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Law students seem to be made of frailer stuff

Christine M. Flowers

By Christine M. Flowers Philadelphia Daily News/(TNS)

Published December 15, 2014

Law students seem to be made of frailer stuff

When I was in my second year in law school, my grandmother died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack in the backseat of my mother's car. She was only 70 and it was a crushing blow. I was unusually close to Mamie, given that I was the goody two shoes first grandchild who practically grew up in her West Philly house and loved her, sometimes, more than my disciplinarian parental units.

Her death 29 years ago today, came in the middle of first semester exams, and my first thought was "I can't do this. I need to ask for an extension of time."

Ultimately, though, I didn't reschedule my exams, just as I didn't skip them when my father died during my Junior Year in Paris. I just pushed them up, took a plane home and made daddy's funeral with half a day to spare.

Maybe I'm made of slightly stronger stuff than some people. Maybe it was just my way of coping, keeping the normal threads of my life intact so I could manage the overwhelming grief of loss.

But having spoken with friends who've been in similar situations, my reaction was not unusual. A number of people have told me that, either out of desire or necessity or a combination of both, they didn't let grief keep them from meeting obligations.

So that's why I'm both baffled and, to be honest, disgusted by the rather pathetic antics of students at elite law schools like Georgetown, Harvard and Columbia who have demanded and received the right to postpone exams due to a sweeping epidemic of Grand Jury Trauma.

Students "of color" on these campuses have successfully hoodwinked the administrators that they are so traumatized by the lack of indictments in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases that they can't properly focus on their exams and, like the boyfriend who can't figure out if he wants to commit, "need some space" from their law books.

In an open letter written by Harvard students, they compare the obligation to prepare for exams (instead, perhaps, of marching in protests while chanting "Hands Up, Don't Shoot?") to asking them to "perform incredible acts of disassociation."

That's psycho-speak for, um, the dog ate my homework.

Maybe I'm insensitive to the distress of these delicate academic flowers because I'm made of coarser stuff. I mean, I only went to Villanova which is quite a fine school in the Augustinian tradition but, let's face it, hasn't birthed any Supreme Court justices. That is left to the Ivies, which attract people of a higher sensitivity and, apparently, lower threshold for coping with disappointment. Poor, fragile dears.

And fragile they truly are. At Columbia, teachers have set up office hours where anguished and presumably non functioning students can go for counseling. One wonders, as my friend and former law school classmate Jamie has suggested, if they're also scheduling office hours for hugs.

Some, of course, don't think it's either unusual or funny that law students would be so traumatized by what they see as flaws in the criminal justice system that they'd need to take an academic breather. My cousin, an Ivy Leaguer himself with a first-class brain and heart has tried to explain how minority students would be demoralized in the wake of the Brown and Garner decisions.

I love my cousin, but I don't buy it. These students do not get the right to take the grief of the actual victims of Ferguson and Staten Island on their own shoulders and use it as, let's be honest, an excuse to replace studies with protest. These "breaks" that the embryonic lawyers are asking for is designed to allow them to organize "die-ins" and marches and other manifestations of discontent, and those pesky exams are getting in the way of their civil disobedience.

I mean, like, dude, who has time for Torts and Con Law when there are Christmas pageants to disrupt?

If I sound flip, I'm sorry. Actually, no I'm not. As a lawyer who presumes (often against evidence and common sense) that my colleagues in the profession are all equipped to deal with conflict, it amazes me that students who were given the great privilege of attending elite colleges would trash their educations in such a public way. If they are so incapable of dealing with the unpleasant realities of life that they have to crawl into some therapeutic cocoon, the bar doesn't need them and certainly shouldn't want them as members.

If these students really wanted to fight back against a system that they view as flawed and discriminatory, they should take the opportunity they've been given to learn the law, graduate and then use it to change the system from within.

Of course, that's not the sexy, fun way of doing things. It's much more enjoyable to get in front of the cameras and prance around like spoiled children at Chuck-E-Cheese saying "Hey, look at me, hey ma!!" That's the way to deal with trauma, apparently.

Exams — and maturity — just get in the way.

Christine M. Flowers
Philadelphia Daily News
(TNS)

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Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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