Going Beyond Doctrine: Critical Perspectives at BC Law

When this year’s 1Ls sit down for their first Property Law class they are likely to discuss Pierson v. Post. The case concerns a dispute over who owned a wild fox killed during a hunt. Lodowick Post and his pack of hunting dogs were in pursuit of the fox, having chased it through a stretch of the town commons when Jesse Pierson suddenly intervened to kill and claim it. Post insisted that the fox was rightly his, as he and his pack of hounds had been in pursuit and were on the verge of capturing it. Pierson countered that a wild animal is no one’s property until it is definitively captured or killed.

Pierson is a 1L classic because it dramatizes the legal construction of ownership. The dividing line between the fox’s state of nature and its state as property is whatever the majority opinion says it is. More subtly, the case also dramatizes a key assumption driving much of Anglo-American property law: settling the question of ownership clarifies many of the rights and responsibilities that shape our relations as political subjects. Pierson can feel anachronistic, with the majority discussing obscure legal treatises and the minority perseverating on the noxiousness of foxes. But the case was not really about a fox.[1]

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The Incoming Student Experience: COVID Edition

The coronavirus has changed every facet of our lives, and being a law student is no different. For incoming students, the School’s typical in-person Orientation program is just not going to work (with about 250 new students on the way, think social distancing requirements and crowd size limits).  So BC Law has announced that it will be running virtual programs all summer and launching new webinars, get-to-know virtual sessions for Career Services, Alumni and Academic and Student Services, and new programs like “The Nest,” where current students help match up and guide small cohorts of incoming students in meet-and-greet sessions online.

Last year’s “Zero-L” online introduction to law school program is back too and better than ever, and so is the “Lawyering Fundamentals” course (held online this year and led by Academic Success Program Director Nina Farber). LF helps incoming students practice key skills and get feedback on writing and legal analysis before they actually start their classes.

All this content, as well as checklists and FAQs, can be found on the new Incoming Student Experience Website.

On Being a Parent in Law School–Covid-19 Edition

In the first days of social distancing, my daughter kept asking about school. She had a vague understanding of how weekends typically broke up her daycare routine but eventually it became clear that this one had stretched on to an absurd degree. Every morning for the first couple of weeks of lockdown she asked, “Baby go to school?” Then she rattled off the names of her teachers and classmates. Those early days were tough. She’s very social. School is thrilling for her. I was not an adequate replacement for ten friends and two loving teachers.

All work spaces and readings are shared.

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A Call for Compassion and Understanding

Today, I am hosting a guest blog post by Robert Lydon, a first-year student at BC Law.

I cannot describe the relief I felt when I received the Dean’s email about the grading policy change. Relief because I would not have to choose between my family, my health, and my academic career. Relief because I now have the flexibility to be there for those who need me. 

I am just one of the students the administration probably had in mind when they rendered this decision. As of last week, I’ve learned that my brother, father, and brother-in-law are now unemployed after construction was shut down in Boston. They are all concerned about how they are going to pay their bills. My mother is a disabled two-time cancer survivor, and I cannot express how dangerous this illness could be for her. Despite this, she continues to help care for my grandmother, who is recovering from a recent hip fracture and is also extremely vulnerable. I live at home with my parents and am worried about their health, economic well-being, and housing security. I am far from the only one in our community affected, nor am I the most adversely affected by this global upheaval.

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United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind: On Gaining Citizenship & Losing Identity

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 roma.gujarathi@bc.edu.

Moving Beyond 1L Grades: Words of Wisdom

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:

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What Was Your Name Again?

You’re a 1L sitting in class on the first day of the spring semester, reunited with your section members. Just one month ago, you had soul-bonded with the person next to you, spending 12 hours a day in study groups for weeks leading up to finals. You faced those exams together, you collectively convinced each other that it might not have gone as poorly as you thought, and then you wistfully bade each other farewell for whatever ski trip/Netflix binge awaited the other over Winter Break.

Contracts. Property. Civ Pro. Torts. Together, you and your dear friend stared into the outlining abyss and it stared back, and now you are making idle chit chat.

And you cannot remember their name for the life of you. 

And it’s starting to show: “Hey……..  you.

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365 of 1L: A Word On Mentors

This year, we are taking you through the biggest moments of the 1L year. The ups, the downs, and everything in between, keep checking back for the inside scoop on important events and milestones from our students.

Maybe it’s just that time of the year, but it seems like every day is getting a little bit busier at BC Law. As reading assignments seem to grow longer and longer, and due dates become closer and closer, I cannot help but feel the need to reach out to those who have been through the trials and tribulations of their first year of law school.

Lucky for us 1Ls, we have a lot of advice available to us. At the beginning of the year, LSA matched every new student with an upperclassman who helped welcome us to the school and shared their tips and tricks. Classes, moving, and just life in general, our mentors gave advice on it all. Throughout the first couple of weeks, many organizations that we had joined also began pairing us up with older members, specifically matching us with those who had similar interests. The result? A plethora of mentors to choose from, all knowing exactly what we are going through and who were eager to help.

I decided to ask around for the best advice mentors have given. Maybe it will help you too.

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Why Divinity School and Law School Go Hand in Hand

I never liked elevator speeches. I struggled with reducing my purpose in life or work to a rush of words that I could get out before reaching the figurative lobby. Now that I’m in law school, the task is a little easier. People generally have some sense of what it is to be a lawyer. But prior to this I was studying philosophy of religion at a divinity school. Fewer people have a clear sense of what that’s about. And these days, if I happen to divulge both of those pieces of my biography—law school and divinity school—I can often see the confusion work its way through their faces.

Often they’re wondering why a pastor, minister, or priest would become a lawyer. I explain that I, like most students at my school, went for a degree in religious studies, not ordination. Another reason for the dissonance seems to come from that old dichotomy between the sacred and the profane. Even as fewer people in our country identify with organized religion,[1] there still seems to be some notion that those who take religion seriously at least have the courage of their convictions. Lawyers, on the other hand, are known for their moral promiscuity. Both generalizations need to be questioned. Still, when quickly explaining how I ended up at BC Law, I often try and fail to reconcile that perceived tension.

So I’m using this blog to break free from the limitations of an elevator speech and offer one explanation of how divinity school and law school go hand in hand. A warning up front: as an occupational hazard of divinity school education, I sometimes reason allegorically, and this will be one of those times.

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First Impressions: A Sense of Community and Giving Back

As I have come to learn in my first few weeks at BC Law, you hit the ground running from day one, and you rarely pause to look back. I’m from Florida and never had the chance to visit the Law School as an admitted student, so everything in Newton, from navigating school zone traffic to finding parking (it’s even hard for the professors) was new to me, on top of beginning graduate level work.

It was all a bit overwhelming at first. Luckily, I had support. Lots of it.

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