Columbia University Law School has granted exam extensions to students who feel under stress due to the failure of Grand Juries to indict in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Now students at my alma mater, Harvard Law School, are demanding similar treatment, as well as excoriating the HLS administration for not publicly feeling their pain.

The Coalition at Harvard Law School created a website for the exchange of letters.

I have confirmed with the Harvard Law communications office that the letters are authentic.

December 7, 2014

Dear Dean Minow and the Harvard Law School Administration:

This campus ­­ and the nation ­­ erupted in outrage when grand juries failed to indict Officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo for the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively. These recent events highlight that intolerance in America continues to cost us countless lives at the hands of law enforcement. We have no faith in our justice system, which systematically oppresses black and brown people. We are afraid for our lives and for the lives of our families. We are in pain. And we are tired.

We have been visibly distressed and actively engaged throughout this public national crisis. The administration has remained silent.

We led rallies, held vigils, and published an op­ed. You were silent on this issue. We petitioned the government, served as legal observers, created spaces of solidarity, drafted model legislation, and marched through the streets of Boston and Cambridge. You remained silent on this issue. We spent countless hours leveraging our legal educations, and utilizing our platform and privilege as students of this institution. And all we have heard from the administration is deafening silence.

Your silence denies humanity to the lives lost and minimizes the gravity of the palpable anguish looming over campus. Like many across the country, we are traumatized. Just because this racial terror is systemically reproduced and normalized through repeated fidelity to the so ­called rule of law, it does not mean the disruption is any less traumatic than a tragic bombing. The fact that you refuse to openly acknowledge this adds to our distress. Your silence is a signal that Harvard Law School is indifferent to the welfare of many of its students.

We can’t breathe.

* * *

Our choice to stand for justice rather than sit and prepare for exams is necessary in the context of a movement fighting for the lives that have been lost and continue to be at stake. This sacrifice is small. The words of Columbia Law School student leadership illustrate our sentiments: “In being asked to prepare for and take our exams in this moment, we are being asked to perform incredible acts of disassociation that have led us to question our place in this school community and the legal community at large.” You cannot require that we forego joining the country in its demand for justice, and instead dedicate our energy in this moment to understanding and replicating “the same legal maneuvers and language on our exams . . . that w[ere] used to deny justice to so many Black and Brown bodies.”

Harvard Law School has policies and procedures in place for students experiencing a personal emergency that interferes with an exam or immediate pre-­exam preparation. This is more than a personal emergency. This is a national emergency.

* * *

We need your support, and therefore, we expect the following:

* * *

2. Grant Exam Extensions

Give students the opportunity to reschedule their exams in good faith and at their own discretion between the period of December 20th and January 15th.

Delaying exams is not without precedent. In 1970, Harvard Law School faculty voted to delay all exams in response to demands by students participating in anti­war protests.

* * *

Harvard Law School Affinity Group Coalition:

Harvard Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Executive Board
Harvard Black Law Students Association
Harvard Middle Eastern Law Students Association
Harvard Muslim Law Students Association
Harvard Native American Law Students Association
La Alianza

In support:

Harvard Law School Chapter Advocates for Human Rights
Harvard Defenders
Harvard Environmental Law Society
Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice
Harvard Law School Feminist Coalition
Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine
Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice
Harvard Law Students for Sustainable Investment
Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project
Harvard Student Representative Board, Executive Officers
National Lawyers Guild
Students for Inclusion
The Harvard Asia Law Society
Unbound: Harvard Journal of the Legal Left

The same website has a response from the Dean of Students that does not address the demand for delay of exams, as well as the Coalition’s reply to the response, which reads in part:

We are particularly concerned with the lack of direct response to two of our requests:

(1) Our request for the HLS Administration to properly address the entire student body in a manner that recognizes students’ trauma as legitimate; and

(2) Our request for exam extensions for students who are traumatized by this tragedy and who have felt duty­bound to dedicate their time mobilizing for justice.

Featured image via Delores Handy


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