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Columbia Law Review Editors Request Exam Cancellation: Trauma Impact and Legal Profession Implications

Columbia Law Review Editors Request Exam Cancellation: Trauma Impact and Legal Profession Implications

Editors of Columbia Law Review Request Exam Cancellation Due to Protests

Authored by Jonathan Turley

The Impact of Trauma on Students

In recent times, the concept of trauma experienced by students due to court rulings and other events has been a topic of intense discussion. Such occurrences are often used as a reason to cancel exams or classes. Prior demands for such cancellations have cited conservative speakers, case decisions, and protests as triggers, leading to the establishment of therapy tents and trauma counselling. Recently, the editors of the Columbia Law Review, along with editors of other journals, have requested the outright cancellation of exams due to the trauma caused by recent on-campus protests. This situation presents a learning opportunity. Law students must learn to confront such situations without succumbing to stress. The legal profession is fraught with stress and trauma, and in these moments, we cannot afford to be absent. We must show up and advocate for others.

Demands for Exam Cancellation

Such demands are not new. Black law students from Harvard and Georgetown demanded exam cancellations following the death of Michael Brown in 2014. These demands are often supported by administrators and faculty who label free speech as "harmful" and "triggering" for students.

Student Complaints

Students have also expressed trauma from taking classes with faculty who fail to acknowledge "white privilege" or from classes that discuss certain crimes. After the 2016 election of Donald Trump, universities established "safe areas" and trauma tents for students.

Editors of Columbia Law Review Request Exam Cancellation

The editors of the Columbia Law Review, who are likely to land top jobs after graduation, have informed the law school that the removal of an unauthorized encampment was a traumatic "violence" that left them "irrevocably shaken" and "unable to focus." They were joined in their request by editors of five other law journals, including the Columbia Human Rights Law Review & A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual. They attributed their trauma to the presence of counter-protesters and police on campus, accusing a "white supremacist, neo-fascist hate group" of "storming" the campus. The Columbia students informed the university that "many are unwell at this time and cannot study or concentrate while their peers are being hauled to jail."

Law School Response

The law school has postponed exams due to the protests but has not cancelled them. The students suggested an alternative, albeit not preferred, option of taking the exams pass/fail. They argued that an optional pass/fail policy would not be truly optional, as employers would notice that some students have grades and others do not, potentially introducing extreme bias into the hiring process.

Implications for the Legal Profession

Law firms are likely to prefer students who can handle high-stress situations. This letter suggests that students at the top of the Columbia law class may struggle with this. The question then becomes how these law students are emotionally prepared for the pressures of practice when such protests shut them down and leave them "unable to focus." However, they have been educated in systems that have fostered a sense of victimization or trauma from opposing views.

Controversial Cancellation of a Federal Judge at Stanford Law School

This sense of victimization was evident in the controversial cancellation of a federal judge at Stanford Law School last year. The Stanford Federalist Society had invited Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to speak on campus. However, liberal students deemed the presence of a conservative judge on campus intolerable and sought to "deplatform" him by shouting him down.

Final Thoughts

The world outside the Columbia Law Review offices is unpredictable and uncomfortable. As lawyers, we enter our clients' lives when they are often falling apart. We must bring our skills and support at those moments without the assistance of a trauma tent or emotional coach. We also cannot ask judges for postponements to allow us to process the stress of the moment. This is not meant to dismiss the disruption faced by the campus and the deep feelings many have about the underlying issues. Young lawyers should be motivated to right wrongs in this world. However, our clients look to us for strength not fragility in such moments. The response from Columbia Law School should be simple: see you at the exams. What are your thoughts on this matter? Share this article with your friends and sign up for the Daily Briefing, which is every day at 6pm.

Some articles will contain credit or partial credit to other authors even if we do not repost the article and are only inspired by the original content.

Some articles will contain credit or partial credit to other authors even if we do not repost the article and are only inspired by the original content.

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