Five law students sat in a row at the front of the classroom, ably fielding a barrage of questions posed by a group of about 30 high school students.
How much does law school cost?
How do you pay for that?
What kind of law do each of you study?
When you were in high school, what did you get on the ACT?
The students, from South Shore International College Prepatory High School, visited the Law School on Feb. 22, during Black Law Students Association (BLSA) Week. They came to learn more about law school and to meet minority law students, like the ones who sat on the panel.
“The most important thing is to make sure you do well in school,” said Kevin Waklatsi, ’14, BLSA president.
But, added Michelle Mbekeani, ’14, “even if you don’t do well, college is a fresh start.”
The Q-and-A session capped a day of activities for the three dozen freshmen and sophomores, who are visiting several colleges and universities to learn about opportunities in higher education, said Scenecia Curtis, their teacher.
“Some students have never even been in a university, and they don’t know what the life is like,” she said, and trips to places like the Law School can make some of the students’ big dreams seem more attainable.
South Shore International is just one of several high schools that BLSA has hosted at the Law School this year, Waklatsi said. By summer, BLSA will have hosted 20 or so schools from the South Side, whose students are mostly minorities. The organization has done this in partnership with the University’s Office of Civic Engagement and Shaz Rasul, the director of Neighborhood Relations and Education, who has been instrumental in supporting the program, Waklatsi said.
“The most important thing was to have African-American students in law school interact with high school students, and be role models,” Waklatsi said. When he was growing up, he said, he didn’t know lawyers; it would have been especially nice to know lawyers of color. BLSA has received letters from students who have already visited and said that, while they never thought about law school before, they do now.
“Being that example for kids is very helpful,” Waklatsi said.
The South Shore Prep field trip included tours of the Law School and a viewing of part of the PBS documentary, Eyes on the Prize, about the civil rights struggle in America. The students watched a section on protests in Albany, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960s, which showed young black people singing songs of resistance as white police officers hauled them into paddywagons.
The documentary is shown because many schools no longer have funding for Black History Month programming, Waklatsi said. And the segment chosen depicts teenagers peacefully marching and protesting, which shows “you’re never too young to be able to do something.”
On a tour led by David Dormon, ’14, BLSA’s community service chair, students learned the basics of law school, from the LSAT to legal terms such as “torts” to the many career paths available to lawyers. He offered a straightforward definition of the Socratic method: “The professor puts you on the spot.” He showed them the classroom where President Barack Obama used to teach Constitutional Law.
When Dormon asked the students how many wanted to be a lawyer someday, six or seven hands shot up.
One of them belonged to Chanze Crosby, 16, who told another student during the tour: “I like this college. I may consider going here.”
Later, Chanze said he really wants to be a police officer, “to make sure the streets are a safer place,” but he wants to get at least a four-year degree first.
A small group of students broke away from their classmates to interview Clinical Professor Herschella Conyers of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project. They set up a camera in a conference room to ask her questions about the cause of violence in Chicago for a documentary they’re producing.
Back on the panel, the high school students received a lot of encouragement from the law students, who told them that they can have bright futures, no matter the challenges they face. These students must know they can go to college, and even law school, if they put their minds to it, Dormon said.
“We’re this amazing institution in the middle of an area that has a lot of need. Why not expand and expose these opportunities to these kids?”