Record: Your opponents keep saying you haven’t made any concrete changes. Have you?
Daniel Egel-Weiss: Absolutely. As Vice President of the Harvard Graduate Council this year, I founded the External Affairs Committee, which is the first advocacy subcommittee in the history of the Harvard Graduate Council. I would bring that expertise in how to advocate for Harvard students generally into the law school. Additionally, this year’s Student Government created the Hark Box, which provides a community space for all law students. We reformed the Student Funding Board, and the first weekend of orientation is now filled with community building exercises like Boda Borg and HLS Talks. So we would continue having Student Government be effective, but make it more known.
Princess Daisy Akita: Two things I want to highlight are LRW reform and the mental health survey. This year, the administration, for some reason, has been more responsive than most years in terms of making advances in the academic climate. One example, for instance, is that we changed PSW from a program that is not really interesting for most students to something that the 1Ls are themselves reporting to be more engaging and more relevant to our legal education. We are doing the same work with LRW. The administration has listened to our demands to make LRW more student-friendly. The one change that is already in the pipeline is that LRW will have more interim assessment so that there isn’t one big anxiety-inducing piece of work at the end of the semester. Every few weeks, the Climenko fellow will have an opportunity to gauge student learning and provide students with valuable feedback to improve their writing. What we want to fight for going forward is to reduce LRW class sizes. Now, we have 40 students in one class, and that, for one Climenko, is insufficient if we wanna give students individualized feedback that’s really helpful to improve their pieces. We’re advocating for a 28-person max class size so that we are hiring more Climenko fellows and making sure that students have the individualized attention they need.
On the mental health survey, Student Government advocated for a meeting with Paul Barreira in HUHS to give us the results from the mental health survey. That meeting happened and a few students were able to attend that meeting. However, the problem is, several students were unable to make that meeting. What we want is for the results to be published in an accessible form online so that every student can access these results and make sure that we communicate with each other on mental health baseline so that when we implement initiatives, we can measure how far we are coming.
Record: Let’s circle back to HLS Talks. The posters, man. They’re weird!
DEW: What we discovered at HLS Talks and something that we want to bring into Student Government is that interesting marketing techniques draw people out and draw them to major events. HLS Talks averages about 200 people per talk. It is one of the most well-attended events, and I credit those posters, in large part, for piquing people’s interest in Talks. It’s a phenomenal event, it’s a cathartic experience for everyone who comes, and it’s an opportunity, along with Parody for students to really be themselves in this environment where sometimes, we’re all a little too stiff. So the posters, as you say, may be a little different, but they’re very effective.
Record: Your platform mentions Parody. What would Student Government do to support things like Parody?
DEW: Student Government has an annual Thanksgiving event in the same space as Parody, and it is one of the most well-attended events of the year. I believe that there is enough talent on Parody so that we could have a little snippet of a show during other law school events to preview Parody. It is one of my two favorite events at Harvard Law School, Parody and HLS Talks, again, because students are their genuine selves. Student Government would support Parody to no end because it is a truly beautiful outpouring of community support for very talented students, and it really is one of the most amazing events of the year. I had an absolute blast this year.
PDA: Parody and HLS Talks are examples of existing infrastructure here at HLS that are working and that need strengthening. What we can explore is seeing what the student temperature is around using some of the resources that Student Government has to subsidize tickets to not just Parody, but Halfway through Harvard and several of these big, cultural events so that everybody at HLS can afford to go and we are not having people not attend Parody because it’s $25. It’s about making sure that these spaces are accessible to every single student.
Record: Since it’s nomination-based, how do we make sure that HLS Talks is representative of everyone and not just the students everyone already knows?
DEW: I’ve had an incredibly diverse set of people nominated for HLS Talks. We have had every demographic represented as a speaker at HLS Talks. We pride ourselves on getting every single voice heard.
PDA: I hear your concern about inclusivity. Feeling included at Harvard has been a continual lived experience for me. I am a black woman, and I first came to Harvard in 2010 from Ghana. For my first few years at Harvard, I definitely felt like I was not represented in the big spaces, in the visible things. Currently, I work as a resident tutor at Dunster House, and this question is always at the forefront of my mind: how do I get the quieter students, the students who are minorities, the students who may not be legacy Harvard kids to feel like HLS belongs to them, that we are all Harvard University? What I have learned in my work and in my experience is that you definitely, unquestionably need visible representation. You need that small, first mass of people to break into that environment and say, “we are here, we are poor people, or we’re black, or we’re brown people, and we want to build a community that will draw in other black and brown people, other low income people, and other people who have not been as accustomed to Harvard.” So when you build on that network effect, when people see themselves represented in places like Parody and HLS Talks, we can achieve some change, but we always need that first intentional push to make it happen.
Record: You mentioned the disparities in Latin Honors and clerkships. How do you think Student Government could help with those things? The issues with clerkships largely seem political; everybody knows which students are circumventing the Clerkship Hiring Pilot and it’s not the Democrats.
DEW: Student Government is uniquely positioned to advocate for all students. We cannot control what the federal judiciary will do or what the faculty will do, but we can present the stories of our students to the entire university and the administration. And what we’ve heard is that it’s most beneficial for most students to have the hiring process in place if, for no other reason, than that 1Ls, after their very first year, can breathe for a little while before needing to worry about what’s the next step. We feel very strongly that we would advocate well on behalf of those students for the Hiring Pilot because most students are for the Hiring Pilot.
[The Latin Honors disparity] is one of our core issues in terms of leveling the playing field. We strongly believe that working with the administration, we would be able to identify implicit biases that exist in the law school that make this disparity what it is. It makes absolutely no sense that women would be less likely to get Latin Honors than men. It should not be the case, and there’s no reason for it. What we want to do is advocate on behalf of all students so that every person who goes to this school has an equal opportunity to get a Latin Honor when they graduate.
PDA: We know that the administration supports the Clerkship Hiring Pilot, and we know that because they’ve implemented this process over the past year. What we are seeing now is what I would call growing pains. We are in the first year of the rollout of a program, and we are seeing a really big defect in that program. Given the administration’s willingness to institute this program to begin with, we are fairly confident that the administration is willing to tackle the gaps this program still has head on. They will be receptive to our advocacy saying, “this is a great program, but we need to make sure that it’s being followed.” The administration can change things; they can change federal judges’ minds, and we’re gonna push and make sure that they do it.
One core issue that I think affects my own learning as a woman at HLS is the diversity of the faculty at HLS. I noticed this as a 1L sitting in several of my classes, that in classes where we had women faculty, the women in my class were more likely to engage, volunteer, and have their voices heard. I believe that each one of those things leads to better learning and better learning outcomes. So if we want to fix the problem of Latin Honors, we need to fix the problem of who is teaching HLS students. We need to make sure that we are hiring more diverse faculty, not just women, not just people of color, but people with interests from across the spectrum. People who are interested in discussing Critical Race Theory and the atypical topic that we shy away from at HLS.
Record: Nobody likes LRW. How would you improve LRW if you could?
PDA: One key thing with LRW is that we see significant disparities in the quality of instruction that students experience. So there’s one thing, hiring new instructors, which we will push for, but there’s a second issue, which is standardizing the instruction. One thing will we really have at heart is making sure that the quality of Climenko fellows and the delivery of content is standardized. We want training for these Climenkos in a way that makes sure that every student is experiencing similar content in the LRW classroom. The second element to that is the BSA experience. I had a BSA who was really supportive of my learning, but not all of my classmates had that, and we want to make sure that when BSAs are coming in, they have standardized training across board so 1Ls know what to expect and know that what they should expect is impeccable tuition. That’s what we’re paying for.
Record: I’m sure all my friends who are BSAs do a great job, but since we all know not everyone had a good BSA, how should we improve the BSA intake process?
DEW: I think quality BSAs begin with quality Climenko fellows. So hiring more consistent Climenkos with greater diversity would translate to BSAs being able to teach the rules of legal writing in a better way that more people can understand. That is a very exciting prospect, and we’re ready to get started on that.
PDA: I have two key ideas about improving the BSA experience. One is related to hiring, and the second is related to training. I’m a student attorney with HLAB, and HLAB is very intentional about hiring diverse students because the people we represent are themselves diverse, and we want to make sure we’re solving the people’s problems. I think the BSA should do the same. I think that BSAs should intentionally reach out to groups like WLA and BLSA so we are making sure the BSA team fairly represents the Harvard student body. We cannot have 60 black 1Ls and have less than 2 black BSAs. That is just a problem that needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed now! There’s no waiting.
The second is to make sure that through training, we are having the BSAs know that the experience needs to be standardized. We can’t have one BSA say that “this is okay, this feels fine to me” and another BSA having a page of critique. If we know exactly, spelled out, specifically what the expectation should be, I think we will more likely have that expectation play out.
Record: Another thing in your platform was open office hours. Why do you think they’re so uncommon?
DEW: The faculty at Harvard Law School have a lot of agency in determining what they want to do and who they want to meet with and how they want to go about being professors here. I had a student today ask me if it was hard to become an RA. He was a transfer student, and he didn’t know. And I said, “it shouldn’t be, you should be able to meet with whatever professor you want and at least inquire,” and he responded to me, “I can’t even get a meeting with one of these professors.” At Harvard Law School, where we are paying so much in tuition, and we are expecting the greatest education, everyone’s doors should be open to us for at least a conversation. Advocating for open office hours for all faculty would ease the burden of trying to make a name for yourself here academically and would provide unparalleled opportunities because we are at a fantastic institution with the best legal minds in the world. It is a long-term project, it is something the administration has signaled they are open to, and PD and I would be willing to work to convince the faculty that it would be good for them.
PDA: I think the issue here is making sure every student feels comfortable approaching faculty members. The lower the barrier, the more likely it is students are going to want to step out and engage.
Record: The streaky printers keep coming up. What’s a-goin’ on?
DEW: The administration already has plans to replace the printers with new printers that have staplers inside of them. You can select to staple multiple pages together before you print, and when the sheets come out, they’re already stapled. Harvard Business School does this, Harvard Law School will do this, our opponents have focused on this issue, it is a non-issue.
PDA: I’m glad that Student Government has been able to get this done, to build consensus among the administration that we need to get new printers. We are excited to see the implementation, and we will be ready to hold the administration to task if this does not go on schedule.
Record: Why do you think there’s such a poor retention rate in Student Government?
DEW: I think Jonathan had an amazing opportunity to move to Iowa to run a Presidential campaign in Iowa. Mayor Perkins moved to his hometown because he could become the mayor. Princess Daisy and I are trying to graduate from law school. I think there’s a very high likelihood that we will be here until the end of the year. My parents would not be happy if I left Harvard Law early, and I would not be happy to leave here early. I think those two other situations are unique, I really do, and taking those in a vacuum does not speak to the level of commitment of most people in Student Government.
PDA: I am not American, so nobody is going to hire me for their campaign. That’s a for-sure.
Record: How does not being American shape your role in Student Government?
PDA: It has put me in that posture of being an outsider, and I think that means I have developed empathy for people who might be embodying the position that I find myself in. They may, like me, not be part of the mainstream and might not feel as though they are sufficiently welcome. For me, what that means is I have been intentional about creating community. I very much believe that Daniel and I are gonna take that spirit into leading this institution in a way that’s inclusive to every voice.
Record: Pet therapy in your platform means more dogs, right?
DEW: Oh yes.
PDA: Absolutely more dogs, absolutely more cats… maybe more birds?
DEW: Maybe we can look into birds. I have cats at home, and I love cats. Dogs, I know, are much more personable, and we look forward to petting more dogs under our co-presidency.
Record: Your opponents are dead set on getting Belinda Hall recognized. Are you equally committed to making that happen?
DEW: As far as I’m concerned, it’s already Belinda Hall, and it’s a matter of having the Administration officially recognize it. This is a minor point, and it will happen insofar as it is a matter of time.
PDA: And by time, just so we’re clear, we mean hitting the ground running at the end of this month if we’re elected and making sure that that’s one of the first things that we take to Dean Sells and Dean Manning. We need a label in the hall that says Belinda Hall. I’d like to comment on the spirit of the hall, because I do feel very much attached to the space. I was a college senior when the first agitations that began the birth of Belinda Hall started. When we had Black Lives Matter movements and we had the incident with the tape over the professors’ faces. I followed closely when we had students sitting in this space day in and day out protesting and getting Harvard Law School to act. This space held our stories. This space was where we gathered as HLS students and we listened and we talked and we mobilized. I firmly believe in the space, and I believe in naming it Belinda Hall. We’re here to make that happen.
Record: Is there anything you’d like to do as co-presidents that you don’t think you could necessarily do with the resources you have?
PDA: I would like to see more joy in law school. I think law school can be a drudgery for many people, and we tend to be very individualized and very siloed, and it’s not sufficiently social. In my utopia, everyone, despite the challenges and the very hard academic curriculum, can experience joy on a daily basis.
DEW: I have found that I’ve done better at law school when I’ve felt more comfortable here, and I become more comfortable when I meet people who I actually trust and enjoy telling my story to. I want to provide more opportunities for students to tell their stories so they feel more comfortable here, the imposter syndrome melts away, we all know that we can do well here, and as PD said, increasing joy is absolutely the #1 thing. My mom used to say every time I’d go on a play date, “you have one rule, have fun!” We have one life, have fun! That’s it. I want to do that in law school, I want to do that in my life in general, and PD and I are the only candidates who can make that happen.
Record: What do you think students can do here to increase their joy?
PDA: It comes down to eliminating some of the highly stressful situations that people experience as 1Ls and the overextension that people sometimes experience as 2Ls and 3Ls. Some key aspect is that we want to make sure that if we know of a structure or process that inherently causes angst, we eliminate it. Clerkships were one, LRW assessments only at the end of the semester was another one. Intrasection cohesion would be an affirmative step in creating that joy. Several sections have disparities in how their section leader interacts with them. Some section leaders go all out, like Professor Hanson with the Tortys. People in their section end up getting married. On the other side, you have section leaders who are less involved in the social life of their section, and if we can standardize that section experience, like a three or four bullet requirement that every section leader must meet, those are some of the tangible things we can do to make sure 1Ls and all students are experiencing joy. We should also increase the frequency of the pet therapy and massage chairs. The high stress moments of the semester are not just at the beginning or the end.
DEW: Something I would do to increase joy is increase networking across graduate schools at Harvard. In a couple of weeks, we have an HLS/Harvard Medical School mixer taking place here at the Pub. Increasing opportunities to talk to people outside of the law school would make the everyday experience of students a lot better, and I’m excited to continue doing that.
Record: Anything else?
PDA: Gratitude. We are very grateful to student leaders on campus, to the members of the student body who have been fighting for causes, who have given their energy to the things that we’ve cared about since day 1. We hope that we can gain the confidence of the student body to take that energy forward, to carry their voices to greater heights, but now we are just thankful for all the hard work the students are already doing.
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