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 email@example.com 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
There are many things you can do with your law degree. Just ask Caroline Reilly, a recent BC Law grad and former Impact blogger who has combined her passion for journalism with her legal education and training to advocate for change in reproductive health practices.
While at BC Law, Caroline took part in the school’s LEAPS program. The goal of LEAPS, or Leaders Entering and Advancing Public Service, is to provide opportunities for students to discover and develop their talents for advancing the public good through their chosen legal path. For Caroline, this path began with her desire to advocate for reproductive rights.
Being at BC Law as a Jewish woman pursuing public interest law can sometimes create a sense of cognitive dissonance and difficulty feeling like I belong. My background and upbringing is very Jewish and very rooted in social justice. I’ve been actively involved in Jewish communities for my entire life and that has informed my values. I attended Smith College, a progressive women’s college out in Northampton, MA. Attending a Jesuit Catholic law school initially gave me some pause, especially knowing that most future lawyers are looking to pursue careers in “Big Law.” But attending the Public Interest Law Retreat (PILR) last weekend reminded me that I don’t need to check my public interest goals and passions at the door to the law school–rather, that there are people and systems in place to support them.
The PILR is a program for 1Ls, coordinated by the Law School and the incredible 1L, 2L, and 3L Public Service Scholars. The bunch of us drove out to Dover, MA to the Boston College Connors Retreat Center. We stayed overnight in the old stone building located in a more rural part of the state with lots of green space and trees. We entered a refreshing atmosphere the instant we arrived.
My torts professor often reminded us that lawyers are some of the last generalists. As a greater number of professions turn toward specialization, attorneys must retain their ability to move from client to client, constantly learning, always becoming well-versed in new subject areas.
This aligns with the small amount of real-world experience I have. Indigent defense carries with it no small number of clients, each fighting a battle which extends beyond any single criminal charge. Mental health, addiction, familial troubles, employment issues, educational difficulties, and systemic failures at every level are just a smattering of the struggles public interest attorneys must grapple with on a near-daily basis.
Seeing the work of public defenders up close, and knowing I planned to become one myself, I began to see a gaping hole in my legal education. If the role of a public-interest-minded law student is to become a fierce and able advocate, the traditional legal curriculum wasn’t getting me there. No matter how comfortable I became with legal writing, negotiations, client counseling, and trial practice, in three years’ time I knew I wouldn’t be ready to meet my clients where they are at.
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.
Anthony Ray Hinton spent thirty years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Commanding a spellbound crowd on the Boston College Chestnut Hill Campus (where undergraduate classes are), Mr. Hinton took students, faculty, and members of the public through three decades of despair, faith, fury, friendship, and humor. He was often emotional, always passionate, and amazingly graceful. For nearly an hour and a half, it was impossible to think of anything but spending thirty years in a five by seven cell.