BC Law’s Spring Break Pro Bono Trips: Executing Law in Alabama

In the past few weeks the world has changed in ways most of us could never have imagined. While much remains unknown, one thing remains stable—the sense of community that both comforts and uplifts us, even in the midst of trying times.

The post below is a riveting reflection from 1L Ryan Kenney, who was among a group of BC Law students on this year’s Gulf Coast Pro-Bono Spring Break trip to Montgomery, Alabama. It was scheduled to be posted several weeks ago, but was postponed due to the emergency situation COVID-19 created. That said, we think the message is too important to go unshared. We will share several other related service trip stories this week.

Stay safe everyone, and please reach out to us at bclawimpact@bc.edu if we can do anything to help, or if you would like us to consider publishing a guest post on your own experiences during the outbreak.


When people asked us where we were from and we replied that we were on spring break from Boston College Law School, gently raised eyebrows and clarifying questions invariably followed. As if on cue, our neighbor on the puddle jumper from Charlotte, then the barista, the lobbyist in the state house elevator, and virtually everyone else we encountered who wasn’t already expecting us conferred a “Well, welcome to Alabama!” and a warm smile.

This week, we witnessed how people make, interpret, and execute laws in Alabama.

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Why the Pass/Fail Policy Matters

I’ll be honest. When I first read the email about the pass/fail policy this semester, I was upset. I have been working really hard this semester to boost my GPA, and I was looking forward to the chance to improve my performance during finals. I’ve been pretty anxious about this whole COVID-19 situation, and I felt like this was not the news I wanted to hear.

And then I took a deep breath and counted my blessings. After putting everything into perspective, I realized how much this pass/fail policy might mean to someone who is facing more difficulties than me right now. Throughout my time at law school, I have gotten involved in various diversity initiatives because I’m a woman of color and I know this puts me at a systemic disadvantage. I fight for these causes because they personally affect me. If I am so quick to stand up for causes that personally affect me, I should also be as committed to standing up even when my own interests might not be at stake.

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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.

Korematsu Day: Looking Back on a Supreme Court Decision

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked U.S. naval base Pearl Harbor, resulting in the United States’ declaration of war on Japan. President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously referred to the bombing of Pearl Harbor as “a date which will live in infamy.” 

In February 1942, ten weeks after the United States entered World War II, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066—the authorization of the armed forces to mass transport and relocate all people of Japanese ancestry into “internment camps” in the name of national security. The order affected the lives of over 100,000 people, the majority of whom were American citizens. It also opened the door to an ugly chapter of American history—one of fear, xenophobia, and unbridled racism. 

On the home front, Anti-Japanese war propaganda fueled America’s hatred and paranoia. Such propaganda portrayed the Japanese as monkeys, rats, and snakes—often depicted preying on white American women to further incite anger and fear. 

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Fighting for Juvenile Rights: Why You Should Consider JRAP

Lawyers have their own language. It might be a little frustrating at times, but that is the reason we spend three painful years in law school learning how to think, speak, and write like lawyers. By the time we pass the bar, we have been equipped with a roadmap that allows us to navigate the complex legal arena. Of course, we are not the only profession with its own language. In fact, almost all professions have terminology that is commonly understood by those within the profession, but confusing to those outside of it.

This year I am participating in Boston College’s Juvenile Rights Advocacy program, and I am busy learning yet another language. Do you know what the acronym IEP stands for? Have you ever heard the terms FAPE? What is the difference between the BSEA and OCR? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, don’t worry, many people don’t know them.  IEP stands for Individual Education Plan, and as the name suggests, it’s an educational term. The BSEA is a court that is used to resolve education disputes; it stands for Bureau of Special Education Appeals. The OCR stands for Office of Civil Rights, which is another court that can be used for certain types of education related claims. FAPE is a legal term that stands Free Appropriate Public Education, which is a federal right and typically the basis for the claims that would be brought in front of the BSEA or OCR. As for CRA, it is not strictly an education term, however, many children who require specialized education services also require the help that a CRA grants. CRA stands for Child Requiring Assistance, and parents file them with the courts when they need the courts help to supervise their children. 

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A Look Back at an “Impactful” 2019

What a ride 2019 has been! I hope you all are enjoying a well-deserved break — baking on a beach somewhere warm — now that the semester is done and over with (whoo!).

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Wrapping up a year full of ups and downs, we wanted to highlight a few of the most popular posts by our amazing writers at BC Law Impact:

With that, thank you for following BC Law Impact, happy holidays, remember to re-apply sunblock every 3 hours, and we look forward to seeing everyone in 2020!


Jae Lee is a second-year student who loves hearing from readers. Contact him at leecot@bc.edu.

Dear BCPD Police Officer

Dear Boston College Police Department Officer,

A few months ago, I parked my car (crookedly) in the Newton lot and began a mad dash to the building with two large folders in my hand. I was wearing heels that I didn’t know how to walk in, and I was late for a meeting with my clinic supervisor. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed you coming up behind me, and I instantly tensed. Instinctively, I sped up my pace and ignored the fact that me power-walking in heels was a recipe for a broken neck. After a few seconds you passed me, and opened the door I was about to walk through, which was a good thing because if I had tried to open it for myself, I would have likely spilled hundreds of pages of confidential client information all over the steps. You laughed and made a joke about them working us students too hard. I laughed too, though my laugh was a nervous and relieved one. I muttered a thanks and rushed through the door.

I don’t know if you realized how anxious I was, but if you did, I want to take this moment to apologize. I full-heartedly believe that it is wrong to judge someone based on appearances, but that is exactly what I did to you that morning. I didn’t see a person or a member of my community walking up behind me, I only saw your uniform. I understand that may sound odd to you, because as a police officer, you are labeled as the good guy. One of the first lessons we learn as children is that if you need help, find a police officer. In theory, seeing a police officer should instill feelings of safety and security and for most people it probably does, but it’s a bit more complicated for me and many of my fellow people of color. When I see you, I don’t feel safe and secure, I feel anxious and apprehensive. I don’t necessarily think you mean me harm, but I’m never quite sure what your intentions are.

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Learn Our Names

We’re in our second month of 1L. By now, the Law Library has become our new home, caffeine and free pizza fuel our bodies, and we’ve all gone through the five stages of grief. And by now, almost everyone has been personally victimized by the supposedly random Cold Call. 

So why is it that some of my classmates still carry a sense of alienation in the classroom?

The first week of school, one of my professors painstakingly struggled through a name pronunciation before giving up and joking, “I guess that’s the first and last time I call on you.” People laughed. To most of our classmates, I’m sure this incident wasn’t a big deal. They chuckled along with the professor, then probably forgot about it by the next cold call, not a second thought given to this well-intended yet problematic attempt at comic relief. 

But as I glanced around the room, I met the eyes of other students of color. I could tell that there was a mutual understanding—this clear microaggression had triggered a feeling we all knew with aching familiarity. A feeling of hotness—a prickling sense of embarrassment and shame mixed with exasperation and invalidation. Of course, we knew that the professor had no malicious intent or meant any harm. But to us, the professor’s comment hadn’t just been a joke. It was a reminder of the underlying alienation and otherness we were conditioned to feel our whole lives. 

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Kehila: A Commitment to Community

Welcome (back) to Boston College Law! Today, I’m pleased to host a guest post from 2L Rachel Weiss, a Weinstein Scholar, on her experience joining the BC Law community.


Like most students coming into law school, I was extremely anxious. The source of my anxiety, however, did not just stem from the typical types of stressors that so many students face, such as embarking on a brand new and highly complex discipline, moving to a new city, switching careers, or making new friends. While I did share those concerns with my classmates, one of the biggest changes for me in coming to law school would be attending a Jesuit school as a Jewish student.

Growing up, I was always surrounded by others who shared my culture and religion. From an early age, I went to Hebrew School, spent summers at a Jewish overnight camp, then attended a predominantly Jewish high school, and even managed to end up at an undergraduate university with a sizable Jewish population. Knowing people who had also been raised in the Jewish tradition and having the support of my religious community were constants throughout my life.

Coming to Boston College Law School, I soon realized that things would be different. I was no longer surrounded by people with similar backgrounds and experiences to my own. As I started to navigate this adjustment, I was introduced to someone who would later become a major part of my transition to the BC Law community.

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‘A Country of Immigrants’ on World Refugee Day

In my first post after my own graduation, I am pleased to host a blog by BC Law student and editorial assistant Marija Tesla, who writes about her family’s refugee story in honor of World Refugee Day.


I was six years old when politics became an integral part of who I am; it was then that I knew I wanted to work toward forging peace in the world. Growing up, my imaginary friends weren’t imaginary at all, they were the politicians whose names I heard every night, those who could not craft a compromise to achieve peace and stop a war I desperately wanted to end. It was there on my grandparents’ farm in a small village on the outskirts of Karlovac, Croatia in 1995 that I became a negotiator, addressing Franjo Tuđman, Slobodan Milošević, Alija Izetbegović—my own imaginary Dayton Accords. I escaped as a refugee in 1995, leaving Croatia and the farm that was my home.

Twenty-four years later, I am pursuing a career in law with a focus on global governance, human rights, refugee and immigration law, and negotiation—the very thing that was necessary in the Balkans in the early 1990s and is desperately needed today in Syria, Myanmar, Venezuela, and many other parts of the globe, including the United States of America. As a former refugee, I am aware of the interplay between local and global agents, and I understand the power and interconnectedness of both. I will always believe that government is about community, and I will continuously fight to protect the essence of what it means to belong to that community. After all, such communities, local and global, uprooted and rectified my life equally.

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