Wednesday, April 4, 2018
This year, I became a teaching assistant (TA) once again. This was not planned and what started as just another responsibility on my list of responsibilities resulted in an amazing experience. For our TA program, we try to select students who have performed well in a particular course with a particular professor and students who have performed well across the board academically. However, this fall I was faced with a dilemma. I tried to recruit TAs for a professor who did not teach the previous academic year so my pool was smaller and furthermore, the class time conflicted with an elective course that almost every 3L was enrolled in. I presented the professor with three options, one of which was to have me as the TA, just for this year. She chose the latter.
I was well aware of the challenges I would face so I approached this new task with some trepidation but saw all the amazing rewards and value I would reap from this experience. The primary challenges I anticipated included student discomfort because I am the Director of the academic support program and not their peer. I also anticipated discomfort with my presence in the classroom as students might perceive me as a person who was monitoring their every move. I anticipated low attendance at the bi-weekly TA sessions because I did not have the professor as a student, I did not attend this law school and thus students believed that I did not have much to offer them. This particular situation intrigued me the most as TAs who have worked with new professors in the past, have had similar experiences. However, these TAs have been successful and usually work closely with the professor to provide even more helpful material to the students. Moreover, students are more independent spring semester and take less advantage of various resources. Finally, I found it interesting that students could feel uncomfortable with me particularly because I train the TAs and work with students studying this topic for the bar exam.
The positives I looked forward to were opportunities to evaluate the structure of the current teaching assistant program, to get to know or become familiar with about one- third of our 1L class, to work collaboratively with one of our professors and to expand the offerings of my office. Sometimes as ASP’ers, we are so removed from the law school experience that we forget certain aspects of what it means to be a student even when we try to remind ourselves every year. I looked forward to coming away from this experience with new ideas and avenues to be effective with students and maximize how to effectively utilize my TAs in the future.
Within the TA responsibilities, TAs attend each scheduled meeting of the doctrinal course they are assigned to. They prepare lesson plans and materials for every teaching assistant lab session. They are generally available for questions during office hours. They also work closely with the professor and complete additional tasks the professor might request such as tracking class participation, passing out papers, etc…. The materials produced for the lab sessions are either reviewed by me or the senior TA. I submitted to all of these expectations and requirements. My senior TA reviews my materials; I try to put everyone at ease so I tried to create a safe environment for my senior TA to enjoy reviewing my materials. I mentioned this to the students at the first lab session and they laughed.
What was most informative about student behavior within the classroom was sitting through the course lectures and observing students. Initially, students were uncomfortable, particularly, the ones who decided to sit near me but that discomfort subsided over time. In my opinion, students became too relaxed. I ensured that I came to class prepared with casebook, laptop, pen, and paper. I sat next to a talkative student who was by no means uncomfortable with my presence. I was conscientious about being mentally present, free from distraction, and focused. It is amazing how many clues professors provide and how much advice about preparing for exams this professor dispensed. It appeared that students were not always paying attention though. I saw students on Facebook, instant messenger (apparently speaking with students in the class and others outside of the class), shopping, buying concert tickets, working on legal writing assignments, scrolling through pictures, texting, stepping out the room to take phone calls, drawing, researching topics (associated and unassociated with the class), laughing at and with one another, engaging in side conversations, asking me what was just said (trying to read my notes), falling asleep, passing physical notes, playing video games, watching movies, and watching sports. It is amazing what happens in a law school classroom in the span of one hour and forty minutes. Students got more and more comfortable as the weeks progressed so I saw more and more on computer screens. Some privacy screens work very well, I could see nothing while seated in the back of the class.
When I am in front of a class, presenting, I notice that some students are distracted but I never imagined the extent. I understand that some students need to be accessible for work, children, and emergencies. I also understand that some students doodle to focus and listen. I had no idea of the volume of distractions available in class. I can certainly understand why some professors ban computers in the classroom.
I wonder if this is the new student norm, all these stimuli competing for their attention. When I was in law school, the early years of laptops, I do not recall all this going on but maybe I was focused because I was fearful of appearing unprepared when called on. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Please see yesterday’s post by my colleague Kirsha Trychta for great background information and resources here.
What is happening in cyberspace
The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the ABA Law Student Division are cosponsoring a Twitter Town Hall. The hope is to have a national conversation from coast to coast today. More information here:
Here’s what’s happening at our law school
- Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to wear green to show support for mental health awareness.
- The Office of Student Engagement asked that students share what they do to manage stress in law school. Faculty and staff were asked to share stress and anxiety relief strategies, highlight stress-reduction techniques and healthy recipes.
- A student organization, the Mindfulness Society, in collaboration with the Office of Student Engagement is hosting a lunch segment providing tips on stress and anxiety management in anticipation of final exams. Fun activities and take home treats are planned for those who attend.
What are you doing today?
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
On Monday, March 5, the first day of the week-long spring break, the campus of Michigan State University welcomed several different visitors. You most certainly may have heard about the event through various news outlets but if you did not, then here is a link to a local news outlet in case you missed it.
During spring break, most of our students are out of the building but a few stick around to work on projects, outlines, prepare for competitions, and/or simply hope to get ahead before the semester recommences. All students cannot afford to go home or on a trip several times a semester or year, few stay local by choice. For those who stick around for whatever reason and who may have lost focus due to the events on campus, a number of alternative events were planned by various entities at the university. However, it was equally as important to the law students that they have something specific to support the law student constituency group. The Black Law Student Association with the support of Diversity and Equity Services Office created an alternative event titled “MSU Law BLSA Unity Space.” The program was intended to serve as an individual or group study time with inclusive conversation and food.
I showed up at the law school event because I am the student organization adviser and was in the building. As expected, there were few students in attendance and the event was free-flowing. It was a great community building event, with not much studying. First-year students met upper-level students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Students ate and connected with other students from their state of origin. At this event, I realized that I interact, on an individual basis, with students from different social groups who do not typically interact with one another. Students shared advice about courses, law school experiences, summer opportunities, feelings of isolation and alienation, and negative classroom experiences. We also engaged in more serious conversations about protests, history, voices, law school citizenship, and empowerment. The event was more than what the organizers and participants anticipated. Some students were curious about what was occurring on campus and followed the protests and speech on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. The event went beyond the anticipation of both organizers and participants.
The comfortable setting enabled students to ask administrators about their experiences in law school which lead to candid conversations. Students appeared elated, realizing that administrators were human beings with conflicts and challenges. It humanized us all. Administrators for student engagement, career services, and the Dean stopped by to interact with students. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with students I have never previously interacted with. Our students are so talented and it was great to learn about their talents, knowledge, and interests. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
The National Black Law Student Association (NBLSA) was "formed to articulate and promote the needs and goals of Black law students to effectuate change in the legal community." Founded in 1968 at the New York University Law School, NBLSA can trace its roots back to Algernon Johnson (“AJ”) Cooper--the former mayor of Prichard, Alabama--who sought "to increase the number of culturally responsible Black and minority attorneys who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community." Now in its 50th year, NBLSA has grown to one the largest student-run organizations in the country.
Although NBLSA has made huge progress in advancing its mission, African Americans still remain underrepresented in the legal community. Today, African Americans account for approximately 13% of our nation's population. Yet, according to the American Bar Association, less than 10% of law students and just 5% of the nation's licensed attorneys are African Americans. Hopefully, with a continued emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and cultural competencies both in legal education and the legal employment field, we can begin to close the representation gap. (Kirsha Trychta)
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
“Equal Access to Justice: Supporting Law Students from Diverse Backgrounds from Admission through the Bar Exam” was the title of the Section on Academic Support program at the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) 2018 Annual Meeting. The line-up included five presenters and was moderated by Jamie A. Kleppetsch who also served as chair of the programming committee. The program highlighted available support mechanisms for law students from diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds from admissions through passing the bar exam. The papers from this program will be published in the University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class.
Russell A. McClain presented on the history of academic support and proposed a way forward that brings academic support back, in part, to a focus on improving minority performance.
Renee Nicole Allen and DeShun Harris emphasized promoting social justice by combating implicit bias. The general assumption is that Millennials are a colorblind generation but they are equally susceptible to biases and microaggressions so how do we help them?
Jeffrey Minneti discussed how we diversify the legal profession through commitment to access admissions and support of these students as they prepare for and sit for the bar exam.
Leslie Y. Garfield Tenzer described success with an on-line academic support class aimed at fostering learning, overall academic improvement, and removing sigma associated with receiving assistance.
The presenters all had interesting tidbits that can help us all support our diverse students from the beginning of their law school career and through their preparation for the bar exam.
The ASP program committee this year included chair Jamie A Kleppetsch, Danielle Bifulci Kocal, Robert Coulthard, Marsha Griggs, Goldie Pritchard, Natalie Rodriguez, Stacie Rucker, and Laurie Zimet. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, October 30, 2017
I mentioned last week that 1Ls are likely starting to think hard about outlining for their podium courses. With the end of October approaching, students need to focus some of their precious time on preparing for their final exams. It takes a while for some students to shift their focus. But, those students who take time to prepare for final exams may often feel more confident and less stressed come the end of the semester. And a more confident and less stressed student may be better able to focus and demonstrate to the professor what he/she knows about the doctrinal subject come December.
One way students can to start feeling more confident and less stressed is by organizing their class notes around big picture rules in an outline. Students can insert into the outline various hypotheticals that test these big picture rules. The professor in the Socratic class could have generated these hypotheticals. They could also be pulled from other sources, like law school study aids or from the casebooks’ Notes and Decisions. Or, better yet, students can try to generate the hypotheticals on their own.
An outline can take many shapes or forms. What’s important is that each student focuses on what helps him/her best understand the material. What’s also important is that students try to create their outlines on their own. It’s cliché—but, a huge part of the learning process is synthesizing all the materials that each student has available to him/her and putting it down in the outline. Working with the materials and thinking about how and why the materials fit into the doctrinal course can help solidify or create a better understanding of the material. And who doesn’t want a better understanding of the material before finals? (OJ Salinas)
Monday, October 23, 2017
It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.
As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.
By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.
As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)
October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 16, 2017
I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.
I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.
Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!
Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)
October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
My thirty-something sister lives in Naples, Florida, approximately two blocks from Naples Bay and eight blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, the last few days have been stressful for her. Unsurprisingly, my parents and I have also been stressed, mostly because we could not do anything to help her and felt utterly useless. For me, this weekend’s stress felt different than the garden variety work-stress to which I have grown accustomed. So, I decided to dig a little deeper and learned that a hurricane or other natural disaster presents a unique type of stress known as “disaster stress” or “trauma stress.”
Disaster stress differs from acute stress (e.g. car accident or roller coaster) and chronic stress (e.g. hassles of daily life) because disaster stress tends to impact a large number of people simultaneously. In fact, “[m]ild to moderate stress reactions in the emergency and early post-impact phases of disaster are highly prevalent because survivors (and their families, community members and rescue workers) accurately recognize the grave danger in disaster.” Moreover, as Dr. Susanne Babbel explains, disaster stress “victims do not need to have experienced the disaster firsthand in order to be psychologically affected. For example, someone living in [Morgantown] with relatives in [Naples] at the time of the [hurricane] could have been subjected to countless hours of television coverage, coupled with an inability to get information about their own family. This type of situation can take an emotional impact on someone even from afar.”
Truthfully, as I write this post, I’m watching news channels alternate between footage of the September 11 memorial, Harvey recovery efforts, the Mexico earthquake, and Hurricane Irma. It has been a rough week for a lot of the country. The good news is that many governmental agencies and professional mental health organizations offer free resources for those who might be experiencing disaster stress.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD maintains a comprehensive webpage on disaster stress and publishes fact sheets to help both sufferers and medical providers identify and treat disaster-related stress. (As I am sure you can imagine, military personnel are exposed to natural disaster situations more frequently than the regular population.) The Center suggests that all individuals should try to avoid extensive media coverage, but acknowledges that certain people are at a higher risk of experiencing disaster stress dependent upon the person's severity of exposure, gender, age, social support, and resilience.
Similarly, the American Psychological Association offers online suggestions to help people "cope effectively with [their] feelings, thoughts and behaviors” following a natural disaster. The APA explains that "most people are resilient and over time are able to bounce back from tragedy. It is common for people to experience stress in the immediate aftermath, but within a few months most people are able to resume functioning as they did prior to the disaster. It is important to remember that resilience and recovery are the norm, not prolonged distress."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages individuals in distress to contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) disaster distress hotline by calling 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUs to 66746.
I wish everyone a safe and speedy recovery and encourage you to share these resource links with anyone who might be experiencing disaster stress. (Kirsha Trychta)
(Photo courtesy of one of my sister's friends. You can see how Hurricane Irma sucked the Naples canal water out toward the Gulf during the storm. The water has since returned.)
(Photo courtesy of another friend's Facebook page. This used to be a popular open-air Tiki restaurant.)
Monday, September 11, 2017
It’s been a potentially challenging time for many law students throughout the country. But, I am not necessarily talking about the challenges directly related to the study of law.
Yes. Case readings can be quite lengthy. There may be anxiety related to getting called on in class. And students may sometimes feel like there is not enough time in the day to complete everything that seems to be needed to be completed to succeed in law school. These are all potential challenges that our students may currently be experiencing. But, the last month or so may have seemingly added an entire new set of challenges to our students.
While many students have tried to remain engaged in their studies, events outside of the law school building may have continued to place additional burdens on them. Between Charlottesville, Hurricane Harvey, DACA, and Hurricane Irma, many of our students have had to face or worry about things that they would not have initially had on their radar going into the start of law school (no hurricane pun intended).
It’s difficult to stay motivated and engaged to read for class or write that LRW memo when you are worried about your safety and security or the safety and security of your families and friends. It’s hard to turn away from the news of devastation and despair when you are either living in that devastation and despair or know someone who is.
Law school is a challenging time for our students. And events outside of the law school building may have continued to place additional challenges on our students. It’s during these challenging times that it is especially important to have a friendly, supportive, and understanding ASP professional in the law school building. While we may not immediately have all or any of the answers related to some of these challenging events, we surely can welcome our students into our offices. We can sit down with them and actively listen to their stories. We can empathetically try to help them find some answers or refer them to those who may more appropriately serve them during these challenging and unfortunate times. (OJ Salinas)
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
I subscribe to several different listervs (e.g. academic support, law teaching, legal writing, clinical) and all are abuzz with how to help our colleagues in those geographic areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey. Below is a compilation of the resources that have shown up in my inbox this past week:
The Supreme Court of Texas issued an Order permitting out-of-state attorneys to temporarily practice law in Texas to assist Harvey victims with their legal needs.
The State Bar of Texas has updated its website with several helpful FAQ pages, an attorney volunteer registration form, and the details of the state’s new toll-free disaster hotline.
The Houston Bar Association is providing legal assistance and organizing local volunteer opportunities.
Clinical Professor Davida Finger of Loyola University is coordinating a conference call to discuss post-disaster work and to consider ways that clinics can lend support. Our colleagues from Texas are expected to join the call, scheduled for Friday, September 8 at 11:00 a.m. CST. Conference line: 504-526-4012. Access code 9416373.
The Southern Texas College of Law has established a website to accept donations to support law students impacted by Harvey. Similarly, the University of Houston Law Center is accepting donations online “to provide support to UHLC students and staff who suffered hardship as a result of the storm.” The Thurgood Marshall School of Law, also located in Houston, is accepting online donations through the Texas Southern University homepage. For a complete list of all of the law schools located in the region, click here.
Legal writing and academic support professors impacted by the storm are invited to take advantage of the LWI Teaching Bank. Professor Heather Baxter explained that “[i]n addition to memo and brief problems, the new Teaching Bank houses general exercises and teaching ideas, as well as guides to AV Resources, materials for international students, ideas for upper level litigation-based courses, syllabi, grading rubrics, and plagiarism materials. Please note that that these resources are available only to teaching members of LWI, so you must apply for membership to the Teaching Bank" first.
Lastly Above the Law reports that many law students and law faculty are organizing smaller-scale recovery efforts and disaster aid campaigns via social media.
Monday, August 21, 2017
I mentioned in last week’s blog about my inability to remain focused on our law school's voluntary pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls due to events related Charlottesville. As I continue my efforts to remain focused, I’ll try to spend a few minutes talking about a topic that many of you likely discuss with your students, either during a similar orientation or pre-orientation program or in workshops or individual conferences: whether students should handwrite their notes or take them on a laptop.
The use of laptops in class rightfully generates much discussion on faculty and ASP mailing lists, particularly at the start of the semester. The discussion has even entered the Twitter realm (for example, here and here; H/T Prof. Ellie Margolis and Prof. Katherine Kelly).
I know there is a lot research and concerns out there relating to laptop use and taking notes. For instance: (1) students may often find it difficult to follow classroom dialogue while trying to type everything down that is discussed in class; and (2) there are potential distractions related to laptop use in class—both for the student doing something that he/she should not be doing on the laptop and for those students sitting near this student.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the research and concerns. I understand that laptops can create tempting distractions for our students. And I agree that we don’t want students “zoned out” from using laptops in our classes. But, we should also not want to “zone out” students who may need to use a laptop in class as a critical learning tool for them.
So, I want to caution folks before they decide to ban laptops entirely in the classroom. I want folks to remember that banning laptops may create a situation where students with an accommodation for a learning disability are forced to disclose that they have a learning disability. This forced disclosure may not be an issue for some students—they may not complain or make much of the ban, or they might not care that they are the only student in a 70+ class who has his/her laptop out in a no-laptop use classroom. So, a complete laptop ban may not be that much of an issue for some students. But, it could still be an issue.
If you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class, perhaps your student affairs office might be able to not place students who have laptop use as an accommodation in your class. Of course, this recommendation may only work if you happen to teach a course that is also offered during the same semester by a faculty member who does not have a laptop ban.
Perhaps, someone like a student affairs or ASP professional may have a chat with those students who are disengaged in the classroom to see what may be contributing to the disengagement. Is it solely the laptop? Or, as those of us in the law school ASP world know, are there other academic or non-academic factors that may be impacting the student’s ability to “follow along in class”? Are the students distracted by a laptop disengaged because the laptop is in front of them? Or, is something happening outside of the classroom that may be motivating the student to disengage on the laptop? Could it be easier for a student who is having a challenging time in law school to disengage, rather than continuing to try and fail?
One more recommendation if you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class: maybe, reconsider why you have the no laptop policy in the first place.
Do we assume that students who handwrite their notes never disengage? Or, can a student on a social media account be just as "zoned out" as someone daydreaming or drawing an elaborate doodle on his/her notebook paper?
Do we assume that someone who has a laptop will automatically be programmed to type everything down verbatim in class and, thus, not follow along in the classroom dialogue? Do we assume that someone who is handwriting his/her notes will not automatically try to write everything (or as much) down in class and, thus, will follow along in the classroom dialogue? I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.
Do we assume that those students who are using a laptop are naturally worse note-takers—that they have not developed or cannot develop with guidance (from great ASP folks, like us!) effective methods for taking notes in a law school class? Do we assume that those students who handwrite their notes all have developed the proper method for effective and efficient ways to take notes in a law school class? Again, I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.
And, finally, are we even aware of, or do we automatically discount, the various computer applications out there that might be geared for diverse learning styles or that might help keep our students’ notes better organized?
We often try to train our law students on flexible thinking—that there may often not just be a black or white answer to things in the law; that there, frustratingly, is often a large shade of gray in the law; that the answer to many questions in the law may often be “It depends.”
Perhaps, we can practice a little of what we preach. Just because we may not be able to take effective notes using a laptop in a law school classroom doesn’t mean our students are unable to take effective notes on a laptop in class. And just because we may not have needed a laptop to succeed in law school doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else could not succeed in law school by using one. Some students may actually need the laptop to help them succeed. And a “black" or "white" law might actually say that they are entitled to use a laptop in class. (OJ Salinas)
August 21, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Orientation, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, August 14, 2017
Focusing When You’re Frustrated and, Potentially, Frightened: Some ASP Thoughts Following Charlottesville
Like many individuals throughout the country, I was saddened to see and hear what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am not sure I have the words to describe my thoughts and feelings related to this weekend. Or, maybe, I do. But, they are likely not suitable for this blog.
I’ll try to focus the rest of this post on a topic related to law school academic success. Surely, this weekend’s events don’t relate to our students’ academic success. Right? It’s not like this weekend’s events could impact our students’ abilities to focus on their law school studies. Right?
Let me refocus.
Surely, I have other things that I should be thinking and worrying about . . . like, law school pre-orientation programs. I am running the first of our two voluntary pre-orientation programs for incoming 1Ls later this week. I will have worked with over 40% of our incoming 1L class before the start of orientation. These students are incoming 1Ls who have volunteered to participate in our Legal Education Advancement Program (“LEAP”). This program helps 1Ls transition to the study of law in a welcoming and supportive environment. Yet, these are also students who have likely been impacted in one way or another by the events in Charlottesville. After all, it doesn’t take much to see what happened on the news or to read something on the Internet. It doesn’t take much to see where the events took place and wonder whether a similar event could take place near you.
I am sure there are many other law school academic success professionals who should also have other things to be thinking and worrying about. They, too, may be getting reading for their pre-orientation programs. They, too, may be finalizing their syllabi, organizing conferences, and meeting with students. They, too, may be looking for ways to make the law school experience a positive and productive one for their students.
Surely, there are many things that should be preoccupying our minds. But, it’s often difficult to focus on what we should be focusing on when events like this weekend’s event in Virginia take place.
Surely, there are many things that our students should be thinking and worrying about as they prepare to start a new school year. For example, our 1Ls may be worrying about finding a place to stay, locating the bookstore, or figuring out how to brief a case. Our 2Ls and 3Ls may be finishing up summer work, finalizing resumes, or scheduling on-campus and callback interviews.
But, yes. It is difficult to focus on what we should and want to be focusing on when frustrating and, potentially, frightening events like the one in Charlottesville try to suck out all our energy, positivity, and goodwill. It is likely no different for our students—particularly our students of color. They may, similarly, find it difficult to focus on what they need and should be focusing on to be successful law students. Law school is hard. It is going to be even harder over the next few weeks.
Give your students some time to digest this weekend’s events. Be supportive and lend a listening ear. Yet, try to be realistic about the work that needs to be done in law school. If you find it difficult to engage students to change their approach to law school work because they are too worried or preoccupied with external events, like Charlottesville, you might try to reframe law school work in such a way that your students may be more motivated to read, study, and improve . . . to act.
For instance, despite my strong restlessness about this weekend’s events, I am going to try to attack this week’s pre-orientation program with vigor and hope—hope that the students that I will be working with will become successful lawyers who will help make this country a better place for all of us. Surely, that relates to law school academic success. (OJ Salinas)
Monday, August 7, 2017
I have been thinking about the wonderful, varied, and interesting lives our students bring to law school.
Each student comes to our law schools with a unique and authentic experience. Unfortunately, some of these experiences are sometimes deemed insignificant. The person who has lived the experience may be too anxious or ashamed to share it. Or, others around this person may be too afraid to acknowledge that their individual experiences may not be the only way to have experienced some “thing.”
Each student comes to our law schools with an individual story that can enrich our learning environment and augment the law school experience for other students. For example, how one student responds to the facts of a particular case or identifies with the rationale or policy supporting some legal authority may provide a different insight and promote more critical thinking than the most qualified professor alone. This insight and critical thinking begins to grow, encouraging others to be more willing to take their blinders off and expand their narrow view of an issue, or better yet, of the world.
As we prepare to start a new law school semester, let’s remember what makes each of us unique and authentic. Let’s embrace, not obscure, our differences. And let’s try to foster our students’ abilities to recognize and appreciate differences. Being different doesn’t mean being weak. Being different doesn’t mean being irrelevant. Being different doesn’t mean being unworthy of success. (OJ Salinas)
Monday, July 31, 2017
I wrote in last week’s post of my trip to the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) conference in Minnesota. The conference theme focused on diversity and inclusion, which we know will also be the focus of our upcoming Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) conference in October.
My colleague, Alexa Chew, and I lead a discussion at ALWD on ways to make law schools more welcoming for everyone. We spoke about our experiences participating on our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at UNC Law. We spoke about how allowing students to share their stories and listening to their stories can create more awareness and understanding of the diversity and inclusion problems that may be wounding your law school.
Alexa and I wrote a blog post in advance of our ALWD presentation in Jennifer Romig’s Listen Like a Lawyer blog. We wrote that most of us working at law schools want a more diverse and inclusive environment. However, many folks working in our law schools are often unaware of what our students are experiencing during their law school tenure. So, schools get into a situation where they are trying to fix or work on a "problem" that they have not identified or know little about--or worse, that they may be inadvertently contributing to.
Alexa and I provided a few suggestions that could help more folks “get in the know.” The suggestions are relatively simple and inexpensive, but they may still have a huge impact on how students feel when they walk through the doors of your law schools. I suspect many of you in the ASP world are likely already doing many of the suggestions quite well! Keep it up!!! And encourage others in your law school to follow your lead!
Monday, July 24, 2017
This last week, I attended and participated in a diversity and inclusion conference hosted by the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The three-day conference was engaging and timely. And it included a thought provoking and informative plenary presentation on stereotype threat and implicit bias by fellow-ASPer, Russell McClain. Having seen Russell present before at various ASP conferences, I knew he would be a charming and enlightening presenter—and he certainly was! Congratulations, Russell! I know the ALWD attendees were impressed by your interactive presentation, and I am sure many of them will be reaching out to you in the future for additional ways to address stereotype threat and implicit bias.
I plan to write some more about the ALWD conference and its theme “Acknowledging Lines: Talking About What Unites and Divides Us” at a later date. But, for now, I wanted to spend a little time talking about what is likely on the minds of most academic success professionals and all the recent law school graduates—the bar exam.
Exam takers: We all know you have been working hard, and we believe in you. The next few days will be beyond tough and tiring. But, you have trained your mind and body for it.
Yes. You will likely second-guess yourself. Yes. You will likely face questions that you might not feel good about. But, you are also going to see and work with a lot of information that you do understand and have encountered many times during your bar preparation. Trust yourself. Read the questions carefully. Organize your essays. And don’t let those few questions that you might not know the answers to bring you down. You don’t need to get that A+ to pass. If you spend too much time focusing on the information that you don’t know or can’t remember, you may not leave yourself enough time or energy to show the bar graders what you do know. And you do know. A lot.
A few more things . . . remember to breathe and it’ll be over soon.
We look forward to welcoming you into the profession. (OJ Salinas)
Monday, July 17, 2017
The New York Times recently published “The Lawyer, The Addict”—a very compelling article about a tragic event. The story describes the death of an influential Silicon Valley attorney. The interplay between (1) addiction, stress, and mental health and (2) law school and the legal profession is referenced in an honest and, for many, eye-opening manner. The article has rightfully generated much discussion on the Internet, including a fascinating conversation on my colleague Rachel Gurvich’s Twitter feed. If you are looking for further insight about the article from a variety of faculty, practitioners, and students, I encourage you to check out Rachel's Twitter feed (@RachelGurvich). Much of the conversation can be found here.
There are many interesting points one can focus on from the NYT article. Perhaps, I’ll explore some other points in the future in the blog. For now, I’ll focus today’s blog on two points: (1) Larry Krieger’s work on subjective well-being; and (2) how hard it is for students to acknowledge that they may be suffering from a problem.
- Larry Krieger’s Work on Subjective Well-Being.
The NYT article interviewed Professor Larry Krieger and referenced his work "What Makes Lawyers Happy". As many of you know, Krieger’s work was an empirical study on “attorney emotional health” and “subjective well-being.” Part of Krieger’s findings and recommendations focused on shifting the definition of “success” for law students away from extrinsic rewards, like grades, journals, and high-paying jobs to more personal and intrinsic values and motivations.
I remember Larry Krieger's work was one of the first things that Ruth McKinney discussed with me when I arrived at UNC. Since her retirement, we have tried to continue to incorporate the message of Krieger’s work into our pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls. We try to remind our students to remember the intrinsic reasons why they decided to come to law school—particularly during those times when they may feel overwhelmed, defeated, or unworthy. We also try to remind our students that “success” can mean many different things to different people and that there are many ways to “succeed” in law school. We often talk about these topics while disclosing some of our personal struggles and experiences from law school. This personal disclosure often helps build a foundation where we are better able to assist with the problem discussed in part two below.
- Acknowledging a Problem is often a Problem.
For those of us who work closely with students, the article’s story on how law school and the legal profession can change you—physically and mentally—is not a surprising tale. We know that the combination of stress, anxiety, and the competition for external rewards can create a very challenging and intimidating environment for our students. The environment can feel crushing and insurmountable when you add difficult finances, family issues, health concerns, implicit bias, or stereotype threat to the mix.
It is not uncommon for academic success folks to work with students who are facing some significant non-academic issues that impact their academic performance. But, these non-academic issues are often not easily identifiable. Let’s try to remember that it is often difficult for our students to acknowledge to themselves that they may be going through a very problematic time. Like anyone, they have pride. They have all been successful undergrads or had elite careers prior to law school. They don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student.
Since our students don’t want to think of themselves as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student, they will likely hesitate before seeking help because they don’t want others to see them as “failures” or “unworthy” of being a law student (and the mental health questions on the bar exam applications don't help either, but that's a topic for another day [if you are interested, my former colleague, Katie Rose Guest Pryal has a great piece here]).
Disclosing some personal vulnerability to someone else is an added challenge to an already stressful time in our students' lives. Think about it: if it’s hard for you to acknowledge some potential weakness or flaw to yourself, do you think it will be easier for you to acknowledge that weakness or flaw to someone else? Now think about that someone else as a law professor or administrator. I know; it’s pretty scary. That’s why we, as academic support professionals (and others who work closely with law students), should try to practice good active listening skills and remain nonjudgmental, empathetic, and encouraging when we work with our students. It’s a difficult job. But, we are lucky to be able to do it. (OJ Salinas)
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Students have returned from Spring Break and many third year law students (3Ls) are realizing that the end is in sight. In the near future, classes will end, 3Ls will sit for their last set of law school exams, participate in the commencement ceremony, and sit for the bar exam. Some are so fearful of the anxiety associated with preparing for and taking the bar exam that they choose to avoid thinking about the bar exam. Others are so excited about completing their law school careers that the bar exam appears to be a very distant occurrence.
The past few days have been devoted to discussions of graduation and the bar exam with students who procrastinate, including some who have already missed initial application deadlines (in spite of repeated reminders) and as a result may be required to pay additional fees. Others have failed to sign-up for a bar review program, or have suddenly realized that they have insufficient savings to cover their living expenses during bar exam preparation.
As we face the second half of the semester, a student shared an interesting video with me (see video below). In this video, Samuel M. Chang, the outgoing 14th Circuit Governor for the ABA Law Student Division shared his perspective at an informational hearing of the California State Assembly Judiciary Committee last month. Chang spoke during a panel titled: “Possible Impacts of the Decline in Bar Passage Rates Upon Consumers and Different Sectors of the Legal Community: How Might the Decline of Bar Exam Passage Rates Impact Law Students, Legal Aid providers, Consumers and the Public Interest.” It is powerful to hear from students themselves about their personal experiences and those of their peers. Although the video focuses on law students in California, its content is also relevant to some law students in various jurisdictions with whom we interact and who are unsuccessful on the bar exam. Please find the link here to the transcript of his remarks. (Goldie Pritchard)
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this week on this race-conscious admissions case concerning Fisher's denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. See an article from yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education here: Chronicle Article on Fisher Case.