Stereotyping LL.M.s: Reveals law school xenophobia

BY JONAS BLANK

Racism. Homophobia. Sexism. Bias. Discrimination. Prejudice. Those are hateful words around HLS. This is an institution where religious conservatives’ opinions are practically considered hate speech; a place that gave birth to the reparations movement; a place whose administration, professors and students at least pay lip service to the idea that discrimination on the basis of race, creed, sexual orientation and national origin is wrong.

So, I wonder — when was the last time you heard an LL.M. joke?

Perhaps the term “joke” is too narrow. In my brief HLS experience, I’ve heard LL.M.s derided in a variety of ways, from comments about their speech and dress to stories about what some “sketchy LL.M.” has done or what some “weirdo LL.M.s” did at their last party. Ever heard the anecdotes about the over-aggressive LL.M.s in Corporations class? I haven’t even taken corporations, and I have.

I have no doubt that there are some pretty obnoxious, arrogant, sketchy and perhaps even downright weird LL.M.s running around here. After all, there are more than a few sketchy, obnoxious, arrogant and weird 1Ls, 2Ls, 3Ls and professors. There are probably people from specific racial, ethnic and cultural groups that might also invite such adjectives, yet I hope that most people would think better than to tell a story about a “weirdo black people” party or “sketchy Asian guy” contingent. Maybe I think too highly of myself and my classmates, but I wonder why we seem to be so exquisitely censorious of traditional “-phobias” and “-isms,” but fail to be even self-censoring about our own xenophobia.

Some LL.M. stories are pretty funny, and like many of us, some LL.M.s are rather bizarre. But it is no more appropriate to structure a funny story about an LL.M. around stereotypes of people of different national origin than it would be to tell a funny story about someone of a different race that incorporated harmful racial stereotypes.

It is ironic that LL.M.s are perhaps the most maliciously and consistently stereotyped group on campus, given that they are also the least monolithic. For its size, the LL.M. population is far more diverse in terms of nationality, life experience and education than our Ivy-heavy J.D. classes. On average, no more than three LL.M.s are even from the same country as one another. How ridiculous is it to assume that two people from New Zealand and Pakistan will be alike, merely on the basis of the degree they’re pursuing? I bet I have more in common with my fellow Duke undergrads.

Admittedly, were I an LL.M. student in another country, I would expect the same. Having spent a third of my childhood abroad, I am quite familiar with the unfair stereotypes directed at Americans for our weird, obnoxious cultural practices. I would also do my best to be respectful when delivering any criticism I had of the nation gracious enough to host me, as it seems is not always the case with LL.M.s here. But I wonder if people in other nations have learned to treat Americans and their institutions a certain way because that tends to be how we treat them, from our vicious portrayal of Arabs and other minorities in Hollywood to American tourists’ notorious whining and ignorance of their surroundings. It probably has something to do with the way we treat our international students, too.

Other than its professors, HLS’ LL.M. students are probably the most accomplished legal scholars on campus — they already have law degrees, after all. Perhaps that contributes to the occasional perception of arrogance — or perhaps it contributes to a sort of jealous apprehension. Whatever the reason, most of us probably have a thing or two to learn from these valuable resources right in front of us. Instead of our respective language and cultural barriers providing us with a rich store of funny stories, they could actually give us something worth thinking and laughing about — instead of just laughing at.

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