Issues,  Law School

When Misunderstandings Feel Like Accusations

I remember the first time I was accused of wrong-doing in law school and how enraged I felt. When I was weeks away from ending my first year of law school, one of the editors for one of the journals emailed me and unceremoniously told me they were rejecting my application and then offered me the “advice” to be honest in my resume going forward. It was a complete shock to my system. I was incredulous and shocked, how could they accuse me of lying on my resume of all things?! So, as a true aries, I pushed back, hard. Demanding meetings and clarifications and probably made enough of a stink that they backed down. But this incident put me on notice of how fragile one’s reputation is and how fiercely you have to defend it. By the time I was a 3L and a dean accused me of lying in front of another student about a bake sale (seriously of all things), I immediately high tailed it to the Dean and was like wtf, this needs to fixed. By then, I wasn’t even surprised or offended, I just knew enough to go through the motions to push back.

As I share these stories, I really, really hope you’re like damn that’s crazy and don’t have similar experiences.

But, sadly, it’s quite possible you’ve had situations in higher ed where you are accused of wrong-doing with very little basis for that accusation. Like the situation where a Syracuse professor accused a Latina of plagiarism because she used the word “hence,” in her paper.  Or how this study shows that Latinos are more likely to be accused of wrong-doing in school. Or even in fiction, in Jennine Capo Crucet’s book “Make Your Home Among Strangers,” how gut wrenching is the scene where they question the character’s integrity because her process of writing was different than the school’s? I fear too many of us found that scene familiar. And really it may not come as a surprise, whereas in higher ed there may be more accusations of ethical breaches, we’re likely used to Brown students more frequently facing discipline in primary ed and high school.

And then there’s situations beyond academic behavior. What about the reprimands we face when we don’t sit back and take racism and sexism quietly? When we’re too “loud” or too “mean” or push back too hard… It’s so exhausting.

So why share this? Not just to commiserate or to scare. I hope you never find yourself accused of wrong doing. But if it happens, I don’t want you to feel powerless. Rather than assuming the school/accuser holds the power, you deserve the right to push back and call them out on their behavior.

In short, protect your reputation and don’t back down until there’s a satisfactory resolution. If a weird situation arises, don’t feel like you need to stay quiet out of embarrassment. Go to a trusted mentor, upper classman, counselor etc. for guidance. I can’t speak highly enough of one of my law school mentors who guided me in my response my 1L year and helped facilitate conversations. But I would have never received her help if I hadn’t been vocal about what happened.

Now, I will admit that 1L me was a lot more “knuck if you buck”  than I am now so I was probably more vocal about it than they expected. If I had to re-do it, I would have kept the pressure the same but would have done a better job of remaining calm. The ppl that run these systems value stoicism over emotion. They see it as proof of something and frankly they will use emotion against you. The more offended you can show while still remaining calm the better. I know this sounds ridiculous and you can dismiss this advice, especially in situations where anger is righteous, but other times controlling your response can be a better approach.

Finally, regardless of what they throw at you don’t let it stop you from your goal. It can be so disheartening to be disrespected and accused of something you didn’t do. And while I don’t think this behavior is some massive, insidious plan to try to harm students of color…at the same time…

Is there implicit bias (i.e. racist thoughts) that push people to view you in the worst light possible? yes. Do some yt people feel like they have a right to police, correct, and instruct us? also yes.
Are some people conditioned to view students of color as inherently sneaky or ill-behaved? for sure.

But if I stopped working on my goal every time some rando tried me I wouldn’t have earned my JD. Remember, like Beyonce says, the best revenge is your papers. Don’t act hastily, don’t admit defeat, and do what you need to stay the course and keep working towards your law degree because ultimately that is what will matter years from now.

Btw, years later that journal published one of my articles, so, there you go.