Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The next session at the HLE conference forced one to choose from several presentations; I chose "Integration and Peer Bullying." Professor Susan Grover of William and Mary spoke on outsider status . . . a person may feel or be perceived as an outsider by both visible and invisible characteristics--race, gender, economic status, sexual orientation. Although law school asks most law students to give up parts of themselves in the acculturation process, outsiders may not be able to--or want to--give up their outsider traits. Resisting the compulsion to fragment may take strength. But that needed strength is also a gift, for it may enable the outsider to challenge the status quo. Outsider status my also result in an inability to identify with the professors, which may result in an inability to emulate. Ideas for addressing outsider concerns? Hold focus groups to identify concerns; be fair in exam preparation (don't reward those who come in for 1-on-1 help, as doing so penalizes those--especially outsiders--who don't feel comfortable coming in); respect differences by acknowledging them in class and inviting other views.
Professor Rebecca Flanagan of Vermont Law School spoke on law student peer-to-peer harassment. She first observed that behavior occurs every day in law school that would be both addressed and not tolerated in K-6 education. Adult students may act like children, bullying both their peers and professors. Games ranging from playing gunner bingo to hiding books to being disrespectful of novice professors demonstrate that behavior. Law school sets up an environment that fosters bullying: inflexible rules, locked-in roles, and rationalization of behavior. Students see their classmates as hurdles in a competitive game. They may bully electronically, with IMing and anonymous postings on Facebook, or in person, with comments and note and unwanted physical behaviors. Others may be sycophants out of fear of being bullied themselves. While students may protest that they are being treated like children with rules about classroom behavior, the result of enforced rules is that they do not act like children.