The view from the twentieth floor of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office building is incredible. From the executive conference room you can see clear to the Heights; BC’s Gasson bell tower rises above the surrounding suburbs. From my desk, I could peek out onto Boston Harbor or the Charles River, depending on which way I turned. One day I caught glimpses of the tall ships taking their annual jaunt through the harbor. Viewed through a metaphorical lens the height of the AG’s office, which towers above the statehouse next door, hints at the independence, responsibility, and power bestowed on the office. In Massachusetts, the AG (who is elected, not appointed, and is currently Maura Healey) both protects and enforces the state’s laws, and stands up for its citizens when the federal government’s actions threaten them. Every year, a select few third-year BC Law students get to peek into and experience the extensive and demanding work behind fulfilling those duties. Last year, I had the fortune of being one of those students.
Each spring, over 60 BC Law students spend their spring break providing pro bono legal services to underrepresented communities and individuals locally and across the country. As a 1L, this was my first experience with a spring break service trip, and I have to say it’s pretty inspiring. BC Law really does have a committed culture of giving back and delivering justice around the world.
This year, 65 students are volunteering at pro bono placements serving:
- communities in the District of Columbia, Navajo Nation and 10 states, including AL, TX, MD, NY, GA, LA, TN & OK
- communities in 12 cities from Harlingen, TX to Baltimore, MD
- 23 organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Navajo Nation, ProBAR, Disability Rights Louisiana, Oxfam America, Volunteer Lawyers Project and Legal Aid of East Tennessee
Here in Montgomery, Alabama, we are spending our spring break working at governmental and nonprofit organizations across the state, and we’re planning on writing more about our experiences when we return. For now, here are some photos from Montgomery of me and my fellow students!
In a recent article by the National Jurist titled “Hate Law School? You’re Not Alone,” a law school graduate delved into tips to avoid the abhorrence many feel for their programs. Citing the grading system, the unequal level of opportunity, and law students themselves, the author argued that few people actually like law school. She offered up some tips to help students who are feeling discouraged, even recommending that if all else fails and if they really hate it that much, students should drop out and save their money.
Reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of another solution—come to BC Law instead.
Growing up, I always said I wanted to be a lawyer. Both my dad and my stepmom were lawyers and I always loved to write. When it came time to take the LSAT and write a personal statement, however, I began to rethink this career choice and decided to wait to apply.
In April 2015, right before my college graduation, I received one of the worst phone calls of my life. I learned that someone close to me had been sexually assaulted. Although the details were fuzzy, she decided to take all the available steps she could. She went to the hospital where a rape kit was performed, she reported the rape, and decided to move forward with pressing charges.
When this case was unfolding before my eyes, I constantly had more questions than I did answers. I could not understand what additional evidence the prosecutor “needed” before pursuing the case, the standard of proof—guilty beyond a reasonable doubt—meant very little to me, and the perpetrator’s ability to walk away with a misdemeanor charge seemed unjust.
Simply put, this was the most difficult time in my life. My emotions were everywhere and I felt stuck in a position where I was unable to help. But finally, I discovered the true reason why I wanted to be a lawyer.
Today I’m hosting a guest blog from Kadie Martin, a second-year student and Rappaport Fellow, about her experience with the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy at BC Law.
My first love wasn’t the law. It was public service.
A lot of people assumed I would go to law school because I studied (and loved) political science in college. But I didn’t always see that as my path. After college, I worked in state government, first in the State Senate, and then for the Attorney General’s Office, and saw how state law shaped Massachusetts residents’ lives. It always seemed that if I wanted to pursue a life of public service, particularly in government, I would have to make a choice. I could go to law school or study public policy.
But then I heard about the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy at BC Law, and all that changed.
The Rappaport Center, led by Executive Director Lissy Medvedow and Faculty Director Dan Kanstroom, convenes Massachusetts leaders within government, nonprofits, business, and academia to think through the most pressing, complex, and challenging societal issues of our time. This spring, for example, Senator Markey will be on a Rappaport panel about criminal justice reform. Rappaport hosts visiting professors, including former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift this semester, and Senior Fellows in Residence.
What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen? To give up loyalty to other countries.
I remember this very question from my parents’ civics test as part of their naturalization process. We moved here from India in 1998 on an H1-B visa, eventually became permanent residents, and then finally became citizens in 2012. I didn’t have to take the citizenship test myself since I was a minor, but I remember helping my parents study. This one question in particular made me pause and realize how significant this step was for us, ceremonially: we were officially becoming Americans now.
It’s a real privilege to become a United States citizen, and I’m not sure how many American-born people realize what immigrants give up – both physically and symbolically – and how grateful they are to become citizens. That’s why it stings when throughout history, American-ness has been conflated with whiteness, and this sentiment lingers to this very day. I’m especially reminded of this bitter truth today because February 19 marks the anniversary of a particular SCOTUS case decision that hits close to home: United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923).
Thind, an Indian Sikh man, had come to the United States in 1913. Having obtained a bachelors degree from India, he wanted to further his education at the University of California Berkeley. He enlisted in the US Army, served in WWI, and was discharged honorably in 1918. After his discharge, he applied for citizenship in Oregon state, and was granted naturalization. Yet, soon after he became naturalized, an examiner appealed the decision. Thus began the fight for citizenship that eventually reached the Supreme Court. Thind’s citizenship was challenged because of the statutes of the time. The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted naturalization to ‘any free white person’ of ‘good character’ and the Naturalization Act of 1870 extended citizenship to ‘aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent.’ In the Ozawa case the previous year, a Japanese-American man petitioned for naturalization on the grounds that he was white in skin color. In that case, the Supreme Court held that ‘white’ meant Caucasian, and hence denied him from gaining citizenship. The Ozawa case is a striking example of how whiteness was used as a defining factor of someone’s worthiness to be American.
Thind, relying on the Ozawa case rationale, used anthropological texts and studies to argue that he was from North India, the original home of the Aryan conquerors, and so that meant he was of Caucasian descent. Further, he argued that as a high-caste Indian himself, he had a repugnance towards marrying a “low-caste” Indian woman. One line from his actual argument reads: “the high-caste Hindu regards the aboriginal Indian Mongoloid in the same manner as the American regards the Negro” (note that the term ‘Hindu’ at the time was used not to describe religion, but as a racial and geographical marker). Despite his assertions, the court unanimously decided against Thind, upholding that Indian people are not white and cannot become citizens. This decision was not overruled until President Truman signed the Luce-Cellar Act of 1946.
It hurts that Thind was denied citizenship because of his ethnicity, but it pains me even more that he himself tried to disown his heritage. In both the Ozawa and Thind cases, these men didn’t challenge the discriminatory nature of the racial criteria, but instead contended that they were white, too. Maybe they didn’t think it was possible to win by challenging the racist motivations behind the laws of their day, or maybe they genuinely wanted to be white in order to fully belong. Either way, this mindset of being different than other minority groups, of somehow being “more white” lingers to this day.
The model minority stereotype today paints the narrative that Asian-Americans are the paragon of immigrant success stories. It perpetuates the idea that Asians achieve higher in education, rise to higher socioeconomic statuses, and overall attain more prosperity than other groups. This blanket statement undermines the diversity inherent within Asian-American experiences. Moreover, by creating a hierarchy and placing Asians at the top, this myth furthers racial wedges between minority groups, maintaining a sense of division among people of color. It advances the same problematic sentiment present in Thind’s argument, that we Asian immigrants are somehow better; under this logic, our status is more close to that of white people, and hence, we are more American.
The Thind case reminds me that the life of an immigrant is one of sacrifice: we leave behind our homes, our families, and everything we’ve ever known. But we give all this up with hope, because we love this country and have faith in the opportunities available for us here. We take an oath to ‘defend the Constitution and laws of the United States’, to ‘do important work for the nation if needed’. We are proud Americans, too. Please, do not pit us against other minority groups or make us give up the very essence of our identities to prove it.
Roma Gujarathi is a first-year student. She loves hearing from readers: email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I think we can all relate to the feeling you get when you walk out of a final thinking you nailed it, only to find out a few weeks later that your grade was not nearly what you expected. When this happens as a 1L, however, I think the stress is even worse. All you have heard about for the months leading up to finals is that only your first-year grades matter and if you fall outside of a firm’s cutoff, you have a very big uphill battle ahead of you.
Well, even if this happened to you, your fellow 2Ls and 3Ls are here to tell you that you don’t need to beat yourself up, it will all work out, and it’s now time to move on with your second semester. Below are their words of wisdom:
Not everyone has the same journey to law school. In this week’s blog post, hear from LLM student Veronica Mulino about her family’s journey to Boston, and the various hurdles they faced after making the decision to come to the US for school.
My journey in Boston College began in Fall 2018. I was in Boston visiting for the holidays with my family. The last day of our trip, we decided to visit the BC Campus to gather some information on the LLM program for me and my husband.
We arrived at the Law School without any notice or a scheduled appointment, but we were welcomed with open arms by the Office of International Programs. We did a tour of the Law School and then discussed the program details and application. After a day of visiting, BC Law felt just like home. But I knew the process of applying to the program and actually attending was going to present difficulties for us, and at the time it seemed almost impossible. And yet, without knowing what the future was going to hold, my husband and I sent in our applications and were admitted. We were excited, but also worried: making the decision to move to another country together with a one-year old daughter seemed like a major challenge, with many obstacles to overcome.
“Wow, this is it,” I thought to myself as I stepped into the Law School for the first time since winter break. “My last semester as a student.” It’s true: I’m nearing the end of peaceful early morning library sessions, cold call induced anxiety, nights out with ambitious peers, and possibly the end of my time in Boston.
I’m looking forward to a new chapter of personal growth as a “real” adult, but before I move on I want to make the most of my remaining moments at BC Law. With this in mind, I put together a bucket list for my race to the finish line.