From a school to a community

BY ARIEL WU

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Despite my resistance, I have gone through a remarkable process of socialization during my 1L year, from first column to last. It no longer bothers me that many people found my column on yoga “interesting,” but few actually had time to take up the discipline. I have grown so comfortable with the select few Eastern Europe lovers in my Roma Rights group that I do not care whether I share interests with anyone else. I have followed my own advice and pursued as many musical activities as humanly possible these last three weeks of school, all outside the law school campus. Behind on my reading yet just as sleep deprived as ever, I admit that my desire to make this law school a better place for everyone has been nearly completely replaced with complacency. At least I have found my own compromise between what the Law School wants from me and what I want for myself.

Could finding meaning individually be all that law school is about? Perhaps there is still untapped meaning to be found in the sum of Harvard Law School’s individual parts. As I sit alone in my Gropius Type 1 room, I am unexpectedly delighted to hear hip-hop boom from the room next door and, next, to hear screaming and laughter. Several of my hallway-mates are having a fabulous time at a spontaneous dance party on a Monday night. This kind of joyous outburst does not happen so frequently around here and is not something I would think to initiate myself. Rather than annoying me, it gives me energy to write my paper. It is a reminder of how much I am benefiting from a window into the lives of the individuals unofficially known on our hallway as “the black girls.” But I am at the same time saddened that I do not interact with them enough. Even now, I am learning about who they are by listening passively through a wall.

Everyone on this campus could be just as interesting, especially those whose life experiences, informed by race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, or ideology, lend us perspectives different from our own. We were told during 1L orientation that we made the right decision to come to HLS because of its diversity of incredible people. Yet this institution does not do much to encourage us to get to know each other and all our glorified differences. The occasional thoughtful professor will use this diversity to engage classroom dialogue. But outside of class, the intensity of mixing is entirely up to us. Though placed in a multi-ethnic Gropius hallway, we face the usual barriers of time, comfort, fear and complacency that make it difficult for us to extend ourselves. To quote an old friend, it is as if we were tasty ingredients placed in a pot without a good chef or recipe to bring out the powerful combination of our flavors.

Using a less funky metaphor, the population of my hometown, Oberlin, Ohio, is 8000, fifty percent white and fifty percent black (I am one of the statistically insignificant Asians). When recently asked how our community should deal with its racial tensions, one elderly gentleman cryptically commented that “people don’t know each other.” He was not saying that we should all just be friends. More nuanced, he suggested we could solve our community’s tensions more effectively if we spent resources on “getting to know each other” as an end in itself. Considering that blacks and whites have lived together in Oberlin without fully getting to know each other ever since the Civil War, it makes sense that the community should invest effort in pursuing this goal. Individuals, under the usual constraints of time, comfort, fear and complacency, will not do it of their own accord.

I do not mean to suggest that an individual’s failure to get to know her diverse peers is the administration’s responsibility, at least not entirely. However, if our environment were not as isolating and hostile, we would not need to run as frequently to the few people who are similar to us for solace. Self-segregation on the HLS campus is often explained as the inevitable result of human nature, but it seems more like human nature operating under heavy academic and emotional pressure without the time or immediate reason to open up to encounters with difference. It is disheartening to hear fellow students speak lowly of the value of diversity on our campus simply because students self-segregate. Diversity could be a powerful asset if our environment were more conducive toward getting to know each other. Kudos to instructors like Professor Minow who engage diverse students in classroom dialogue and student leaders who create venues for mixing. But until more of us work toward a greater sense of community, our diverse institution will retain an atmosphere of isolation and cynicism.

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