadow will be its most focused darkness, its umbra; move your gaze out to the border of the shadow, to where it meets the light, and you will see a zone of unfocused shadow, a kind of half-light called the penumbra. In Douglas’s metaphor, a certain set of enumerated rights are the umbra and the unenumerated right to privacy is their penumbra, giving them life and substance.
I grew up in a pretty traditional South Asian household. I’ve tried talking about the Black Lives Matter movement numerous times before, but my family just didn’t seem too invested in it. Most of the time, I would just give up. Because it was just too frustrating.
But that’s the problem, right? These are just events that we hear about or see in the news, just optional conversations that we can opt in or out of. But for black people in America, this is reality. It’s not just another life lost; it is yet another manifestation of the unhinged, systemic racism that we allallow to continue and continue to allow.
Black people in America don’t get to choose to live in constant fear. They don’t get to choose that law enforcement dehumanizes them. So it feels inherently wrong that my community gets to choose whether or not we care.
Editor’s note: due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Boston College has moved all classes online and sent students home for the semester. The BC Law Impact blog has suspended its normal posting schedule, and bloggers are now focused on writing about the impact of the shutdown and the current state of the world on their academic and social experiences as law students. We are all in this together; let’s find our way through together.
The day after spring break, when the name “coronavirus” was barely on my radar, I received an email that my ballet classes were cancelled for the rest of the semester. “This is such an overreaction,” I thought, “hopefully I can get my money back.” I was disappointed because dance had been one creative outlet I’d relied on during tough academic semesters. I thought that as young and healthy dancers we could have easily worn masks or broken the class into smaller groups to limit the spread of germs. But I knew those in charge simply wanted to protect us from the spreading virus, so I comforted myself with “better safe than sorry.”
I heard “coronavirus” again the next day when my law school professors gently warned students that classes may be moved online if things get worse. “That seems extreme. Should that really be the first step?” I asked a classmate who then joked that we should have extended our spring vacation. Meanwhile the apocalyptic headlines rolled in: “Massachusetts Governor Declares State of Emergency,” “U.S. Cases of Coronavirus Surpass 1,000,” “Prepare for the Inevitable.” Facebook and Instagram posts from individuals pleading with people to “wash their hands” (people needed a reminder?!) and to “stay home if sick” (wise words) saturated my news feeds. But still, I was in denial of how serious the situation was. It had to mainly be media dramatization, right? BC would never cancel classes – certainly not for the whole semester.
A couple of days before the semester started I went to meet some classmates for brunch. Having spent the last few weeks in our respective hometowns, the meal was filled with stories from break and conversation about the new semester.
About halfway into the reunion, an awkward pause interrupted the discussion as a notification popped up on all of our phone screens—a message from one of our classmates that the first of our final grades were out.
A wave of nervousness fell over me, made of equal parts anticipation and dread. I had been waiting all break on these grades. But as I looked to the other people at the table, I did not sense the quite the same reaction. They almost looked…relaxed? I mentioned the notification, and they shrugged it off. One person even said that they were not checking their grades until the upcoming weekend, not wanting to focus on school too early before the start of the new semester. I struggled to comprehend the concept of waiting days for the grade while my peers carried on, seemingly unbothered by the anxiety I felt looming over me.
I checked my grade on the way home from brunch, but it was the reaction of my friends that I could not get out of my head, not the test score I had waited weeks to see. Why was I so astonished at their reaction?
In February, my daughter will turn two, so I’m thinking about her annual test of strength. This is a tradition we began on her first birthday, when she walked the last fifty meters up Peter’s Hill. A mentor of mine once told me he never understood why parents would give their child a car on their 16th birthday. He said it made more sense to give them a mountain to climb. The little one had only been walking for two months last February, so we went with the top of a hill instead of a mountain. But now that she runs and skips and climbs and emphatically stomps in puddles, the mountain doesn’t feel far off.
People often ask me what it’s like to have a kid while in law school. One obvious answer is that it places limits on my time. I am often a bit more sleep-deprived than my classmates and because of daycare drop-offs and pick-ups it’s difficult to participate in extra-curriculars. The time crunch can distract from both home life and school work. When I am in dad mode, I sometimes think about the fact that my classmates are likely reading case law while I’m reading Moo, Baa, La La La! for the 100th time.
In honor of Thanksgiving, we offer our readers a few recommendations for that “home-cooked meal” feeling…
Everyone has a dish that reminds them of home.
Whether it’s that main course from your favorite local restaurant, the dessert that only your mom can make, or even the dish your state is known for, these dishes have a special place in our hearts—and in our stomachs. They serve as a bridge from our families and friends and our childhoods, to who we are now.
As we enter the chaos that is finals season, that connection has proven to be even more important to me. I found myself yearning for a moment of simplicity, a reminder of the “good ole days” back in Texas where my concerns had nothing to do with outlines or bluebooks. So I did some research and happened upon Blue Ribbon Barbeque in West Newton.
As any Texan will tell you, we take barbeque very seriously. I was originally skeptical of the glowing reviews—one promised Blue Ribbon’s barbeque was the best they had ever eaten, even compared to what you get in the South. However, as I approached the restaurant, a familiar scent began to permeate around me, one of smoky barbeque and sweet cornbread. Yum. I ordered some classic barbeque and sides and took the next hour to savor every bite. I was immediately transported back to my childhood, feeling thousands of miles away from West Newton.
Congratulations to our very own Vincent D. Rougeau, dean of Boston College Law since 2011, who is set to serve as President-elect of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) next year!
AALS is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that brings together nearly 200 law schools to advance legal education, support professional development, and promote diversity in the legal profession. The membership will officially vote on Dean Rougeau’s nomination (he is the only candidate) at their annual meeting in January 2020.
Dean Rougeau, an outspoken advocate for legal education reform, will succeed Harvard Law School Professor Vicki C. Jackson as the President of the nonprofit association. Before taking the helm at BC Law, he was a highly-regarded professor of contracts, real estate transactions, and Catholic social thought at Notre Dame Law School — where he also served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
Please excuse the title. It’s meant to be very tongue in cheek, but it summarizes what had been my approach to life for a very long time. When my mother died, everyone around me expected me to go into a state of extreme denial. After all, I was only a six-year-old little girl; how could I possibly understand the permanence of death, let alone be emotionally equipped to handle it? People thought they had to constantly explain it to me–every holiday, every birthday, well-meaning relatives and family friends would remind me why my mother wasn’t there. But I already knew. I knew why my mother wasn’t coming home from the moment my father picked me up from school and told me she had died in her sleep that morning.
I might have been a six-year-old little girl, but I was also the younger version of the left-brained, analytical future lawyer I am today. I might not have had the emotional maturity to cope with death, but I had the intellectual maturity to understand what it was. I knew I couldn’t press a reset button like I could on my Nintendo, nor could I pray to God or write to Santa to bring her back for Christmas. Gone was gone and I knew what that meant.