As it became clear that COVID-19’s restrictions on in-person gatherings would last well into the 2020-21 academic year, students considered how their Law School experiences might change, and wondered how they could stay connected in a virtual environment. There were immediate questions about planning large-scale events and finding opportunities to bond and build community. Soon, other pressing concerns arose—about attending virtual classes in different time zones, accessing the technology required for remote learning, and more.
In these challenges, the Law Students Association (LSA) saw an opportunity—not only to address student concerns, but to proactively find ways to enrich the student experience as much as possible during a difficult time.
“Our motto this year has been ‘Where is there a problem, and how can we fix it?’” said LSA President Joseph Ludmir, ’21. “That’s driven a lot of our initiatives, and every single member of our team has helped to make them happen.”
A number of new initiatives sponsored by LSA—a student organization that functions as the Law School’s student government—have centered on building community. In addition to planning Zoom trivia nights, remote happy hours, and a virtual scavenger hunt, LSA also organized a student-run wellness event series called Law School Love, and created a newsletter to help keep everyone informed.
Other initiatives have focused on classroom equity, ensuring that all students, no matter their resources, are able to fully engage in the Law School experience. Over the summer, LSA members went to the Dean of Students and Financial Aid offices to bring up the need for a technology assistance grant. The funds, which were ultimately made available through alumni donations and the Richard Badger, ’68, Student Support Fund, could help students purchase items like laptops, printers, and Wi-Fi extenders. The grant provided invaluable support given the technological demands of remote learning, said Caitlan Sussman, ’22, who serves as LSA’s communications director.
“Even if you're attending in-person classes, you are still required to bring your laptop,” said Sussman, who worked with Ludmir to successfully advocate for the grant. “Without working technology, it's very difficult to effectively participate. The Financial Aid Office kept the funds available throughout the entire fall quarter, and many students were able to benefit from it.”
LSA Vice President Rosa Chong, ‘22, joined LSA in part to advocate for students engaging in remote learning from different time zones. Working with Dean of Students Charles N. Todd, Chong said, they were able to expand the circumstances under which students can view class recordings and provide opportunities for asynchronous learning.
“That initiative came out of personal need,” Chong said. “I am currently living in Seoul, and I spent last spring quarter in California. Having online classes at a difficult time really took a toll. The recordings are helping me and other students abroad have a normal law school career. If I didn't have this accommodation, I might have needed to move back to Chicago. But instead, I'm able care for my family and be with them during this really strange time.”
Working with LSA on issues related to the pandemic, Todd has appreciated the team’s creativity, passion, and drive.
“I have really enjoyed working closely with LSA leadership this year,” he said. “These students are powerful advocates for their classmates and care deeply about their community. I truly value that about our students.”
Another priority for LSA has been programming specifically for first-year law students. In autumn quarter, they planned a virtual Halloween party and a trivia night, both for the new class. They also worked over the summer to organize a virtual version of the Law School’s student organizations fair—an annual event that allows first-years to browse the Law School’s many student groups and meet with leaders.
“For the Halloween-themed Zoom with virtual games, that was specifically for remote 1L students,” Ludmir said. “We wanted to make sure that we were being inclusive of remote 1Ls, given that their experiences may look different and may have been a little more challenging, especially at the beginning of the school year.”
Each of these initiatives has been a tremendous group effort, Ludmir said. 3L representative Paola Correia, ’21, led a successful campaign to cancel classes on 2020 Election Day, helping to increase voter turnout among Law School students and allowing them to engage volunteer opportunities that day. LSA Director of Finance Mark Marzziotti, ’22, worked to ensure that student organizations would have enough funding to continue their operations. Currently, LSA members are creating a Zoom best practices sheet for professors, which offers reminders on how to make virtual courses as smooth as possible.
“We have 18 people in our student government, which is so many great voices, so we’re always trying to maximize the ways in which each of our members is contributing,” Ludmir said. “I really can't say enough good things about the team. They have been the most supportive, wonderful people.”
At the beginning of autumn quarter, LSA organized a virtual scavenger hunt, in which small teams of students worked together remotely, using clues to direct a single on-campus “avatar” to various locations. The event drew around 40 students, many of whom were first-years, said Marissa Piccolo, ’22, a 2L representative who worked with Sussman and Ludmir to organize virtual events.
“The situation we’re in right now can be so isolating, and I think LSA is well-positioned as a student government group to make these events happen,” Piccolo said. “You never know what someone's dealing with at home, or what’s going on once they turn off their Zoom class. Thinking of students who might be especially struggling during the pandemic—we just want them to know that the Law School is a community. Even if just one of these events gives them a night where they can take their mind off things—that’s what we’re trying to do.”