1L is as emotionally and spiritually challenging as it is academically rigorous. For many, the experience is marked by anxiety about cold calls and reading assignments. You’re also asked to make decisions about summer internships, activities, and classes well before you have a strong grasp of the law and legal profession. All of this pressure can strain your sense of identity, alienating you from who you are and where you’ve come from.
Many seek solace and find strength in affinity groups. We’re all for that. These are spaces where it’s a little easier to let your guard down. Because you share at least some life experiences with folks in your affinity group(s), you don’t have to explain (or justify) parts of yourself that are not well represented in the mainstream culture.
We hope you engage with as many affinity groups as are meaningful to your life experience. Let yourself be supported in those spaces –– be open to receiving advice and encouragement –– but also realize that you have much to offer to the non-1Ls in your group. Being an active member of a community doesn’t always entail organizing events or recruiting other students. (But those things are great and we’ll appreciate it if you choose to do them!) Sometimes, community looks like hanging out, studying together, or listening to someone.
But there are caveats too. For example, it’s possible to recreate the dynamic between dominant and subordinate groups within marginalized spaces. It might be the case that we feel small elsewhere, so we inadvertently wield the power of our group to center our own experiences. In South Asian spaces, this can look like an uncritical celebration of Bollywood, ignorance of our religious and linguistic diversity, or ambivalence toward patriarchal gestures and beliefs. We can own some of our cultural experiences, but we must also question these experiences and be open to different perspectives.
In other words, safe spaces need not be static spaces. We hope you’ll find comfort in your affinity groups, and we also hope you’ll challenge those spaces with questions and concerns about those still marginalized. Within our groups, whose voices are missing? What can we do to push the boundaries of our diversity?
Of course, this practice is not limited to affinity groups –– it can extend to law school and the legal profession as well. We should also ask whose voices are missing in our classrooms, who should be at the decision-making table in our workplaces. Law school is a good time to build this skill –– lawyers, and graduates of Harvard Law School in particular, often come to hold great institutional power and privilege. In other words, how we practice inclusion here matters.