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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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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What Do Bats and Viruses Teach Us About American Government?

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.


Recently, I’ve been thinking about a night I spent in Panama trapping bats. More precisely, I was taking pictures of a team of German scientists who were trapping bats. I had been traveling in Latin America when a journalist friend asked me to meet him in Panama and tag along on a story he was doing for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which studies tropical ecosystems and their impact on human well-being. As the virulence of the coronavirus has shown, bats are especially potent and prolific reservoirs of disease due to their strong immune systems. So every night, this team of scientists would head out into the tropical forest, put nets up between trees, and catalog and take samples from all the captured bats.

The goal was to understand the dilution effect, which refers to the way that biodiversity in the natural world helps prevent the spread of disease from animals to humans. The theory is that when an ecosystem has high levels of biodiversity, it is more difficult for a disease to take hold in any one species. Without any species becoming a potent reservoir for that disease, it is more difficult for it to spill over into human populations. When biodiversity is low, however, a single species can serve as host to a critical mass of disease, facilitating its transmission to humans.

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Impact Update: BC Campus Shutdown

The coronavirus has impacted life around the globe, and it’s now hit Boston College where we live: the University has moved to online learning for all classes and students are required to leave campus (unless you file for an exemption due to travel restrictions, serious personal reasons, or university obligations). Here’s the official BC announcement.

We’re not alone in this: as most of our readers already know, universities are shutting their doors around the country for weeks, or in some cases (as with BC) for the rest of the semester. It’s the right thing to do to try to limit the spread of the virus and keep people safe, but we’re going to miss our daily BC Law routines, professors, and friends!

That said, the Impact blog isn’t shutting down. So keep checking back for more posts from us on all sorts of subjects, including our recent spring break service trip experiences. We’re all still here (at least on a virtual basis), and ready to bring more content your way. Stay safe everyone!

 

Why I Went to Law School

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.

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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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LLM: Our Journey to BC Law

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.

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The Fall from Grace: Tackling Choice and Moral Culpability in Class

“This seems like a philosophical question.”

My classmate was trying to parse the Supreme Court’s reasoning in two cases with similar facts and different outcomes. Our professor did not seem enthusiastic about the prospect of a philosophical discussion. Some professors teach introductory law classes like a foreign language, immersing students in legal syntax and vocabulary until its functioning becomes intuitive and fluid. Imagine trying to teach French students to conjugate a verb while they’re working on a grand theory for the union of sound and thought. You would get further by just drilling, “Je vais à la plage. Tu vas à la plage. Il/Elle/On va à la plage.” So our professor responded with a pointedly practical answer spelling out the officially recognized legal rule at work in the two decisions.

But there was an interesting, philosophical issue beneath the surface of the Court’s reasoning, even if we didn’t have enough time to cover it. These are the two cases:

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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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