Posts Tagged: 1L

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Note: trigger warning.

When people talk about your first year of law school, they talk about harsh profs. They talk about too much reading and the socratic method and exams and the curve and stress and caffeine and writing competitions and they talk about it all being really, really difficult.

They don’t talk about the week and a half of your criminal law class where you will discuss rape.

Somehow, in all those discussions about 1L, no one ever mentioned to me, nor did it occur to me, that there would be a period during my second semester of law school where I would walk into ever class feeling anxious and worried, afraid that someone would yell, that someone would cry, and that I would be either or both of those someones. 

I was lucky enough to have a wonderful professor (a young black woman with a background in anthropology) who handled the subject with as much grace as is possible, which is to say, not much. We got through the unit, and I can competently explain to you that generally the three elements of rape, legally speaking, are force, nonconsent, and sex. And yes, force is its own element, and in many states, the force “incidental to penetration” does not count as force. I can talk to you about the negligence mens rea as opposed to the knowledge mens rea with respect to nonconsent. I learned the law, and i found the law extremely problematic. 

But I also learned something else, something about our cultural conceptualization of rape, and that is much, much more problematic.

As we began the rape unit, we started talking about a pretty typical rape case. For purposes of this post, it’s enough for you to know the case involved two college students who had made out before. This particular time, they were making out in the man’s dorm room, things got a little rough, the woman said, “No,” but the man allegedly thought she didn’t mean it. Man thought she consented. Woman didn’t consent. 

As we discussed the case, our prof turned to a normative question: never mind what the law is in this particular jurisdiction - should we criminalize this kind of conduct? 

There was an awkward pause. Where he had been comfortably answering questions about the law as applied in this case, the man on call seemed unwilling to answer that question. Our prof just waited. Finally, he answered, “I don’t know. She was hurt by it, I guess, but, you know, you’d be criminalizing an awful lot of, uh, conduct, if you criminalized this kind of thing.”

As I listened to him speak, I wondered my ears, which felt red hot, were actually steaming.  Doesn’t the fact that thousands if not millions of people are hurting other people mean that we need to act decisively to prevent further, devastating harm? How could someone possibly be comfortable with less action? 

My prof considered this for a moment. I debated raising my hand, but waited, not entirely sure I would be able to speak coherently, lest I be branded just an emotional girl. When my prof spoke, it was careful, measured, “Hmm. Interesting. Arguably, because this conduct causes harm, as you say, it is problematic, yes? And if it is problematic, then its extremely high occurrence speaks to the need for higher levels of criminalization rather than less.” 

Right.

That exchange, though, kept my mind boilling. Because my fellow classmate viewed rape as so extraordinarily common, he thought it was not something the justice system should interfere with. Rape is just one of those things that happen. A miscommunication. Part of our culture. Boys will be boys.

This understanding of rape, of something that happens all the time every where but isn’t really that big of deal, permeates our culture, and leads to the absolutely horrible disaster that has been a comedian’s gang rape joke about a young woman in his audience (he apologized but not really). I understand that women are generally expected to just relax and take the jokes. To lighten up. To calm down. Because rape happens all the time. It’s not a big deal. And yes, I agree, you can make fun of horrible things. Sometimes, humor is our way of dealing with pain. But the there is a difference between humor to deal with pain and using “humor” as a weapon with which to wield your privilege over someone who has annoyed you.

Rape happens all the time. It is a big deal. It causes unbelievable, irrevocable pain. 

And it is not funny.

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This has been one of the most insanely busy weeks of my life in quite some time. From left-to-right:

First, I finished my first year of law school (!!!). Finishing our last final did not have quite the euphoria I expected it to, because when you finish your last exam they then hand you 272 pages of caselaw to read for a writing competition. Thankfully, I finished that Friday, This is at our hurray-we’re-done lunch, after several drinks, and if you’re looking at my user pic and confused, I’m behind the camera, not in this picture.

Second, it was my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary! I had a smaller version of their wedding cake made, got champagne with the same label they had at their wedding, had some of their friends over, our family, etc., and surprised them.  My dad was surprised, but my mom, whom it is impossible to surprise, was not, but appreciated it nonetheless, I think.

Third, my younger sister graduated from high school. She goes to a Catholic all-girls school, and rather than caps and gowns, they wear white dresses (you have to click the pic to see the dress). When they get their diplomas, they also get yellow roses, and then rather than throwing their caps in the air, they throw their yellow roses in the air. Frankly, I think she got jipped without the cap and gown, but she loved loved loved this school, so that’s something, I suppose. Graduation was particularly fantastic because, if I may do a big-sister-brag, she won an award! At graduation they give out two awards: valedictorian and the St. Julie Award, where the St. Julie award is given to the senior who most exemplifies the school’s mission - learning, servant-leadership, service, generosity, determination, etc. Students are nominated by their peers and then the faculty vote. Anyway, the principal started saying, “This young woman was such an obvious choice - ” and going on about how fantastic this award-ee is, while I thought it sure sounded like my little sister, as her big sister, I am hardwired to think she’s the best thing since sliced bread. But sure enough, SHE WON. I could not be prouder.

Anyway, so I’ve been away from the internet for the past week. Thanks to all that stuff. But I am BACK, Internet, so never fear. Hope you kept it warm for me.

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On the bright side, after my last exam Friday, our 1L section had a crazy/fun/great afternoon and evening, plus delicious homemade brunch Saturday, followed by beach time, relaxing, etc.. Today was the first Mother’s Day in four years I’ve been able to be in the same state as my mom, and that was really wonderful.

On the less than bright side, this is the worst 272-page buzzkill ever.

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Crimlaw exam tomorrow, i.e. last exam of 1L year! No worries - I’ve got this one, you guys. Just going to watch this over and over again. Should do it.

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On the bright side, after making this chart, I will completely rock all homicide questions on my crimlaw exam. On the less-than-bright side, evidently there are other things on the exam. Who knew?

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"

It really has been my absolute pleasure teaching you. I am here for you as you go through law school. I mean that - I have become very fond of you all.

But don’t think you’re special, this happens every year.

"

- Crim prof, ending our review session/last class.
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1L word clouds (from my outlines).

In case you can’t tell, from left to right, top to bottom: torts, contracts, civpro, property, crimlaw, legislation, and last but certainly not least, conlaw.

Two left, and I’m done. Been quite a year, I tell you what.

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You know, pre-law school, I figured the law re: rape was that if someone said no and you continued, that was rape. Turns out that’s not true! You need nonconsent, yes, and sex, obviously, but you also need “force.”

Now, I’d have thought that in the absence of consent force is required to get someone to do something. But huh, turns out that the “force incidental to sex” does not count as “force.” (Though jurisdictions vary, obviously.)

Seriously.

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"You work for Albus Dumbledore, esq., who will be prosecuting Voldemort in the following case."

- First sentence of my crimlaw prof’s practice exam. I love this woman.
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Just type up the Constitution word-for-word, then add:

"To answer all of these questions, just READ the Constitution and apply the PLAIN MEANING of the words. I mean come ON. Get a dictionary if you need to. Just use the plain/obvious/original meaning of the words. Stop being all judicial activist-y."

Then I’ll slam down my laptop and storm out of the room.