Pocochina’s Weblog

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on academia

Posted by pocochina on March 14, 2008

For crazy_celebrian as requested here.

This post feels quite a bit like cheating, since I’ve looked at the class and gender dynamics in the legal academic world on and off for a while. And folks, it ain’t pretty. I’ve been doing a lot of wistful comparisons lately (grass is always greener, right?) to my undergraduate experience.

Undergrad and law school are different beasts in a lot of ways, but I’d imagine they’re also closer in experience to each other than undergrad and master’s or PHD programs. This is because with law school, we’re starting over, totally, using new fundamental skills – we research differently, and we’re taking 101s all over again after graduating with honors from prestigious schools, in all different fields. (This is probably only true in the US, by the way, I think that in most countries you study law at university and then maybe go on to a graduate LLM? We have a weird system.)

I majored in international affairs and women’s studies, and the view from those two departments couldn’t have been more wildly different. IA was very buttoned-up, wear-suits-to-class, have-I-told-you-about-my-internship; in a lot of ways, like my law school. Women’s Studies, however, was this tiny renegade little department, with deep intersectional and deconstructionist tendencies. Some of our professors exactly the Liberal Secular* Marxist East Coast Ivory Tower Elites (TM) Bernard Goldberg dreams in his paranoid delusions are taking over the university system. (If wishing made it so, y’all, this world would be a much better place. As it were, those professors are few and far between, and not well recognized by their universities. I hate to bring the bad news, but the Revolution Will Not be Tenured.) I learned so much. What I am deeply dissatisfied with right now is that I’m learning stuff totally out of my framework of knowledge, rather than expounding on the intricate and far-reaching theories that I know and love so well.

I remember being so relieved by the concept of safe space, which we discussed Very Seriously at the beginning of most courses, and that is, on balance, what I miss most right now. I am used to the classroom being treated as a place where above all, if you walked out with nothing else – even though that never happened in those classes – you walked out with a new perspective on how to fucking respect everyone around you. The legal academy isn’t like that, not one little bit. Sexism, racism, classism, and -isms I’m probably not sensitive enough to pick up on yet, are tolerated and sometimes encouraged. And forget about having any sort of room to fuck up. You will be criticized, embarrassed, and remembered for your mistakes at my law school. You will not only have to hand over your excruciatingly mistake-ridden first draft to a randomly selected classmate, you will not only have the constant expectation that your work will pop up on the projector screen for criticism (as if blacking out someone’s name makes the experience any less excruciating), you will be taught that you are absolutely fucking powerless to change your experience, and that power comes only in the knowledge that it will be someone else’s self-respect on the line soon. It is deeply silencing.

What the academy teaches in a lot of ways is privilege. It can teach you how it exists systemically, or it can teach you how to ignore your own privilege, or even worse, it can systemically teach you how to abuse that privilege. And what sends a cold chill down my spine is that the understanding presented to the legal profession is one that refuses to acknowledge privilege, even while it creates more of it. Most of our elected representatives are lawyers, many of the people working for the executive branch are lawyers, and certainly our entire judicial branch is made of lawyers. What I am learning, right now, is how we make the people who make society. There are many good and wise and brilliant people – I’m thinking of public defenders and county prosecutors as well as the likes of Justices Ginsberg, Brennan, and Marshall; of Catherine MacKinnon, and of course of Senator Clinton, though there are hundreds more – who come out of law school and go on to public service, but they are not products of this system, they are in stark and amazing defiance of it.

*I actually have no idea what the religious, or non-religious, identities of my professors were. Which makes them excellent models of secular, which is distinct from atheist, educators, in my opinion; it is wrong for a professor to pressure a student in any way towards a religious persuasion or lack thereof, and I’m proud to say I as an alum am part of a community where that just isn’t done.


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