By Heidi J. T. Exner
Wow! What a weird and crazy start to law school all you 1Ls are facing!! I don't envy your position, but I can speak to how fortunate you are to have the wonderful team of profs and faculty at UCalgary Law on your side through this wild ride. You might not meet some of us for a while, but some of your upper-year peers are here for you too. All of us were once in your shoes, and we are here to help you with any questions you might have. Of course, our first day of law school was more typical, and there was not a global pandemic, but that is where the above song, "Weird Lex, But OK," comes in! There is a story behind this song that I would like to share with you.
When the pandemic first hit and our worlds were turned upside down, a UCalgary Constitutional prof named Howard Kislowicz saw that people were losing their jobs and hoarding supplies, and he grew concerned that these conditions would exacerbate food scarcity. He took it upon himself to offer to make songs in exchange for donations to food banks (I wrote about it here). This admirable initiative led to a brilliant idea from Catherine Valestuk, our director of admissions. In exchange for her donation, she asked for a song that would welcome our incoming 1Ls to UCalgary Law. Her challenge was accepted! Prof Kislowicz sought aid from UCalgary students past and present - yours truly (2L currently on hiatus from law in Haskayne), Lisa Rodriguez (3L), Wei Sarah Wang (2L), Florence Hogg (3L), Shuna Williams (graduated), Alice MacGregor (3L), Manpreet Dhillon (3L), Ashley Weleschuk (2L), Joshua Sealy-Harrington (graduated), and Geoffrey Urch (2L) - and collectively we came up with this mix of advice for you!
The above story illustrates the amount of care and community-mindedness you will find among the profs and faculty at UCalgary Law. Howard Kislowicz and Catherine Valestuk are just two examples of many that you will encounter along the way. In fact, one thing that I discovered during my 1L year was that some of the best humans in the legal profession are right here on our (virtual) campus.
Like many of my peers, my 1L year was filled with ups and downs. Law school was not what I had anticipated it to be, and it took me a while to feel comfortable in this strange world. Maybe you will feel at home right away, or maybe you will be like me and have a breakdown or two (ha!) before you realise that whether you "fit in" or not is irrelevant: you will find your voice, and you will create your place in this profession. You will be challenged mentally and emotionally, and each of you will have opportunities to use the challenges you face to grow as humans. I hope that each of you can accept these as opportunities to shine! This time next year, as you reflect on your first year of law school, I truly hope you are as glad for your your experiences as I am for mine.
Your September Foundations course includes some important new additions which address our current social awakenings. This is thanks to the tireless collaborative efforts of the Faculty of Law and Keshia Holloman-Dawson (and all of UCalgary's chapter of the Black Law Students' Association). Also thanks to these efforts, our future student body might be more reflective of the diversity we see within our greater society. This makes my heart sing! However, there is a lot of room for growth within our current student body that we need to address as well. A remarkable 2L and Indigenous rights advocate named Amelia Harman has submitted the following message to our student body. I am putting this message on the front page in the hope that it might leave a lasting impression.
The Importance of reflection
By Amelia Harman
It is hard to believe that summer is winding down and fall is fast approaching. We will all soon find ourselves spending endless days buried in textbooks and reading lengthy legal opinions and statutes – while drinking endless cups of coffee of course! As we embark on a new year of law school (welcome 1Ls!), I wanted to reflect on the last few months; the events that have transpired deserve attention.
This past summer was unlike any other. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to dramatically reorder our lives; we will see its far-reaching consequences for years to come. Aside from having a significant impact on health and on the economy, the global panic precipitated by the virus also exposed the deep fractures within our social and political structures. It amplified the health and social inequities experienced by marginalised populations, and it also intensified racial tensions and xenophobia in society.
We also saw a global cultural awakening sparked by the violent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and many other Black Americans. The global protests that followed forced society to have conversations surrounding racial inequality and racism. It also forced Canadians to look into their own backyard to confront the uncomfortable reality that racism does not stop at the border. It exists in every aspect of our society imaginable – in the legal profession, in our academic institutions and in our own families.
It is easy to avoid situations that make us uncomfortable. It is also easy to turn a blind eye to issues that do not affect us on a personal level. This is why it is important to have conversations about race, privilege and fragility. It is an unfortunate reality that Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) are continually tasked with having to work around institutional and structural barriers. They are also tasked with having to confront social barriers. These barriers often manifest in an overall lack of support from the community, by individuals who deny the existence of racism and white supremacy, and by those who engage in harmful racial and colour-blind rhetoric.
We are at a turning moment in society. As the next generation of lawyers and emerging leaders we hold a unique and privileged position in society. Regardless of whether we went to law school to end up in big law, in a small firm, in government or in business, as human beings we all have a role to play in advocating for racial equality and justice in Canada - it is our responsibility. It is easy to get caught up in our busy lives (we chose a busy career!), however we need to make conscious efforts to continually listen, learn and work towards substantive social change. Progression is not always linear. We know that the intensity of social movements rise and fall but the expectation for us to engage in this work does not.
The opinions and articles expressed are not those of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law. The Moot Times is an independent publication, run by students for students. Don't even think about suing us. One miscreant tried, but he missed the filing date under Defamation Act, the sucker.