Micah Burbanks-Ivey ’21, Noelle Graham ’21, Josh Martin ’21, and Daniel Sieradzki ’21: Candidates for 2L Representative

Micah Burbanks-Ivey

Record: Why did you decide to run for 2L Rep?

Micah Burbanks-Ivey: I was the 1L Representative for Section 1, so I was able to see how Student Government worked. As a 1L, I didn’t do too much. One of the things I’m working on right now for Student Government is Prison Divestment, but what I really saw is a need for diversity on Student Government. Having more diverse voices on Student Government could bring some issues that I find important to the forefront to make sure that those don’t get overlooked when we talk about the important things that Student Government does.

Record: Can you expand on those issues that are, or might be, overlooked?

MBI: There are three things that are on the top of my mind. The first is greater representation and diversity. Not only in the type of people that are in organizations like Student Government, but also in faculty. One thing I was shocked to learn is that there is only one tenured Latinx professor at Harvard Law School, and that shocked me, and is something I really want to try to address next year.

Another thing is that I want to make sure that everyone has a voice. Going through 1L, I noticed that there’s some conflict in our section with some people not feeling that they’re being heard or that their voices could be expressed, and that’s something I want to address. I don’t know exactly how, but I think that’s an important thing.

The last thing is related to the second one: greater political and ideological debate. I want to make sure that people can be heard, that both sides of the aisle can talk about issues, can feel like they are in a space where they can be heard and not judged, and where you can have a true ideological debate. I think this is something that’s missing. I’m very progressive, but I also recognize that a lot of my conservative friends sometimes feel that they aren’t allowed to speak. Regardless of whether that’s true or not, if they feel that way, it’s important as Student Government and Representatives that these communities and political groups can speak about what’s concerning them, that they won’t be judged and we can have this ideological debate that can be fostered.

Record: Is there anything you know you want to accomplish as a part of Student Government next year?

MBI: One thing is prison divestment. I’m in the process of writing a bill now, but it seems like it’s going to be a longer process. We’re starting off with greater transparency between the investment office, basically looking at where the endowment is invested. Currently, students are only allowed to see 1-5% of where it’s invested.

Another thing I want to push next year is to try to include more affinity groups onto Student Government and have a permanent place for them. I know a lot of people of color, especially 1Ls, don’t necessarily feel comfortable running in their section. They’re in this new environment that they may not feel comfortable in, and I think that can sometimes translate into less representation on student bodies that actually make important decisions. I want to try to work with the affinity groups and have a permanent place where their voices can be heard and make sure that the important issues are being talked about, because I don’t really know or presume to know everything. I think having more representation on the actual board and having some voting power will be immensely helpful in how we talk about issues.

Record: Would that be something different than the current Diversity and Inclusion position on Student Government?

MBI: Yes. Something a little more expansive than that. Something that’s more interactive. It could have different people from BLSA, APALSA, La Alianza, and LAMBDA actually be able to come be a part of this conversation. Harvard has a lot of diversity, but it has a lot of steps it can take to make this school more comfortable and more welcoming to everyone who comes here.

RecordIs there anything you think is beyond your, or Student Government’s, control that you would like to change?

MBI: I know there’s a lot of work this year about the LRW curriculum. That’s something that other people on Student Government have worked on, but I think our power is really limited. There is a curriculum change for next year that the Dean discussed, but I wish I could really affect how LRW is taught. I think the issue with LRW is that you enter this class and each person enters with a different level of legal knowledge. Because the time designated to teaching and giving feedback on the actual assignments is so low, these academic inequalities and different levels of experience aren’t really addressed by LRW. I don’t really think it thinks about that very often. If I could change one thing, it would definitely be how that’s taught so people could actually get more instruction and more feedback on their papers, and perhaps actually more time to just learn what legal writing is, how to do it, and the relevance of it.

Record: Beyond Student Government, what other commitments do you have on campus that are important to you personally?

MBI: I’m in First Class, BLSA, and HLEP. I think those are all really important to shaping how I want to be a lawyer and a student representative.

Record: What do you think distinguishes you from your cohort of 2L reps?

MBI: The other 2L reps are all great people, and I’ve worked with a lot of them on Student Government this year, but I think I offer a very different perspective. I worked in policy around immigration, veteran services, and reunion activism before coming here. I’m from a low-income background. I’m black. I’m not saying that it makes me completely different, but I think those shape my perspective as a person of color coming to an institution that is predominantly white and higher-income. I think that changes the way I view things. One thing I really love about First Class is that the organization looks at how structural things at HLS are catered towards people who can afford it. I’m lucky enough to have worked, so I don’t deal with all of those problems, but it provides the perspective of realizing just how expensive law school is. I want to focus on the perspective of the people who are here and are represented here, but may not always be heard in those situations.

Noelle Graham

Record: Why are you running for 2L Rep?

Noelle Graham: I was a 1L Rep. I saw it as an opportunity to get involved. I didn’t do student government in undergrad because it felt very big; I went to a UC, so I didn’t see a lot of opportunity to actually do anything, but since HLS is a lot smaller, I felt that it would be more impactful. The year was revealing in terms of what could actually be accomplished. I think some things we do have a say in, but I’m more realistic than optimistic at this point. I have this experience, I know what has worked and hasn’t worked, so I wanted to use that experience to do more little things that I think will be easier to accomplish.

Record: Could you describe some of those little changes?

NG: Some people from my section have wanted brown rice sushi, which shouldn’t be difficult to accomplish, but is more annoying than it sounds. Or a new water filter in the Hark, because that one’s kind of weird in terms of the sensor. Just little things that make life at HLS a little less annoying each day. I think it is good to keep bigger goals in mind, but I think to have that background of smaller, more easily accomplished things is good. Some of the bigger things would be LRW reform or getting national elections to be holidays.

Record: What other commitments do you have on campus that are important to you?

NG: I’m also in La Alianza. That’s probably the most significant. I’m a member of West Coast Club and WLA. Those I probably focus a little less attention on. They’re big organizations.

Record: What distinguishes you from the other three people running?

NG: The most obvious thing is that I’m the only woman running. I’m the only person in La Alianza running. I think I’m the only person from California running. Not to say that all people on the West Coast are the same, but I think [we] try to do things in a more relaxed manner. I try to focus on building relationships first. What the 2Ls do have in common is that we have very similar goals in terms of improving life at HLS. I just think we’re a good group.

Record: Is there anything you’d like to change about HLS that you see as beyond your control?

NG: A more diverse faculty would bring a lot of welcome change. It’s not Student Government’s decision; we can engage the administration to look at things a certain way, but we don’t make the final decision. People are always going to come to HLS, so we can’t hang that over their heads. They know that even if they change nothing, it would be fine.

Record: Do you think HLS should have more, fewer, or about the same number of dogs?

NG: More furry creatures in general around, maybe not so much tarantulas. I think it would be cool to have therapy dogs like Daniel was saying. That’s another thing, HLS clearly needs to hire 20 to 30 more therapists. They know the solution, they know they need to hire more people, but they’re not doing it. As much as we push mental health initiatives, HLS knows what they have to do. We can have all these talks and massage chairs, but at the end of the day, we just need more, and they’re not willing to do that right now.

Record: Anything else?

NG: I think it would be nice to see more engagement in the students. It will be more impactful what we say if we can get everyone behind us.

Josh Martin

Record: Why did you decide to run for 2L Rep?

Josh Martin: I’m a straight-through student, and I was involved in student government in undergrad as well. I was a 1L Representative this year at HLS, and I think that I’m one of the few people who believe that Student Government can be an agent of happiness and a community. I’m willing to put in the work because I like to fight on behalf of my peers and I like to try to be tuned in to what’s going on around our campus.

In terms of specific issues that I think are really important to the student consciousness, right now mental health is at the top of that list. Schools around the country are not taking responsibility for their students. Between ages 18-25 is the time when most people who develop anxiety and depression first see symptoms. Most people start law school during that window, and this is a very vulnerable time for a lot of people because it’s a very stressful environment and most people haven’t been in anything quite like this before, so that’s something that we need to continue to push. I know it’s been an ongoing battle, and it’s not like we’re going to solve mental health as Student Government, but we can continue to advocate for more events and more self-care.

Aside from that, something that I’ve been working on in the past semester as a 1L rep was trying to reform LRW. Coming in here, it was the first thing that I really didn’t like about HLS. It caused quite a lot of stress in specific pockets. I think it’s something that can be bettered and has a real opportunity to be experimental. Harvard does a pretty good job but is relatively resistant to change academically, and that’s an area which I think is more open to change than many other areas. It’s a win-win and we have an opportunity to fix something that I think most people would consider broken, and also experiment with a different way of doing things and reward different ways that people think a little bit. Last semester, I ran a survey that over 200 1Ls took about their LRW experience and brought up a proposal on how to change it. I’m working with administration now to see what that could look like, likely 2 years down the road. I know that that’s not something that’s going to happen now, but I’m not in this to claim credit. I’m in this because I think that HLS would be better for it and it will make the future a happier place.

The last thing is that I think that there’s a role for Student Government to harness the greatness that there is in the quality of people at this school, and solve some collective action problems around that. One of the things that is a baby step towards doing that, that they’re already doing and has been really successful in my opinion, is HLS Talks. It’s incredible. These are people who are taking a lot of their own time and being very vulnerable and opening up, but it’s such a powerful experience if you’ve ever sat in that room and seen the community building. And this is only harnessing one of the skills that we have. I think that there are some events that Student Government is uniquely good at bringing together when it comes to getting the most out of the amazing people that are out here that otherwise wouldn’t happen because the administration is not the right place to do it, and there’s no specific interest group.

Going along the lines of bringing students together, the other thing is being an advocate with the administration on behalf of different interest groups and bringing affinity groups together. Everyone here wants to have the most impactful time in law school. It’s such an amazing place with such amazing people, and it’s really hard to facilitate these conversations and these events. We’re uniquely positioned as, hopefully, a diverse group of people, at least in terms of interests, backgrounds, and people that we know. We can bring together groups that otherwise wouldn’t be making the most of their time here. In that sense, we’re more servants than leaders, in the sense that we can’t drive those conversations without buy-in from people around the school. That’s really hard to get, because noone trusts in Student Government. Especially when we don’t have elections. That’s one of the big things that I miss the most, running in an uncontested election now. When I was running in undergrad, it was a much more intensive process, where you’re going from organization to organization, meeting all these people who have their corner of campus. That is a really cool, unique, powerful thing, and we missed that opportunity here. I would definitely be looking to try to up engagement.

Record: Is there anything you know you want to accomplish as a part of Student Government next year?

JM: The first priority is to continue this fight on LRW. I think there’s a lot of popular support around it and it’s the rare one where the incentives, in terms of students and the administration, are generally aligned. The administration wants to have law students be better writers when they go out into internships and jobs. They want law students to be happy. These are two things that we’re all on the same page on, so it’s a big project that isn’t an overnight win and is not something in which we’re going to get to design everything. But it is a project where, for the next generation of law students, which I count as three years, it will be different. This is an opportunity I’m excited to be a part of.

I want to create more events and I want to be doing this outreach. There is a competitive co-presidents’ race right now, and a lot of different organizations have been reaching out to the co-presidents, asking them to write them their platform on particular subjects to know who to vote for and who’s going to be an ally for them. Since I’m not in a competitive race, I’m less involved in that. I really want to reach out to people who have interest areas that are outside of my expertise, because they’re the people who are going to be able to best drive that discussion. It’s an area where we can help make impact. We’re well-funded, we have a lot of manpower and we don’t always use it the best that we can. I will be more effective starting next Fall than I was this past Fall, knowing what I know now and having the relationships I have now. That’s when I’ll really be ready to start hosting events that are more fun or intellectually stimulating along the lines of an HLS Talks or something different. I don’t know exactly what that is right now, but there’s room for it. There are opportunities that people get excited about and I know that as students we can make this happen. Some of the highlights of the year are entirely student-run things, like Parody. That obviously has way more buy-in and establishment and is a group of incredibly skilled people. But the students in this school can make amazing things in their free time, and that’s what I’m taking away from that experience.

Record: Is there anything you think is beyond your, or Student Government’s, control that you would like to change?

JM: Absolutely. There are limited things that we can do, for all sorts of reasons. We have an obligation to be advocates and to launch the student voice in those areas. There’s a prison divestment movement that’s going on right now. We can probably amplify voices, and we can probably pass a resolution and grant support for what they’re asking for, but we don’t have control and don’t even know what’s in the endowment fund. There are a lot of things that go on in the classroom, especially, that we do not have a ton of autonomy over at all. We can be in this long-term advocacy role. We really understand that we’re better suited to bringing happiness and continuity outside of the classroom more so than in the classroom. There are 200 years of HLS history in the way that things are done. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t explain where there is dissatisfaction, but we also shouldn’t waste our breath where there’s going to be deaf ears for entrenched reasons. I think it’s outside the classroom where we can make more of an impact as opposed to inside the classroom, the exception being LRW because there’s a hunger for change that starts within the administration too. People don’t really see how aligned our goals actually are on a day-to-day basis. I think one of the things that is a reality is that law school is going to be difficult, even if we change it and we do focus on different ways of learning. Right now, I think law school, for the most part, favors a certain type of learner. There’s a method that is predominant. But I think that even if there are massive changes in the way that law is taught and experienced, it’s still going to be very challenging for most people. I think that that’s a shortcoming here.

Record: Beyond Student Government, what other commitments do you have on campus that are important to you personally?

JM: Student Government is probably one of my top commitments. I really want to get more involved in a clinic. I’m involved in HLPR, which is backed by ACS. I’m involved in the Journal on Legislation, which is a bipartisan journal focused on proposals that go in front of Congress. I like that I’m involved in both of those because they both speak to different values that I have. Being involved in HLPR allows me to be engaged with people who are having the discussion about what is the future of progressive politics, and that’s why I really enjoyed being a policy editor with them, which is a role of determining what gets in the journal, what we publish, what we think is the theme that’s going to be the theme of now.

JoL is really important to me because I like having conversations with people who disagree with me. I think it will go a long way. I understand that there are times when those conversations break down for a very good reason, and there are times when civility isn’t the most important thing. But I would say that we’ve lost the opportunity to be civil in times where there are working partnerships that can work, and so in terms of leadership opportunities, I know that I’m not going to agree with every single thing that happens in active Student Government, and that’s where JoL comes in hand to know when to compromise and when to take a stand. Both can be valuable, and both can yield positive results at different times, and it’s kind of a metaphor for why I’m involved in journals that have such different outlooks on what’s happening within our legal-political-social world out there.

Record: What do you think distinguishes you from your cohort of 2L reps?

JM: I don’t really like the comparative with my peers, because I think we all bring amazing things to the table. It’s one of the real positives for me personally about not having to be in a contested election, because I think everyone here is so incredible and offers a lot to the conversation and brings a lot to the table. One of the things I think I bring to the table is an open mind and an ability to listen. I really think that one of the reasons why I was elected in a contested race for 1L Representative and in other circumstances in the past is that people have a very easy time trusting me and confiding in me, because I earn their trust with my discretion, work ethic, and genuine care for what’s going on.

That’s a call-out to anyone with a great idea, or an insecurity, or anything. I can be your advocate, whether it’s from a position of power or a position of weakness. I’m not going to judge you for either. I know that I can’t govern alone, because obviously I’m a rep, but beyond that I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. I’m one of 1,500 brilliant people here just among the JD candidates, plus the LLMs and SJDs. By no means have I cornered the market on good ideas, and I can’t represent people without these conversations, so I’m really excited to drive these conversations with people that also think that we can make a difference and that want to have people on their team. My strength is taking something and running with it after hearing people out and not making it my own, or credit-claiming when it’s other peoples’ ideas. Everything that I hope to accomplish, and I hope to accomplish a lot, will be behalf of someone else and because of someone else next year.

Daniel Sieradzki

Record: Why are you running for 2L Rep?

Daniel Sieradzki: I felt that mental health resources were there, but people didn’t know about them, and they weren’t spread out throughout the semester. 1L is extremely stressful, and I felt that they had a lot of good things near the end of the semester, like walk-in counseling and massages, which was nice, but by then it was too little, too late. The beginning of the semester was great! We went to Boda Borg during orientation, so that was a really fun start, and then good stuff at the end, which is not enough in the middle. I think self-care is a big thing that is lacking. We should have therapy dogs just around that you can pet. Just little things like that wouldn’t take very long, and I think it’s very doable.

Record: So you’re in support of more dogs on campus?
DS: Yes. I think it would have to be in a designated area, just because of people with allergies. I know at Yale you can check out a dog at the library if you’re feeling stressed out. We should have that.

Record: Are there any specific things you’d like to do as 2L Rep?

DS: More therapy dogs. They had a thing where they brought in the dogs that hang out at the Smith Center, but just once in the semester. I would like to do a weekly dog day where they bring them here. Another thing I wanna do as 2L Rep is more opportunities for people in different sections to get to know each other. I know that’s more of a 1L thing, but I can see that continuing on into 2L where you still sit with your sectionmates during classes. I would like some event where people from different sections get to hang out with each other, where that’s arranged. I was thinking of a board game night where people from different sections get teamed up together just so they get to hang out and work together cooperatively.

Record: Is there anything you’d like to change at HLS that you see as beyond your control?

DS: I think the biggest problem is that people don’t feel comfortable sharing their viewpoints. There’s a certain viewpoint that’s accepted that’s left of center, and I’m left, but I had the idea that people with different viewpoints would come together under a tree and share their different ideas. That’s how I imagined Harvard. I want to hear views from the right, from the left, from the center, but I find when things get tense, people just get quiet. In Crim Law class, I think there’d be some fascinating discussions, but they never happen because people don’t want to say anything that might offend. Which is good, you don’t want to say offensive things, but if you never say anything at all, there’s no point to it, and that’s frustrating. So how could we create a safe space where people feel comfortable sharing their viewpoint? It’s hard to speak your mind if you have anything other than a really safe opinion. It takes away from our learning experience when people don’t feel comfortable sharing their opinion, and the few times they do share their opinion, they’re virtually crucified. People will talk about them behind their back. People are in cliques, and will say “oh, that’s the Republican.” They’re outcasted. Being realistic, it’s really hard to change that. That’s just a problem in our country right now.

Record: What other commitments do you have on campus that are important to you?

DS: I’m on HELR. The environment, coming from Hawaii, is really important to me. I’m also on the Harvard Immigration Project. My parents were immigrants. I’m helping my mom get her citizenship right now, and navigating that, so it’s very personal to me helping people navigate the process and helping people fill out the paperwork, getting it done and getting a fee waiver.

Record: What do you think distinguishes you from the other candidates?

DS: I come from a low-income background. My mom was a single mother and raised my sister and me. We went to food banks [and] charities because we just had no money. My mom worked two jobs, but Hawaii is expensive. Once my dad and my mom split up, he was just out of our lives and didn’t support us at all. I started working when I was 16 to help pay the bills, and it taught me to be very resourceful and not be ashamed of seeking help. We got electricity cut off, which is a nightmare because you have to pay not only what you owed, but also an extra month. How are you supposed to pay an extra month if you couldn’t pay the first one? And then all the food in your fridge goes bad, it’s just horrible. But again, we were resourceful. We had a portable DVD player that we would charge at Borders and then we’d bring that home and watch that and that was our entertainment. It also taught me to take advantage of the resources around me, because there are people who want to help, but you have to go out there. That’s also why mental health is important to me. In one way, those experiences make you stronger, but they also make you very on edge.

The other thing is coming from Hawaii and seeing how a community can be done right, where people come together from different cultures. After a hurricane, people come together in a way that I thought was really impressive. I’d rather be in Hawaii during a catastrophe than anywhere on the mainland. People would run to Costco to stockpile water, but they were still helping each other out. There are problems in Hawaii, but there are some really great things I’d love to bring to HLS.

Record: Anything else?

DS: Another one of my goals is just making people more aware of Student Government. I do feel like people don’t know enough. I think Student Government does a good job, but there needs to be more of a connection. That would be something I’d want to look into: is there a school that did that right?

Merve Ciplak & Kate Thoreson

Merve Ciplak is a 1L, and Kate Thoreson is a 3L. Merve is a staff writer, and Kate Thoreson is the editor-in-chief of The Record.
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