Record: Why did you decide to run?
Leilani Doktor: I decided to run my 1L year. I had a really incredible section that I was very close with. They had a bunch of great ideas, and I felt like I could represent them well [in] Student Government [SG]. I had worked on SG in the past and had a lot of success in terms of getting concrete policies done and getting facilities and services delivered. I joined SG as a 1L and found that I was able to do that, so I just want to continue doing that as co-president, and I think that I have the kind of experience now that allows me to really lead this organization to continue all the great stuff that it’s doing.
Jonathan Herzog: We ran because we thought in our capacity as student reps, and now as co-presidents, we can make HLS a little bit better for everyone to thrive. It really came down to seeing what we could get done, the experience we had being on student committees and as reps, what we could achieve to make life a little bit better here, and our excitement and passion to keep going.
R: If either of you were offered the opportunity to run for office at home, what would keep you from taking it?
LD: I don’t have the luxury of being able to fly home often. I definitely would not have the luxury of being able to fly home to run for office if I were still attending HLS and trying to finish my credits. I am fully enrolled for a third year here, and there’s no reason I would go back to Hawaii, but also beyond that, I really am committed to the students, and I understand that part of the reason why this election has turned out the way it has is that there is a degree of trust in Jonathan and I’s ability to serve the students and represent the students. I think that speaks volumes to that relationship, and I don’t want to break it. I have spent 2 years here gaining the trust of students, and I want to spend my third year serving them. There isn’t anything that’s going to take me away from that.
JH: We would not be doing this if we weren’t fully committed to serving out the totality of our term. This is our top priority, and we are here to be students side by side with everyone else here. We are also really excited to see how SG and its role on campus can grow and evolve, and we want to involve more people in the process and get more people committed and engaged and see their voices come to the table. I personally would not be doing this if I did not think that we could actually make a difference, and I most certainly would not be doing this if I planned to quit or leave after a short term.
R: Your former opponents thought it was extremely important that we get staplers next to the printers. Will that happen?
JH: We think this is a really important issue. We’ve taken it very seriously. Leilani actually led an effort to provide staplers next to each printer. Unfortunately, they were stolen shortly thereafter. As a member of the IT Steering Committee, I petitioned to get a $300 investment in automated staplers that will be attached to the printers to make sure they couldn’t be stolen. We got a promise from the IT Committee to make that happen for next year. We are going to follow up make sure it is happening. If it’s not, we are going to get new staplers and affix them to printers.
R: What are some things that you think SG has struggled with historically, and what do you think the biggest barriers for SG have been?
JH: We think broadly that SG has been able to put forth policy reports to the administration and statements, and I think one of the barrier, other than student engagement and involvement in the process, is having that commitment to action. I think we, as students, have the capacity to do more and create spaces and institutions within HLS more than we think we do, and we are really committed to making sure we act on our own when the administration won’t.
LD: We also recognize that SG has evolved over the years according to the classes and what they prioritized. I think that’s why elections are really important and getting even more engagement so that we have really competitive elections is really critical to me. I think that the proliferation of student engagement and creating really engaged lawyers in the future who become civically engaged citizens is something we want to model. We want to make sure that we’re creating an organization that people believe in and have faith in.
R: What do you think holds HLS students back from being more engaged not only here, but in the broader community?
LD: My perception from students I talk to is that they feel like HLS is a place that doesn’t necessarily serve them. It gives them a credential they really need to go out into the world, but the institution hasn’t effectively served them, and why would you give back with public service to an institution that you don’t feel is serving you? We’re seeing that within our own government nationally, and we think that you can create a student government that does serve you, that does give you the solutions you want and the action that you need.
JH: I think that there’s deeper institutional and inertial forces that push into a certain career path and certain choices depending on how those are effected, so I think that it’s on us to foster and develop a community and culture that celebrates and highlights students that are courageous and leaders and involved civically and create a community that rewards and incentivizes that type of behavior.
R: What do you feel like students are looking for that the school isn’t doing?
JH: I think that we saw and are seeing this week with the data that’s getting released, we have a crisis on our hands, and this is just a fundamental, basic functioning: being a healthy student here. So it comes down to help and support, right? We’re doing our best and are committed to creating spaces like HLS Talks where students can speak and share, be transparent and vulnerable, and push each other to be open and supportive.
LD: The other way that I think a lot of students feel not welcome is in terms of diversity, specifically in terms of faculty, and that’s something that we’ve been working on a lot this year. I’ve been working on it personally within the affinity groups coalition. Ensuring that the school is representative of all different types of views, all different types of values, and all different types of people all the way up to the very highest levels is really important for making students feel welcome and served by this institution.
R: What views and values do you think the school could have more of?
LD: I can speak specifically to the curriculum meetings this year. Students have asked for things like a professor who teaches on prison law, students have asked for more professors who do more accounting and analytics. There’s also a lot of discussion around veterans, like military law. There are all kinds of curricular suggestions that people have asked for. Those are just three examples, but they are incredibly diverse, and we are committed to actually getting all of those answers in and not just having that information held by the administration, but also held by SG so we know the diversity of curriculum and faculty that people are looking for, and to continue to advocate on behalf of students to get that done.
R: Earlier, you mentioned that you see an administration that doesn’t necessarily support the students. It seems to me that a part of that is that students want these classes and they’re not getting them. What are you guys planning to make that change?
JH: Part of our theory of change here is strongly related to technology and how that can be a driver of curricular change. We know that the curriculum hasn’t changed too much or adapted to some of the changes in the legal market, and some of the structural macro changes, and we think that institutionalizing TooDope, having a central landing page for all the basic resources for section event committees, for RA materials, all of the bureaucracy and layers and barriers that students have to go through to get basic things done. We think that that downstream necessarily impels change in the curriculum. When we start to realize that we are all reading from the same outline together, we can push forward the curriculum because we don’t have the excuse anymore that the material was necessary to cover.
R: Can you talk a little bit more about why John Manning or the hiring committee would decide to hire another professor because of TooDope? What makes them want to hire another faculty member and how can SG change the decision-making around that? Wouldn’t the administration just say, “you want to cram in 18 credits into 16 credits and then you want to add 2 more credits and doesn’t that get you back where you started?” I see what you are saying about the technology, but is there evidence that technology can really help people learn more, more quickly?
LD: Scott Westphal and Professor Wilkins have been working on the cutting edge of this, and we’ve already contacted them. They are some of the few professors that know that TooDope exists and that a lot of classes can be really redundant for students, so they’ve been really great allies to us in terms of changing how curriculum is focused and innovating. There’s a proposal to take out PSW and give people more time, that’s one way that it can be cut. The cool thing about that is that it’s not a zero sum game. We’d still have sections with PSW, but1Ls would be able to choose other experimental courses that also address different skill sets, but people would have more choice. They are on board with the idea of using technology to do that, and we already are using technology in those classes, so we want to keep on driving that type of change, and I think we can do that. It’s not just about TooDope, it’s about having an online platform where students feel like they can voice their opinions in a democratic way, and then we can respond to that, and I think that can be more effective, rather than having it be told to one representative, or one co-president, and not being able to see the concrete changes.
R: What do you think SG can do to enable more students to have a person or group of people that they can talk with and share their experience with?
LD: The beauty of HLS Talks is allowing people to put out their stories and for people to resonate with that message or even with a part of that story and feel welcome. That is one thing that Talks achieves. We really recognize the incredible work that student organizations are doing to make people feel good and engaged, to give them a friend circle they are really close with, but it’s still not enough, right? The mental health survey came out, I think 61% of students said they have some degree of loneliness, which is concerning. How can we continue to build the empathetic stories that are coming out of Talks in other ways is what we are looking to do. Talks was Jonathan’s initiative. We need people to share ideas with us, because we can come up with all kinds of ideas, but that’s not gonna get people engaged. We’re looking for students to join us, to give us the ways that they need help, and then hopefully we can address that 61% and make it a lot lower.
JH: The goal of Talks is to provide the space for students to share their stories, but really what’s been so incredible is to see the conversation and the continuous interest and connections that people have afterwards. It’s not just a forum for storytelling; it’s an instigator for conversation and a bridge builder between different groups and different people. This question is really central to why we are doing this. From Talks to the role technology can have as a social connector and social planner, and in terms of the spaces and new spaces that will help support study breaks, socials, and existing institutions like section event committees. Some sections are really lucky to have really active section leaders who will plan events for them and foster that type of community. We want to make sure that no section is left out and no student is left out. We want to create a foundational base where all students can access and not have to reinvent the wheel each time they want to plan an event or bring their section together.
R: Let’s talk more about how upwards of sixty percent of the students on campus say that they are lonely. Why do you two think that is?
JH: I think there’s a broader national conversation about this as well. There is a mental health crisis that the entire country is facing, especially in the legal profession. There’s also been some research done showing the effect of technology on changing the workforce, changing labor, and affecting how we view meaning and purpose in our lives, affecting social connections and communities. I think there’s macro, structural, and economic changes that are driving this, as well as, locally, this institution has really not responded or adapted to any of these changes and the needs of the students, or provided the spaces and the alternatives to the default of just doing your own studies and pursuing your own career, so it’s not surprising that students fall victim to that.
LD: I think another way that loneliness is accentuated here at the law school is in the way that you study the law. This is something that I remember really vibrantly from my 1L, is that my professor said “Okay, now you have to go home and do the work, you have to read this casebook, you have to understand where the law, where the doctrine is coming from,” and that is so different than saying, “We are in this classroom, we are in a shared learning experience, and you are going to interact with your classmates to figure out what is going on,” and the only way to rectify that, at least in 1L, is to form a study group, which is a lonely experience in that, if you form a study group, and you form one because you think it’s gonna get you ahead, that means that you are trying to get in a study group with people you are competitive with, not collaborative with. There are definitely exceptions to that, but I think that the competition that’s inherent in 1L kind of makes you feel less open and less willing to connect with people.
It’s all about feeling like you have over 5 people to connect with. Clinically, they’ve shown that if you have two to five, you are pretty good, and if you have more than that, it really makes a difference in terms of how you feel and the way you perceive whether you are lonely or not, so that’s a really tangible place where we can work to see if we can make classes more collaborative or make them a place where you feel like you can make those 2 to 5 or plus connections so that you don’t feel so lonely anymore. This is something that I really think the upperclassmen have a big onus to do, because in 1L, you don’t know what you are doing, and we want to engender that community in 1L, but you really need the upperclassmen to step up and say, “If you can’t be friends with your 1L friends, I’m not competing with you, I’m here to guide you.”
R: Do you think the personalities at Harvard have anything to do with loneliness, or is that just a blame game?
JH: I think it’s on us to create the spaces and the environment [for] people as they are. People are very situational, and we can adapt very easily and well to our environments and we know the rules and the defaults and the expectations on how we are supposed to interact, and I think most people here take for granted that 1L is this year you kind of wipe off or block out of your memory. I think we are also trying to challenge that assumption that you need to sacrifice a year of your life and throw it away and keep it in the background. Our goal is for everyone who steps through the doors here to thrive and feel like they can be a full person with a community and support system from day 1. You don’t have to put life on hold, and the idea that that’s a norm or expectation is something we’re really fighting against.
LD: I think that yes, there is a baseline level of really outstanding people at Harvard, and to have achieved so much, you need to have extraordinary drive and a competitive edge, and you definitely need to know how to perform well. But regardless of all that, I think that Jonathan has hit it right on the dot. It’s about the environment. There’s a lot of studies about this at HKS; you walk into a classroom, and they have you sit in a half-circle, and everybody’s facing each other on the half-circle, and everyone is guaranteed to be more combative, whereas if you put everybody at those small tables like the ones in WCC 3016, everybody is almost guaranteed to be more collaborative. The physical spaces that we encounter are an environmental way that we can make people feel less combative and more collaborative.
R: Where do you think SG has the most power to get things done?
JH: I think it comes down to community. We have the power to combat and provide a hopeful alternative to this pandemic of loneliness and lack of connectivity.
LD: The other thing SG has is leverage, and we will continue to leverage the structural power it has to lobby the administration. The administration has chosen a formalist method of communicating with students, mainly through regular meetings with SG. We want to bring student concerns to those meetings, and I think that’s happened really effectively this year. They have to hear our thoughts, whether they want to or not.
R: What leverage do students have outside SG?
JH: I think there’s a lot of leverage points. One is protest. Student voice. The other is student government, whom they elect to represent them, and the third is financial. The school exists because we let it exist. I think that’s really important to always remember and keep in the back of our minds when we propose change and want change to happen. We are the creators, the lifeblood and purpose of this institution.
LD: There’s a couple aspects of financial [leverage]. There’s withholding senior gift, which is kind of the nuclear option, but it’s always an option. Students become alumni and then donate back to the school, and so that correlation between how much you donate generally has to do with how you felt at that school. By creating a school where students feel like they had a great experience, that it was worth it for them, that’s how you are going to get better alumni donations.
The other way is hitting them on the front end, with ASW, and the way we interact with admitted students. In the end, the students themselves, and SG in particular, have incredible leverage over admitted students, and what admitted students get here, considering we house a lot of them [during ASW] and in those ways, the administration has to work with us, especially when it comes to admitted students. Otherwise, it’s going to take a huge chunk of change to house all these students, and then convince all those students without any current students convincing them themselves.
R: What do you think are the most significant legal problems facing America at this moment, and what role do you see for HLS students and for SG in those issues?
JH: We are all now aware of the access to justice crisis, and most of civil legal needs being unmet. It’s a pretty drastic crisis facing the American community writ large, and we think HLS should be at the forefront and a leader in combating it.
LD: One of the ways that SG has been really helpful is that we want to support public service students as much as we can. One of the things SG facilitates is the bar prep courses, and how students going into private law can sponsor a student going into public interest law, and that has been one way that we’ve been able to shift the balance in terms of giving people access to justice, make sure people going into public service continue to do that. The other thing we are actively addressing is mental health. We know that that’s a crisis among the nation’s lawyers. We run parallel to most of the other surveys that show that lawyers have a disproportionate amount of depression, anxiety, and hopefully we get the data on suicidal ideation. These are issues that are facing the entire legal profession. We have the data now, and we want to be on the forefront.
R: What do you plan to do in the next year to get transparency in terms of tuition growth, and what changes would you like to push for in LIPP?
LD: The Coalition to Reform LIPP has been really effective in all of their negotiations with Dean Manning and with SFS, and we just want to continue to support them. SG passed a resolution with 100% support of the coalition’s goals. They have really great tangible goals that we think could really be achieved, such as transition time being changed. We acknowledge how fantastic their work has been, so I think that SG is going to continue to put our weight behind the coalition and look at ways we can get more student involvement in re-evaluation of the LIPP program and the discussions that we think are so crucial to making sure students who go into public service can live viable, healthy lives that support their families and are fulfilling to them.
JH: In the matter of transparency, we have to lead by example. We are committed to being fully transparent about how we are spending our costs and what they are going towards. Another thing to complement the ongoing longer-term advocacy push for administrative action is tapping into the talent in the HLS community with the centralized landing page and data repository that students have control over. The idea is to complement long-term, incremental policy advocacy with our own data, talent and control. We can take steps now.
R: Let’s touch on the innovation hub more. How would it address informational asymmetry?
JH: My parents are immigrants, so I’m new to law school. I think this has a disproportionate negative impact on students who are first generation and students who come from minority backgrounds. The information asymmetry gap only grows as you feel more and more distant and less connected and less in the in-group. That’s why we are so committed to breaking that barrier. The idea is from mental health data, to employment data, to interviewing data, to class data, evaluations, grades, anything that drives unnecessarily stress and ambiguity and uncertainty and competition, we think that this can, downstream, promote the kind of culture and community that we are talking about, because we’re competing in spaces that we don’t need to.
LD: We can table at orientation, so we can be there right when you hit the ground, and say, “If you have a question, why don’t you go to our website and it’ll link you to the right answer,” is one way that we can address this information asymmetry, and I’m hoping to reboot TooDope to be as updated as HLSDope was, so that it also has EIP instructions, it also has clerkship instructions, it’ll also have even more of the student given feedback and that student information, because right now, it is really effective for outlines and course evals, but we want it to be even more expansive than that so that students who aren’t part of those groups that give you those types of banks, that don’t have all of that institutional knowledge about how to get a clerkship or how to get a good grade, all of those students will now be able to access this in a really equalizing way. That really needs to start right at orientation.
R: If you two put together a page for feedback and ideas, what are you going to do to keep it from becoming a meme page?
LD: Actually do what they tell us to do. I think thats how you prevent anything from becoming a joke, is if something gets done. If somebody posts on that page “Hey, the water fountain is broken on the third floor,” and then suddenly, it’s fixed, and we post a picture saying ‘oh look it works again,’ then that’s the way that you prevent it from being a joke. If people start posting more substantive stuff, and we also get that done and we give you updates on it, then I think thats how you prevent anything from becoming a joke. I love a good joke, I love a good meme, I’m one of the more active people on Law School T14 memes, but that’s because I see that as a place for that, and I see our responsive page as a place for people to really voice their concerns. I feel like they need to know that we take what people tell us really seriously.
JH: One example of this is, there was a 1L student who was frustrated at the fact that there are so many amazing lunches and dinners on campus and so much food, and that it’s really hard to know where to go for what. So he was a talented coder, and he pulled together this tool to aggregate all of this information, and shared that in the Facebook group. These are the types of energies and passions and talents that we can tap into. These are the types of ideas that, as Leilani said, when we act upon and actually incorporate, people will realize there is a reason behind it.
R: What are you going to do to make a permanent therapy dog happen on campus?
LD: I love dogs.
LD: I totally agree that the puppy socials are few and far between, and so I think that the first step towards getting a permanent therapy dog is to show exactly how popular the puppy socials are. I can commit to getting a puppy social right at the beginning of the year. Also, I’m going to commit to getting a puppy social at finals this year. Once we have those puppy socials, we can use documented evidence to prove to the administration that there should be a permanent therapy dog.
JH: There are also a lot of students on campus who have their own dogs or therapy dogs or pets in general, and I think that we can also tap into students who already have these dogs and would love to share them with their friends. I know this already happens on an ad hoc basis, where friends post and ask other friends to dogsit for them, or play with their dogs when they are in class, and we can tap into this resource within our community to share the puppy love with everyone.