Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Best Advice for Aspiring Law Students

....probably doesn't come from me. After all, I don't have any particular recommendations for what Cliff Note versions of law subjects (commercial outlines, or "hornbooks") that you should use--Emmanuel's or Gilbert's or the Lexis/Nexis "Understanding _____" series. (Although I recommend doing your own, as the process is as important as the product. But in a pinch, don't be too proud to borrow someone else's) I won't tell you which clubs to join to get access to the best outline bank (I have a law school famous Civil Procedure outline in one of the org banks). I won't tell you how to ace exams, mainly because I don't know myself. It's a one-shot deal, but not a one-shot process. When I went to law school, I studied hard, outlined, and performed the test the best I can. I never did find shortcuts around this method.

But I have offered you advice on how to navigate the social pressures of law school--from the banality of the wine and cheese parties to how not to overload yourself by trying to join every organization in addition to Moot Court and a journal. (seriously folks, most of this takes you by surprise) I have even recommended which brand of earplugs to buy. And if I haven't mentioned it enough, this is THE backpack for lawschool--fits a standard 14-15" laptop, plus at least 2-3 big casebooks. If a petite, 5'2" girl like me can carry that much on me (and I went to Bourgie Metrosexual Law School, so I sometimes did it in heels, and plenty there did it on stilettos), you certainly can. Or you can nerd out, save your back, and use a rolling backpack (I did, and I feel no shame)--just don't put your laptop in it, as going over cracks in the sidewalk can seriously mess up your laptop.

But out of the goodness of my heart, and since people will want to go to law school no matter how many times you ask, with an earnestly grave look, "are you sure you want to do that?", here is some more insight, via Prawfsblawg on how professors think when they create and grade exams:

First, you must start with a good, fair exam. Err on the side of being too hard rather than too easy, because you can always decide that 70% right is an “A” and 60% right is a B, but if everyone gets practically everything right, it’s hard to make valid distinctions. Of course an exam can be too hard, but the most common mistake for beginning folks along those lines is not asking questions that nobody can answer, but rather asking too many questions/having too many issues. In my first year, in one exam, not a single student finished the last essay: that essay wasn’t particularly hard, nor were any of the others; there were just too many of them. Also, spell out
jurisdictional issues in the instructions. In my labor and employment classes, I say in the instructions, “assume all the employers/employees/unions are covered by [the relevant laws] unless the facts indicate otherwise.”

Put in issues of varying difficulty: relatively easy ones so that the “C” papers can be distinguished from the “F” papers, and relatively hard ones, so that the “A” papers can be distinguished from the “Cs.” While you can’t test everything, keep some sense of proportion between how much it counts on the exam, and how much time you spent on it in the reading and in class. Mix in questions that actually have right answers (plaintiff would win here, for sure, and here’s why), with questions that don’t have obviously right answers that make students articulate and weigh competing rules/policy concerns/types of arguments.


Do a detailed grading key. Figure out how many points you should give for certain observations. Then be consistent. If the right answer is “Plaintiff wins, because the one-bite rule doesn’t apply to pet alligators,” four points are available, and a student
says, “Defendant wins, because the one-bite rule does apply to alligators,” decide whether that’s worth 0, 1, or 2 points and be consistent for all similar answers.

Essay questions often have kinks. If a question’s wording really was ambiguous or legitimately suggested an issue you hadn’t thought of before, give students credit if they have a plausible argument. I once used the phrase “worked in a large women’s clothing store” in an employment discrimination exam. I meant “large” to refer to the size of the establishment to indicate coverage by a statute. Some students,
however, interpreted that to mean “clothing store for large women.” That “fact” arguably could have gone to a legal issue in the problem (for reasons I won’t bore you with). So ... they got credit.

Finally, when reviewing exams with students, I tell them that I will only change a grade if (a) there is a math mistake in calculating it; or (b) if it appears I actually didn’t read or completely misread a section of their exam and didn’t give them any credit when they deserved at least some. Reviews are about the student learning how to do better, not for arguing that knowing that the one-bite rule applied should really be worth 3 points, not 2.



I cannot stress enough how different a law school exam is. If, you were an English major like me, you were used to an hour and a half to spin an essay from scratch based on a book of your own choosing, say The Lais of Marie de France (from the reading list) using a primary source quote of your own choosing in order to demonstrate some abstract theme (like redemption), then this is wayyyyy different. You will not get to choose the topic, text, or theme. It will not be a consideration of an abstract theme, allowing you to ruminate on the human condition. You will become a lawyer, even if they have to beat the last flutterings of poetry and literature from your soul. Even if you were a poli sci student like me, used to just answering some easy question like "Describe the significance of Marbury vs. Madison for shaping our current political system" or "Using historical examples, argue for or against the following statement: "To achieve greater security, the United States must act more unilateralist in its foreign policy." Yeah, don't naive and expect cake walks like that.

I'm not even making this stuff up people. I was a reader for lower division poli sci courses my senior year. You can answer these questions without reading a book. (Sadly) Law school will not be like that, and a lot of people I know wish they could have anticipated this a little more. If the wrong prof can make constitutional law, "the reason I went to law school" (everyone says that! No one says "bankruptcy law"!) boring and dreary, then there are plenty of other ways to crush the soul and ideals of the neophyte poli sci major. They'll beat that out of you too. But if you take an intellectual interest in your law school courses (and I mean all of them, so choose wisely after 1st year), then law school is very intellectually rewarding. It's not spending an hour discussing The Turn of the Screw, but it's really interesting and fun to talk about legal issues and think up alternate hypos and additional claims in the same action. It is! Trust me.

Law school is not altogether bad, but it is different. The exams are typically issue spotter exams: you get a hypo, where bad things invariably happen (people get killed, commit torts, break contractual obligations, get discriminated against--something happens that gives rise to a legal controversy). You then have to examine the claims of either the plaintiff or the defendant or both, and sometimes you are called upon to say whose claim is more meritorious. You say what these claims are, and describe them in detail using the facts. Picking out which facts are important is tricky. And using them in your answer is tricky. One of my professors referred to it as "massaging the facts." You have to work the facts into your answer--persuasively. It doesnt' matter what conclusion you reach, what matters is your reasoning, organization, how many issues you spot and discuss well, and your use of the facts. There's that whole breadth vs. depth quandary. In a "race-horse" exam, typically under 3 hours for 2 or more hypos, it's more breadth. If you get more time per question, the professors expect deeper discussion. Most will forgive minor typographical or even grammar errors (particularly in a race horse)--but few will forgive really bad organization or poor reasoning. The best thing you can do is a month and a half before finals, access the old exams for your prof (or if he is new, a prof who uses a similar exam format in the same class). And you take them. Just practice issue spotting and outlining the question. You should probably take one under timed conditions. Doing one with a study buddy keeps you honest (no peeking at the sample answer) and on track. I usually did 2-3, but I know many who did a lot more. This is really important if you go to a school with a severe forced curve. Particularly if it's not a Tier 1 school, and trying to improve it's ranking by flunking out the bottom third of the first year class. Ouch--something to avoid at all costs. If you flunk out, the AALS says you can't reapply for two more years. There goes $30,000, a year, and a life plan. Don't treat the LSAT like it's the SAT, and don't treat law school like it's college. You're in professional school. Act like a professional.

Finally, do go to Prawfsblawg and click under the "Life of Law Schools" index--truly valuable stuff to read. Most of it is advice for junior profs or aspiring academics--but it is sure handy for a law student to have some insight into the process. Plus, it helps your law prof seem a little more human--healthy for the student whether you hate your prof or revere your prof.

End of public service announcement.

| links to this post

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Crossing" Rather Than "Passing" Racial Boundaries


Despite my elementary command of my native language (although I didn't speak English until the age of 5, there are certain sacrifices when you are forced to immerse yourself in another language or flunk) I listen to Vietnamese music and watch Vietnamese music videos with my parents. I hate the newfangled faux Madonna/Britney/Backstreet Boys stuff (we are sometimes late on our interpretations, you can still watch covers of Elvis songs to this day) pop/disco stuff. I like the old-fashioned love songs. The equivalent of the standards--The Great Vietnamese Songbook, often about love, war, and love of country. There's a corollary in American music. You know how every cheesy love song was once a country ballad? Yeah, it's like that. So there are two fiercely competitive video chains that "own" their singers by contract much like the old RKO and MGM studio systems once owned their actors--dictating song choice, hairstyle, dress, etc. with non-competition clauses, I'm sure. One line was, until recently, considered more high-class and elite than the other, is called "Paris By Night." There are at least 90-odd videos now, and I remember watching them with my mother when they ran in the tens I think we own them all from the first to the most current, first on VHS, and now on DVD. The other line is called "Asia"--but don't buy the pan-ethnic sounded name, it's all Vietnamese music. It was mostly the chaff from the wheat at first, the unsigned, mostly untalented young pop-tarts. But now it's getting really good. And they produce thematic discs, kind of like those Time-Life "Greatest Hits" compilations you see advertised on cable. One devoted entirely to war songs. Another to love songs. And Asia started stealing away Paris By Night singers--the really good ones who sing in the old way.

This is a huge market. I live in the largest Vietnamese ethnic enclave outside of Vietnam. These CDs and DVDs rack up huge sales across the U.S. for ex-pats yearning for their homeland and community (but some, like my father, too stubbornly anti-Communist to ever visit it). The DVDs are just recorded concerts (all lip-synched!) with witty emcees and funny comedy skits, but apparently, the audience fills up entire stadiums. For all of you living in states/countries with small or neglible Vietnamese communities, recognize the vast diaspora created by the Vietnam war. We may be scattered or concentrated into enclaves, but we are here. We are your nail salon workers, your doctors, the engineers who work in the next department, and increasingly (I hope!) your fellow law students and lawyers. So now you know what we listen to on our headphones in addition to your Britney and JLo. (I myself have some Vietnamese music on my Ipod in addition to Bob Dylan, Beatles, Diana Krall, and Van Morrison--don't say I don't have good taste in music)

I bring all this up, not only to educate you about the Vietnamese pop landscape (and I'm not even talking about how these CDs/DVDs are banned in communist Vietnam as the work product of traitorous ex-pats or how it's so much better than J-Pop), but also to talk to you of a couple of examples of racial crossing. It's a term I just made up, granted, but bear with me. In the 1980s, there were a few big crossover stars of the Vietnamese music scene (all on Paris By Night): Randy, a black Amerasian, Cong Thanh and his white wife Lynn, and Dalena, pictured above. Dalena has no apparent ties to the Vietnamese race--she grew up white, with white parents, but during high school began to study Chinese, and then Vietnamese language and songs. She is really, really good--a lovely voice, servicing the songs well. I speak with a heavy American accent (hey, I was an English lit major), and my family often says I sound like a child first learning how to speak (ouch!) or else the Vietnamese equivalent of a gringa. But if you listen to Dalena with your eyes closed, you can hardly tell that she's not a native Vietnamese speaker. I, the gringa, certainly can't. These people I remember strongly from my childhood in the 80's, but haven't thought much of since. But Dalena's made a comeback--she's on the most recent Asia video, singing as beautifully as ever.

And she makes me wonder about the implications of race and how some are allowed to "cross-over" their racial categories. Randy was part-Vietnamese--yet to the world and the Vietnamese community, he would be considered primarily "Black." Despite his heritage, there was no way he would "pass" as Vietnamese." But by singing our songs and speaking our language, he became a part of our community. Intermarriage was not as common, nor as accepted as it is today--but Lynn, in marrying Cong Thanh, became a Vietnamese woman by wearing our traditional dress (the beautiful ao dai) and singing romantic duets with her husband. She was as pale as could be, and blond too, and there was no way she'd ever be mistaken for anything other than a white woman--but she became a part of the Vietnamese music community. And Dalena did the same, wearing ao dai and singing the most traditional songs. It's not as though Lynn and Dalena are singing American songs or English versions of Vietnamese songs--no, they are presenting themselves as, and thereby becoming Vietnamese through their adoption of native dress, language, and culture. Thus, I think of them more as "cross-overs" rather than "passers"--they somehow transcended their phenotype and native language and became very successful in what would otherwise be a very limited and insular world.

With all the recent controversies over cross-cultural/ethnic casting, I wonder how many other examples of racial crossing are accepted as welcomingly. Maybe Randy, Lynn, and Dalena were accepted because they were novelties (but their talent was so much more). After all, there was extreme controversy in China about the casting of the Chinese actresses Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, and Gong Li as Japanese geishas in Memoirs of a Geisha. But was there the same uproar when non-Israelite actors like the Australian Eric Bana, the British Daniel Craig, and the French Matthieu Kassovitz were cast in Munich?

Most of the time when we think about "crossover success", we think about music--Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Selena before she died. But think also about this: Jennifer Lopez is the new Sue Ellen in a new movie version of that old soap opera Dallas. I never watched Dallas--but I know that Linda Gray, the original Sue Ellen, was not from Puerto Rico. And don't forget how often those Brits and Aussies sneak up on us--how many of us have expressed shock to learn that Peter Jennings was Canadian? How often do you watch a movie and see British actors and actresses play at American accents (often successfully) and American actors and actresses play at British accents (oftentimes not so successfully)? The British Hugh Laurie on House and the Australian Anthony LaPaglia and the British Marianne Jean-Baptiste on Without a Trace--sure, these are subtle differencse in accent rather than phenotype, or ethnicity rather than race--but they are no less interesting for considering the possibilities of "cross-over." And this is age-old, this crossing-over business. Remember every contemptible example of blackface/minstrelsy you can think of, Yul Brynner as the King in The King and I, and Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago--not to mention every time you watch a movie set in Russia or Holland you'll get an all-British cast sporting all-British accents. And just last fall, there was much fanfare and critical acclaim over a new production of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, in which Kate Valk, a white woman, plays a Black male character (with the help of what appears to be tar mixed with shoe polish)--this was lauded in the press as being striking and moving, but I couldn't help but feel troubled by the 21st century version of blackface.

Not that I'm not so pure myself--despite mentioning that I'm Vietnamese a lot, the picture in the sidebar is of the white actress Amy Adams. I could put up a picture of myself, but that would ruin the anonymity. I could have no picture, but I like this picture a lot--for one thing, she's holding a bunch of letters (the site is named Law and Letters after all), it's nice and old-school looking (it was from a 1940s-esque photo shoot) and I really liked Amy Adams in Junebug. But am I for all intents and purposes, despite my repeated disclaimers, presenting myself to the world as white? With my high-falutin, French term for "fine literature" moniker, and my stated profession as lawyer and aspiring legal academic, would you all presume I was white if I did not repeatedly tell you my ethnicity and race? Believe me, all the typographical errors are due to sticky keys on a 4 year old laptop with an expired warranty, and late night weariness and laziness that prevents me from spell-checking. I carry no accent on this blog. I present to you the phenotype of a white woman. My profession is still majority white. Perhaps all of my identifying remarks about my ethnicity and cultural heritage are attempts to "cross-back" to my native identity. I have by all accounts, successfully assimilated myself into the American culture. I am an American citizen by birth, and I speak English far better than I do any other language. I even took two quarters of Vietnamese my senior year out of guilt over letting so much of it lapse. I own several volumns of Vietnamese poetry that I buy because I think I should, yet never read, preferring every other British or American author I've read during college. How is it that I connect more with the poems of Jean Toomer than I do with those of my own people? I have so successfully "crossed-over" into the "white" world, that sometimes, I need to "cross-back"--if only out of honesty, belief that it is important to me, and yes, lingering guilt.

I'm not painting this rosy, hands-joining-hands, "we are the world" picture of crossing racial boundaries, nor am I saying that "colorblind casting" is always right--I am still bothered that Renee Zellweger played what should have been a half-Black character in Cold Mountain (not to mention Anthony Hopkins playing the biracial character in The Human Stain) . There are controversies and hostilities surrounding such attempts, which indicates that such boundaries of phenotype, nationality, and ethnicity are still considered by many to be sacred norms that should not be transgressed. Sometimes, examples of crossover success show us that art may allow us to transcend the mundane realities and our national borders. Othertimes, it's an offensive form of neo-colonialism. When is it "I want to become one of your people" and when is it "I just want to exploit your people for entertainment value"? Are the more fluid boundaries of accent/nationality/ethnicity easier to cross than the more rigid ones of phenotype and "race"? Is it important who's doing the crossing over in terms of considering it a "success"--the minority to the majority, versus the majority appropriating the minority? When is it more than blackface, costumery, or parroting--when does it become a demonstration of true respect for and embracing of another's culture? In other words, when is an actor a Dalena, and when is he Al Jolson? Or should we stop thinking either/or, and for one moment, actually be thankful there is a Jennifer Lopez, "we can all be Sue Ellen" alternative to this world?

I don't know the answers to any of this--but it does well to remember that race is but a social constructions, racial categories fluid and flux, and that "crossing over" is sometimes as problematic as "passing."

| links to this post

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hate Speech, Viewpoint Discrimination, and A Crit Divided

From the 9th Circuit, an opinion by Judge Reinhardt in Harper v. Poway Unified School District. In response to a "day of silence" protest by the LGBT students at Poway High School, a student showed up with t-shirts emblazoned ""be ashamed, our school has embraced what God has condemned" on the front, and "homosexuality is shameful" on the back. The student wearing the shirt was reprimanded as a result, and now we have this case with a ruling that I, a Crit, in theory should love:

Speech that attacks high school students who are members of minority groups that have historically been oppressed, subjected to verbal and physical abuse, and made to feel inferior, serves to injure and intimidate them, as well as to damage their sense of security and interfere with their opportunity to learn. The demeaning of young gay and lesbian students in a school environment is detrimental not only to their psychological health and well-being, but also to their educational development.

Such disagreements may justify social or political debate, but they do not justify students in high schools or elementary schools assaulting their fellow students with demeaning statements: by calling gay students shameful, by labeling black students inferior or by wearing T-shirts saying that Jews are doomed to Hell. Perhaps our dissenting colleague believes that one can condemn homosexuality without condemning homosexuals. If so, he is wrong.

The dissent suggests that our decision might somehow allow a school to restrict student T-shirts that voice strongly-worded opposition to the war in Iraq. That is not so. Our colleague ignores the fact that our holding is limited to injurious speech that strikes at a core identifying characteristic of students on the basis of their membership in a minority group. The anti-war Tshirts posited by the dissent constitute neither an attack on the basis of a student's core identifying characteristic nor on the basis of his minority status.

Our dissenting colleague worries that offensive words directed at majority groups such as Christians or whites will not be covered by our holding. There is, of course, a difference between a historically oppressed minority group that has been the victim of serious prejudice and discrimination and a group that has always enjoyed a preferred social, economic and political status. Growing up as a member of a minority group often carries with it psychological and emotional burdens not incurred by members of the majority. In any event, any verbal assault targeting majorities that might justify some form of action by school officials is more likely to fall under the "substantial disruption" prong of Tinker or under the Fraser rule permitting schools to prohibit "plainly offensive" speech.

I'm a Crit. At least, officially. I graduated from law school with a concentration in Critical Race Studies, after all. But in the last year of law school, and in the year since I've graduated, I've been pulling away from some of the movement's central methodologies and obvious choices for political support. I've felt discomfort with the storytelling method (particularly as I move into different, less prone to narrativity areas such as federalism), and I've spoken out against separate minority student lounges. I don't know if this means that I'm becoming more nuanced, mature, and honest about my intellectual beliefs, or whether living in Orange County has really changed me back to the Ayn Randian libertarian I was when I was 15 years old. I don't think I'm becoming more conservative, per se--I'm still pretty lefty in my social policies and voting habits. But I am not as radical as I once thought I could be. The CRT movement is a big tent (I hope). While I support, unequivocally, most anti-discrimination laws, race-conscious remedies such as affirmative action, and strongly support the civil rights and voting rights acts, I wonder if this really makes me a Crit or just Crit-friendly. And I wonder if I am comfortable in my realization that I'm not much of a Crit.

I am very torn about this. I have written before how ambivalent I am about the three years I spent studying Critical Race Theory, and how I am slowly pulling myself away from the movement. Is it possible to believe in the theories of intersectionality, "covering," and argue for the reversal of the strict scrutiny standard for benign racial classifications meant to assist members of historically oppressed minorities--but reject storytelling and a tort theory for hate speech based on membership to a historically oppressed minority? In other words, am I just a conflicted person, hypocritically believing in the theory but not supporting the suggested practical legal remedy? Yes I believe that there are different categories of identity that intersect and flux. Yes I think people can be discriminated based on their intersectional identity. Yes, I believe that workplace grooming/presentation standards should be relaxed in recognition of how they they too, are a form of discrimination against minorities. Yes, I believe that membership in a historically oppressed minority group is key to determining whether a racial classification benefitting such members is benign or invidious. But no, I do not think that such membership should be key for determining whether speech against such a group may be infringed by the state. That would be viewpoint discrimination. My argument for changing the strict scrutiny standard would be consistent with the original and (before Adarand) legal interpretation of Sections 1 and 5 of the 14th Amendment. But an argument that offensive speech against a historically oppressed group is proscribable under Section 1 of the 14th contravenes the "viewpoint neutral" requirements of the 1st Amendment. I do not believe that Section 1 of the 14th permits such regulation of speech, and I don't believe that it operates to curtail the power of the 1st, particularly when it concerns symbolic speech not falling under any of the other 1st Amendment exceptions (fighting words, time/place/manner). This is viewpoint discrimination, pure and simple--and while I do not endorse the viewpoint of the those who say homesexuality is sin--I, cliche as it is, support their right to say it.

I've written previously about the possibility of regulating hate speech on a campus--but re-reading the post, I realize I wasn't very clear. When I was writing about the offensiveness of "Rape Is My Favorite Hobby" t-shirts and whether they could be regulated in certain settings (private universities yes, workplace environments very probably, public unversities maybe), I was thinking mainly of a hostile work/educational environment theory. If such shirts caused considerable upset and disruption to the education of young women and perhaps caused greater campus conflict, then the school has a Tinker v. Des Moines "substantial disruption" argument for disallowing such shirts. Plus, such shirts were clearly offensive, and had little First Amendment value. In the end, while I said that there may be a way for public universities (I didn't discuss high schools, figuring there are plenty of dress codes to prohibit offensive messages with little controversy) to regulate the wearing of such shirts, I didn't remark enough on how murky this issue is.

For a brief moment, like 3 months, I wavered in my First Amendment "absolutism" beliefs, thinking that maybe there should be civil tort remedies for "assaultive speech," or racist speech that inflicts psychological harm (see Words that Wound). Before that I thought everything should have it out in the "marketplace of ideas" and nothing should be regulated. After I read Words That Wound, I began doubting those beliefs. I started thinking that maybe there should be tort remedies for "assaultive speech." I even wrote a "brief" for a mock trial my senior year. I re-read it. It was actually pretty good for a senior in college. Hey, I was taught by the best, a political scientiest who later became a professor of law at Yale. I argued that a school had a right, under the substantial disruption prong of Tinker v. Des Moines and the administrative authority argument under Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, to regulate the racially offensive speech of one of its professors. There was also some discussion of "captive audience," unequal speech power between student and professor, and in imbalanced "marketplace"--lots of senior year flowery prose. And I have to say--I don't believe in any of it anymore. Maybe because I hope to be a professor with academic freedom. Maybe because I've grown beyond that moment of political consciousness awakening that came with reading "Words that Wound.' Maybe because I've actually learned more about this complicated issue and decided on my own that abriding speech on such theories against a particular viewpoint is not something I can support legally, intellectually, and personally.

After law school, (particularly after taking First Amendment Law) I've found that the center holds. I am supportive of hostile work environment laws, but I am no fan of viewpoint discrimination that bases its protections on membership to a minority group. Despite being a Crit who believes in a lot of anti-subordination law, I am just not persuaded that in the area of speech (particularly if it's symbolic), such protectionist measures outweigh the compelling interest of free speech. And if it is dependent upon the victim's membership to a minority group, is it also dependent upon the attacker's membership to a majority group? What about minority-on-minority bashing? I can't support the policy rationale for this outcome, and I can't support the legal reasoning behind it either. Section 1 of the 14th is meant to protect minorities, yes--but from due process violations inflicted by the state, not by other private actors. This private/public distinction, long-criticized by Crits like myself, still holds. Moreover, while I don't argue that an educational environment hostile to your very presence is extremely problematic, and don't diminish the suffering of the students, where is the deprivation? In silent protest (the school is not sanctioning violence, hate crimes, or exclusion from public areas and membership to school-sponsored organizations/activities), where is the deprivation of any fundamental right? (keep in mind there is no constitutional right to an education, although each state has made it a right and obligation) And since when does Brown authorize anything more than desegregation? Citing to Brown's sociological studies, long-since dismissed, doesn't do much for the majority. There is no constitutional right to have one's dignity affirmed or kept from injury caused by the exercise of free speech of others. The best argument to support the decision is that the school had experienced tensions resulting in physical violence in the past, and that is an argument under Tinker's substantial disruption prong--although this alone may not vitiate the free-speech concerns. How much is too much disruption? And how is that the majority appears to throw in Tinker and Fraser as a fall-back theory?

I'm more in agreement with Dale Carpenter on this, and his analysis is interesting and insightful, particularly his reading of why relying on Tinker isn't the strongest basis for the majority opinion :

On the first prong of Tinker, I don’t know what the Supreme Court meant by saying that a school could suppress speech to protect the “rights of others.” It probably meant that schools could prohibit things like face-to-face verbal harassment, libel, and threats, which are already examples of largely unprotected speech. If so, I have no quarrel with it. I’m pretty sure, however, Tinker should not be read to allow schools to banish all methods of expressing a whole viewpoint (e.g., against homosexuality). Eugene is right to take the majority to task for this. In what may be a first, the court’s justification for a speech regulation appears to be more troubling than the government’s own justification for it. There’s actually more evidence of viewpoint discrimination in the majority opinion than there is in the actions of school officials.

On the second prong of Tinker, related to “substantial disruption,” if a school can’t bar a student from wearing an anti-war black armband in the midst of a heated national controversy over the Vietnam War, it’s hard to see how a school could bar a student from wearing an anti-gay T-shirt in the midst of a heated national culture war over homosexuality. While the school had some vague evidence that there had been past “altercations” over such messages, and that some students in one class started talking about the T-shirt instead of doing their class work, it’s hard to see how any of this rises to the level of reasonably threatening “substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities” required before such messages can be banned.

I'm also surprisingly in agreement with Eugene Volokh, with whom I disagree about the constitutionality of sexual harassment laws. But his comments on viewpoint neutrality are dead on:

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969) made clear that student speech might be restricted when it's likely to substantially disrupt the educational process. And sometimes speech that's hostile based on race, religion, or sexual orientation -- as well as speech that offends people for a wide variety of other reasons -- might indeed lead to substantial disruption.But this is at least a facially viewpoint-neutral standard that potentially applies to speech on all perspectives, and doesn't categorically cast out certain student viewpoints from First Amendment protection. While the standard isn't without its problems, it is at least basically consistent with the First Amendment principle of "equality of status in the field of ideas."

Yet the majority specifically refrains from relying on this principle (and Judge Kozinski's dissent points out that on the facts of this case, there wasn't enough of a showing that the speech would likely cause disruption). Instead, Judge Reinhardt takes some unelaborated remarks by the Supreme Court about the First Amendment's not protecting student speech that "intrudes upon . . . the rights of other students," and fashions from them a constitutionally recognized right to be free from certain kinds of offensive viewpoints (not a right that is itself directly legally enforceable, but a right that the school may choose to assert as a justification for its viewpoint-based speech restrictions).

This is a very bad ruling, I think. It's a dangerous retreat from our tradition that the First Amendment is viewpoint-neutral. It's an opening to a First Amendment limited by rights to be free from offensive viewpoints. It's a tool for suppression of one side of public debates (about same-sex marriage, about Islam, quite likely about illegal immigration, and more) while the other side remains constitutionally protected and even encouraged by the government.


Keep in mind, I'm not excluding the possibility of regulating "Go back to China, you chink" said in my face, accompanied with a shove. That's technically fighting words plus assault and battery. But do I really have an argument against the Abercrombie "Two Wongs Make a White" shirt? How about "Secure America's Jobs and Borders: Send Mexicans Home"? What is political speech and what is "merely offensive"? What counts as sufficiently pervasive and offensive so as to create a hostile educational environment? And what would be considered offensive enough to disrupt the educational environment so as to invoke the school's interest in maintaining a safe educational environment? First Amendment law is tricky--that's why the people with the most vehement (and often cogent) arguments are the absolutists, not the Crits who tend to build arguments with slippery slopes and shifting categories of offensiveness, minority membership, and protection. I'm not saying be one or the other--but it's difficult, highly case-sensitive, nuanced stuff. Tread lightly, and be aware that the groups most in danger of censorship and sedition aren't the majority--but rather the minority, whether political or racial.

For a contrasting viewpoint, and a really excellent post by the most ambitious and crazily well-read pre-law sophomore in the blogosophere, read David Schraub's post over at The Debate Link.

| links to this post

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Me and Betty Crocker Baking and Blogging


What a week! Why do schools think that spring break is necessary for small children? It's not like we're in ye olden days, when such breaks were required to go deer hunting, ploughing, or harvesting, right? But I'm not complaining. Lots of kids, and lots of domesticity on my part. Lots of reading out loud of "Chicka Chicka Boom-Boom," lots of flash cards, lots of counting exercises, and lots of baking. I baked two batches of my homemade banana bread, and one Betty Crocker Super Deluxe Cake from a mix (give me a break, on Saturday there are 8 rather than 2 kids). It was yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I call it "Bumblebee Cake." I am going to miss this oven (and the kids who shout "bumblebee and spatter me with cake) when I move to a graduate efficiency studio in which I will have to make do with a toaster oven. I guess I will bake two cookies at a time in the Easy Bake. Yes, I went to law school. No, a real one, you know, with books and stuff.

But I'm popping in tonight, not just to talk about Bumblebee Cake, but also to say a big THANKS to Legal Theory Blog's incredibly kind (and remarkably prolific, considering he's a single blogger) Larry Solum for his plug. 162 hits today! That is 5.4 times my normal number of hits (30)! This is big, people. Legal Theory Blog is the blog to hit every day for info about calls for papers, conferences, and "download it while it's hot!" papers posted on SSRN. I've been reading this blog the longest, and have plumbed the depths of the archives for wonderful posts from the Legal Theory Lexicon (law students: go here in addition to reading Gilbert's and Emmanuel's. I know you do. Don't lie.) Professor Solum also does an incredible service compiling a list of new entry level hires--good for people like me who went to a very good law school, but not Harvard/Yale. It's nice to see there's some room for non-traditional aspiring academics. We need all the encouragement we can get, especially by real law profs.

In fact, the response by the real law professors has been remarkably positive. Look up at the banner--I put up a few I have collected over the past couple of months. If I had room, I would have put Dave Hoffman's comment (to the Yentl post) saying "Generally, I too am a big fan of the blog." Don't you just love lawyers? Always the qualifier. I have noticed that I do it with everything, like trying to dodge the question of which child I love more. Anyway, I can't express enough how much this blog has helped me in my intellectual isolation during my exile in this SUV-driving, Track home dwelling, Republican-voting Suburbia. When you have spent a week with children licking the batter off your fingers, it's nice to feel there are those who take you seriously about this whole 'nother side of you. The one no one else in your family of dentists and engineers gets. In fact, no one in my family knows I blog. So I can't even say my mother, even if she could, reads this. Many blawggers profess false modesty by saying "hi, mom!" when addressing their readership. These blawggers, of course, have hundreds, if not a thousand readers a day. I, by contrast, am justifiably humble, and grateful for every plug I get.

So I'm very grateful for this external validation by non-relatives/friends. I don't pretend to not need it.It makes me feel less like a fake and fluke in the legal blogosphere (not to mention the real-life circle of lawyers and academics). It's nice to for the Super Nanny to take off the chef's hat every once in a while and re-don the barrister's wig.

| links to this post

Friday, April 21, 2006

What Do High Undergraduate GPAs at Law Schools Signify?

Brian Leiter's Law School Reports posts Pamela Karlan's thoughts on over-inflated undergraduate GPAs:

I read, with both interest and a fair amount of distress, the 75th percentile LSAT rankings. The distress came from seeing the staggering 75th percentile GPAs. These could reflect at least three states of the world, two of them unfortunate. First, and most optimistically, the 40 schools on your list could all be admitting kids with amazing undergraduate academic achievements. (A 3.96 means, for example a student with 34A's and 2 B+'s as an undergraduate; a 3.85 could mean half A's and half A-'s.)

Second, the GPA's could reflect rampant grade inflation at undergraduate institutions. Leave aside the abstract debate over whether the current generation of students is so much abler than its predecessors that good students should never see a grade below A- or B+. Most law schools have mandatory means or curves, and I'm aware of none where that mean is over around 3.4. (Even at the schools that don't have official means, I would guess the actual mean is no higher than that.) Thus, virtually all law students will have lower, substantially lower, GPA's in law school than they had in college. (E.g., at my own institution, 25% of the students had GPAs
equivalent to what the number 1 student in the normal graduating class is likely to have.) This drop has a number of unfortunate consequences. Many of us are familiar with a huge demoralization effect the day first-semester grades come out and people who've been told all their lives that they are "A's" at everything that's measured hear for the first time that they're "B's." They give up, and simply float through the remaining five semesters. Many have a self-protective defensive reaction: if the law doesn't love them, then they distance themselves from it. In addition, at law schools where there are course-selection strategies that allow students to manipulate their GPA's, students are then drawn not to taking what's good or useful for them, but rather what's most likely to boost their GPAs back toward the range they've internalized as normal. The high UGPAs mean that many of our students have never really learned to bounce back from academic disappointment (the "C" I got my first semester of college is one of the best things that ever happened to me) and like learning to ride a bicycle, it's harder to learn that the older you get.

Third, to get those astronomical UGPA's, students necessarily had to be either (a) extraordinary across the board for their entire undergraduate career (the student who bombs the first year of college because she wasn't yet ready for the work or who was planning to be a physicist before he realized he didn't have the mathematical ability can't get one of these sky-high GPAs) or (b) strategic and risk-averse, taking only the kinds of courses in which they'd get A's, from the time they were 17 or 18 years old. I'd bet it's more the latter than the former. One of the things I always though the U.S. had over many other advanced countries was that we didn't expect students to specialize in only what they were good at when they were still teenagers.
But in order to get a 3.9 UGPA, students really can't take things well outside their comparative advantages. Many of us see the consequences of this in what our students do: they're passive and non-entrepreneurial in their job choices, going to large firms not because that practice particularly attracts them, but because it seems less "risky" right out of law school than going to smaller firms or government jobs. Many of them haven't exercised their intellectual imaginations in years. Many are in fact not particularly well educated, since the science majors took few writing courses, the humanities people took perhaps one semester of economics and flee any quantitative subject, and the social and hard scientists know no American (let alone world) history at all.

Now, of course, we're talking here only about the 75th percentile. Perhaps we could find the students who are comfortable with risk, entrepreneurial, academically and intellectually adventurous, and resilient among the other three-quarters of the class. But even the 25th percentile at top 20 schools have staggering UGPAs. And that sets the tone for the student body.

I'm not sure, as long as US News drives so much of the world, that there's anything to be done. But it's frustrating if what we're trying to do is to train imaginative, entrepreneurial, courageous, resilient lawyers with broad perspectives that one of the central criteria for admitting students undermines our chances of doing that.

There's an incredibly interesting comment thread as well. Here are a few choice snippets:

1) I read your blog on Professor Leiter's website. As an undergraduate, who plans to attend law school and majoring in political science, I have been told by counselors to make sure I keep a high GPA. That is, don't take "hard" classes. I have resisted that advice and I'm taken courses in statistics, economics, mathematics, and a foreign language. Though my GPA is lower than it would have been if I too was strategic, I now feel I better prepared for the world.

2) First, I think that Professor Karlan's post suggests that students are either "strategic and risk averse" or prone to "exercising their intellectual imagination". Instead, I think many modern college students--especially those who do well at top schools--succeed by balancing these two impulses. Thus, one's schedule is forged not simply by an attempt to get the highest grades, but by a balancing act involving academic interests, course requirements, expected grades, commitments to extracurricular activities, and graduation requirements. Students may think strategically at times, but they are not machines driven by strategy and risk aversion alone. While the strategic thinking may strike some as out of place at the college level, we should not overemphasize its influence.Second, Professor Karlan's post does not adequately account for the pressures facing modern college students and for the reasons these pressures exist. To get into a top college, most students had to begin to think strategically long before their freshman year. Why? Because access to the top colleges has expanded tremendously in the last forty years. Admissions requirements have risen tremendously as the competition for admission has become fiercer, and high school students can no longer depend on their educational pedigree alone (eg having been in the top half at Andover) as a means of
ensuring their entrance to a top college. Most college students do not think they have (and most likely do not in truth have) the luxury to treat college as a time for intellectual exploration alone. The "pure" liberal arts ideal is premised on a non-instrumental relationship to education that has been rendered unworkable by the positive changes within American education over the last half century.

3) I wonder whether Professor Karlan's comments better describe the situation at Harvard or similar elite schools than at Maryland or schools of that ilk or even schools further down the totem pole. My sense of the universe at the University of Maryland is that almost anyone with a fair degree of intelligence can wind up with a very high GPA if they devote themselves to that effort, even if they take fairly demanding courses in the humanities and social sciences (I think Professor Edelman is correct that maintaining a higher average in the sciences is more difficult). And unlike elite schools, the top 10% at average state U. may wind up with a high GPA simply because they are smarter than most of their peers. In short, at average state U., a commitment to hard work or significantly above average intelligence is likely to result in a very high GPA without grade inflation or shopping for weak classes.


I generally agree with Prof. Karlan and the commenters I quoted. Then again, I went to a respected, but not "flagship" state university. I was a liberal arts major (half the time, the other half I was a social sciences major). I took statistics instead of linguistics (which for some reason counted towards the math requirement), I took two years of ancient Latin instead of the far easier (and in which I was already trained) Spanish. And I took many difficult, but challenging courses outside my two majors--just for fun. Like Romanesque art history, Epistemology, Aristotelian Ethics, and Anthropology.

And I did all of this while working and juggling childcare for my siblings' children. I was student TA for Jurisprudence at the same time I juggled 4 other classes. I did not take the most obviously easy route. Yet I have a number of A+'s on my transcript. I didn't mean for "Law and Society" to be easy--but maybe it was easy for me. I certainly didn't find the other "let's challenge ourselves!" classes easy. I have a hard-won B+ average in my Latin classes, two B+s (despite the fact that I really, realy tried!) in Statistics, and I actually freaked out at had to change to a Pass/No Pass option for Epistemology (although the professor was impressed that a philosophy novice like me managed to wangle a B on the midterm). That was my only bit of strategizing--figuring that a fun class shouldn't punish you when you're a senior with too many credits trying to learn how to question everything.

But yes, I was used to As. I worked pretty hard for them. Contrary to popular belief, it is not that easy to write essays. It's easy if you have some skill at writing--but you still have to read the damn novel. And they assign 10-12 of them a quarter. So it wasn't always easy as an English major--I went to class, read the books, and tried to write well. Most of the time, if I worked hard enough, I succeeded. If I lagged behind on any of those (e.g. got lazy and didn't work hard enough) I was punished, fittingly, with B+'s and B's. I have to say that political science was actually easier for me. And I was a grader for the department, and I know why. I could turn in sloppy finals in which referencing the class texts/lectures was enough to earn an A. Professors appear to accept that the top 20% are the only ones who read/listen. The bottom 60% earn their grades (some of which are abysmal, I would grade 4 sentence finals). My finals for my English classes were at the very least attempts to write cogent, coherent essays that cite to the primary and secondary sources. In poli sci, I didn't have to take that kind of care. I could mention the case name as a parenthetical cite, and tht was enough. But I didn't just stick to these kind of easy finals. I took classes that satisfied the writing requirement--which I satisfied at least four times over. I wrote (admittedly, undergraduate, sophmoric) term papers with such things as footnotes and bibliographies. These were harder. But they taught me a lot more. For one thing, I had to actually read most of the textbooks and research secondary sources just to write the damn paper. For another, I had to learn how to write a different essay.

There is an easy path through college. But it's a lot more interesting to take the more difficult route. I spent my college years juggling school, work, family obligations, and campus volunteering and activism. And in between, I managed to form mentoring relationships with my professors, participate in some protests and vigils, have a social life (a miracle if you know my strict Asian family), fall in love, have my heart broken, and make the best friends of my life. That is what college should be.

And still, it doesn't totally prepare you for law school--particularly if your school has a mandatory curve. My law school just phased out (after I graduated!) our draconian system of 20% As, 60% Bs, and 20% Cs. No professor will say that everyone who got a C deservesone. I think the new system only requires 5-10% Cs, but requires non-seminar courses to have B averages. That's much more fair. It is more difficult than you'd expect (with your high UGPA) to get an A, and way too easy to get a B (learn to be grateful for them rather than crying as I did), and easier than you'd think to get a C. It's not very predictable. I've received high Bs in classes I did not prepare at all for (I owe a debt to commercial outlines, the outline banks from various student organizations, and the kindness of friends who took the class previously) and C+s in courses I worked really, really hard on.

The best thing my charmingly quaint liberal arts and humanities college coursework taught me was that variety in attempts can breed variety in outcomes. By choosing some classes I wasn't used to, I got some grades I wasn't used to. Such was the case in law school, in which the brilliant idea of taking something out of my critical race studies concentration (like Health Care Law and Policy) resulted in a not-so-brilliant grade. But I was exposed to the concept of federalism issues in ERISA preemption--and that is something I treasure.

The bottom line is this: don't expect all A's in law school just because you got them in college. It's a different way of learning, writing, and testing. Don't discredit us state schoolers, particularly from cities you've never heard of. We may not have a certain pedigree, but we can possess passion, breadth of learning, and most importantly, work ethic. And that is valuable too. Finally, try to have a holistic approach to both college and law school. If that is the way you want to be considered by the admissions commmittee, that is the way you should live your life.

And oh, yes: try to have fun if you can. Strategizing and engineering your entire academic career leaves little time for learning and enjoying the best years of your life.

| links to this post

Thursday, April 20, 2006

More Late Night Thoughts On Duncan Kennedy and Blogging

A quick note to commenters on the pseudonymous blogging post: thanks so much for dropping by (especially o exalted law prawfs, one of whom I owe an email) and leaving your kind and encouraging words. You are friends of this blog.

Which is yet again, tonight's subject matter. Or rather, this early morning's. Blogs have become really important to me--especially since I moved home and found myself growing more dull by the minute, in both intellect and verve. This is what happens when you sing the theme songs from pre-school cartoons all day instead of reading about ERISA preemption. The only way I stay connected to my field sometimes is through blogs--by reading them, and by writing them.

I know I complain about taking care of the kids a lot on this blog, but it's not so much complaining (I will miss all of this in July) as much it is a plea for people to recognize the important work of child care--whether it is done by your infinitely patient spouse, your kind-hearted and hopefully over-paid nanny/day care provider, or your totally unpaid and very sweet younger sister/mother. Sometimes, it is fun to talk to your friends from law school. Oftentimes, it's not when you tell them the biggest thing you accomplished today was getting the kid to poop in the toilet and they're making $135K. Yet I think I am happier than they are. A little more intellectually isolated, 'tis true--but the blogosphere and its denizens has stepped in to fill the void. Every morning, along with the bran flakes and the cup of sweet milk tea, is the following ritual:

1) Check the NY Times, Washington Post, Slate and The New Republic digitial edition. Avoid excessively partisan news sources that inhibit the ability to think for oneself. Don't call me Hillary--I wasn't on the board of directors for Wal-Mart--but I generally like the illusion of objectivity and non-partisanship in journalism. I wouldn't read the Weekly Standard, much less the flip side of it.

2) Check the RSS feeds from 10+ law/political blogs (from the general-interest ones like Concurring Opinions, PrawfsBlawg, Balkinization, U Chicago, Volokh, Legal Theory Blog, and SCOTUS Blog, to "specialty blogs" like Workplace Prof Blog, Immigration Prof Blog, Feminist Law Profs, and Empirical Legal Studies, plus a few other left-leaning but generally not too partisan political blogs--hint, I don't read Daily Kos) and 5 "academic" blogs (Acephalous, Ancrene Wiseass, The Debate Link, Blog Meridan, Crooked Timber). This is what one would call a blog adiction. Blogimia, if you will. (inapt metaphor, where do I purge?)

3) Try to read everything and give up about an hour later.

4. Check sitemeter stats and feel more important than I did say 4 months ago, but wayyy less important than many others.


Usually, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, e.g. the guaranteed non-kid days when they're over at their other grandparents, I have the day to myself. On these days I read for a few hours, try to write a page that I don't end up throwing out at 2 am later that night, and watch an episode of Star Trek during my lunch and dinner breaks (yes I am geek enough to time it). Last week was spring break for some of the kids. This week, I just learned Monday night, is spring break for another set of kids (there are eight total from 3 different families). So you know, fun for me, the primary caregiver now that my parents are too old and arthritic to do any lifting of heavy babies. So I feed the kids, bathe them, make sure they have one hour each of extra schoolwork and physical play in addition to hours more of other drawing/story time. I try to limit the TV to maybe an hour or two a day. I live for nap time. I could leave it to my parents (who don't speak English), but then the kids would spend they day sitting in front of the TV. Not a chance with this caregiver. I am the Super Nanny! So I got relieved of duty at about 9 pm (having started at 8:30 am), relaxed a bit, read (but didn't write) for a couple of hours, and finally, here I am, blogging.

So despite the fact that tomorrow I have to get up early, pick up a 11 year old and take him to Barnes and Noble, Ice Age 2 (a movie I've already seen with a different set of kids two weeks ago), and IN-N-OUT, here I am, blogging about Duncan Kennedy. Maybe I'll sneak in some law review articles in my big purse I use to smuggle in cans of coke and candy.

I've already posted my own thoughts about Duncan Kennedy, but there have been a few posts in the blawgosphere about this new article by Frank Snyder:

"Late Night Thoughts on Blogging While Reading Duncan Kennedy's Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy in an Arkansas Motel Room."

It is not so much that I disagree with some of Kennedy’s points (though I do), or that the writing is not engaging (it is). No, what starts to wear me down is the apparent conviction that that his own experiences and feelings are true and universal, and that mine, to the extent they differ from his, are either the result of bad faith or denial. Perhaps Kennedy really was emotionally maimed by his own "fear of the teacher's disapproval," his "own status as a non-person" in the classroom, or his "revulsion" at the Socratic method. If so, I suspect this has more to do with Kennedy and his parents than it does with legal education. But that does not stop him from casting it as some kind of universal reaction, at least among thinking people.

For a while, it is kind of amusing being told that I am probably part of the class that
cannot relate to "working class people" or "outsiders" by a guy who has the same privileged class status and education as George W. Bush. Or learning that, as someone who liked law school, liked law practice, and like teaching, I must be one of the "mainstream" people for whom "the barrio . . . is alien and invisible." I grew up across the street from the Carmelas barrio in Norwalk, California, and a third of my high school classmates came from there. Just whom are we talking about here?

If the reader’s own background happens to parallel Kennedy’s, perhaps he or she can recognize the traumas he had to go through (like having his day ruined because a professor was in a bad mood) and think them both important and universal. But if the reader’s background was more, well, outsiderish, it is probably harder to relate.

Look at the paradox. Here we have the ultimate insider, using the resources of the richest and most influential university in the world, publishing ideas that have already seen the light of day in a commercial book and a peer-reviewed law journal, and would be eagerly accepted by a hundred other respectable publications. Yet, he is working hard to make it look like the clandestine works of some hunted Spanish anarchist who is just one step ahead of Franco’s secret police.

The Law Professor Blog Network, of which ContractsProf is a member, was not designed to change the world. Its goal was to provide resources to law teachers and, I suspect, to make a few bucks for the founders. It is determinedly apolitical, but its mere existence is breaking down barriers between law schools and within law schools. The bloggers on the network, at this particular moment, come from every tier of American law schools

Not only is it an eclectic mix of schools, but the bloggers themselves vary in status from holders of named chairs at elite institutions to those who are not even on the tenure track at their fourth tier schools. Some are even, (gasp) legal writing teachers. We have folks who are noted experts in their fields, and other folks who are near-complete newcomers. Yet in an important sense, we are equal here—no one controls what we write. We are not vetted. We write, and we are judged on what we write.


And from PrawfsBlawg, an excellent commentary by Paul Horowitz:

But I'd add two caveats. The first is that to some extent, those hierarchies can colonize the blogosphere too. At least for a good long while, a Chicago faculty blog will get more readers, and get taken more seriously, than a blog of faculty members from the Podunk Law School, regardless of the quality of argument presented. I doubt it is an accident that the cast of characters at the Harvard bloggership conference is top-weighted with bloggers from first-rank schools; although it must be said in fairness that they are also good bloggers and that one or two of them might have acquired prominence and advancement through blogging. Nevertheless, I think the general point -- that closed hierarchies can enjoy at least temporary, if not entrenched, advantages in the blogosphere too -- is true. Second, much depends on how much we bloggers ourselves internalize the idea of hierarchy (in its closed sense, not in the sense of meritocracy). After all, we write in part to advance ourselves within the established hierarchy -- not just to challenge it.


***I can't help but wonder what these observations say about a host of things that have been discussed on this blog and elsewhere, often though not necessarily having to do with issues of gender, race, and sexuality, but almost never with issues of social class. I think the observations I've made above raise questions about the kinds of efforts we've seen discussed by professors here and elsewhere: deliberate ambiguity about one's partners in book acknowledgments, thoughtful disclosure of one's orientation in class, various Ayresian proposals, discussions of and responses to covering, and so on.

I know this risks becoming personal, so let me say emphatically that I'm not saying that these responses are unimportant to the people who engage in them, or that they do no good. Perhaps a little bit of good is enough to warrant the amount of time and concern we spend on such issues. Rather, I'm suggesting that it is possible to take such issues too seriously, or to fail to recognize just how small the ground of contestation is, and how privileged all the contestants on the field are. We ought to approach such issues with a reasonable sense of perspective, a sense of how low the stakes generally are, perhaps even a soupcon of levity -- and always with a sense that although it may feel like we're engaged in working toward progressive social change, what we're mostly engaged in is a debate about how we affluent, well-educated people should order our own lives. (Nor does what I'm saying apply only to issues that concern political progressives: although I believe strongly that faculties
should hire people from all ideological stripes, one does well to recognize the difference between the failure to do so and actual tyranny.)

Social class, as always, seems to mark the real demarcation between those issues we count as important and those we don't. As long as we openly acknowledge that most of our issues about race, gender, power, etc., within the legal academy are unlikely to be meaningful outside it -- as long as we recognize that we are arguing about the terms of life within the enclave, and that we're just not as concerned with life outside it -- we can, I think, continue to hold such debates, although I suspect they would be considerably chastened. In doing so, though, I think we in the academy might occasionally question the subject, and stakes, of our debates altogether.



Both of these articles (Horowitz's post is very long, but worth the read) were very enjoyable to read. It kind of got me thinking again about law school, hierarchy, and blogging. I went to a school consistently ranked (and keep in mind, they skip numbers when schools tie) around 14 on both the U.S. News and Leiter Reports rankings. It was a good school. But you couldn't say "Top Ten," and for some reason, that really matters. Next year, I'm going to a "Top Ten" school--one that consistently produces judges, clerks, and even professors. But it's not a "Top Five." When I enter the market a few years from now, those reputational rankings will be very important about where I go, but less so in where I'm going--I know full well that if you get a job offer from a "fourth-tier" school in some midwestern/southern state you've never even been to on a vacation, you should be GRATEFUL. Law school is full of hierarchies even before you're accepted. It's no secret that people apply according to rankings or even the vaguest idea of "reputation." Once inside, the hierarchy of law school kind of sneaks up on you. For myself, I started realizing that it is not chic, particularly in an urbane "foodie" (I hate that word!) city, to admit that you eat at Souplantation. My sister, the dentist, makes wayyyy more than my fellow students ever will, but has somehow resisted the urge to live beyond her means or indulge in "aspirational consumption." Still, I engage in a sort of covering and hide my less than bourgie upbringing. Why? Maybe I'm just a self-hater. Maybe I stopped liking Souplantation. (the bakery is still good, but the salad is terrible)

Or maybe I'm just self-focusing, again and worrying about how extrapolating from my personal experiences is in any way significant, relevant, or particularly enlightening. I wrote an article (that I do not like much) about the concept of "diversity" in the race-conscious remedy of affirmative action, and it started with a CRT personal narrative. For this reason (and it's kind of dated) I never shopped it around. It didn't particularly ring true to me--the method or the self-focus. It's not that I lied or exaggerated. I did, shockingly enough, in one of America's more racially and socioeconomically diverse law schools with good programs in Public Interest and CRT, have negative racial experiences with some of my peers. But I don't want to be another Duncan Kennedy. And I don't want to lose my perspective on what the stakes are like for me and what they are for others who look like me.

I'm not saying that I'm not proud of my achievements and what it took to get here. I'm just another immigrant, but luckier than many. With every stage of my education (and I am over educated), I get farther away from the obstacles that were overcome and made the basis of that admissions essay. There are six children in my family. The oldest came at 17, did not speak English, and yet 5 years later graduated with a bachelors in Engineering (with a minor in Math) from Cal State Fullerton. She was an engineer for a big company until just a year ago, when she was laid off and began working for my dentist sister at a considerable pay cut. Now that's overcoming obstacles. Each sibling has an extraordinary story, but less extraordinary as you get to the younger ones--the ones who came young enough to learn English and get into honors classes within a year of arrival, until you get to me--born in America with every benefit of citizenship. I didn't speak English till the age of 5, and I had to take those stupid proficiency tests until high school--but I ended up majoring in English literature in college. Still, my story is not that extraordinary, and there are not many Oprah-esque obstacles I had to overcome. So I worked during school. So I took care of my siblings children during college and law school. Big deal, right? That's the case with a lot of people.

But maybe not in law school. I felt like I was the only one missing out on Bar review (even though I did it on purpose) to go home and be Super Nanny. In law school, more than in college, are familial/financial obligations the aberration. You do not work to put yourself through an elite law school. You borrow a lot of money and live beyond your means. You do not distract yourself with family in law school. You become a mean lawyer and skip birthday parties if they're around finals.

I suppose I don't have much to add to the conversation--Frank Snyder and Paul Horowitz say it all, and say it better. There is hierarchy in law school, but don't be surprised if you find yourself ranking yourself among "equals." Whether you're comparing the designer of your handbag/perfume or comparing stories of how much you had to overcome to get here, you're playing Chutes and Ladders. There's a term for it in CRT--the "oppression olympics." It's not as fun as it sounds, and it's another kind of competition. I wasn't happy talking shopping with Prissy Princess, but I wasn't happy defending how "Asian" I was either.

And don't forget, in every hierarchy that law school produces or emphasizes by contrast, you're only fighting with yourself. There is no trophy at the end, only your sense of self-worth in comparison to others. This is why I don't have a link to where I am in the TTLB ecosystem. I do enough self-focusing on this blog, without comparing this inflated conception to my my cosmic/blogospheric significance.

| links to this post

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Feminist Gets Married

No, not me. I talked about that last night, folks.

But here is a truly wonderful post from guestblogger Michelle Anderson over at Concurring Opinions:

I’ve critiqued the institution of marriage for as long as I can remember. Heterosexist. Patriarchal. The usual list of sins. The unit on marriage in my Feminist Legal Theory class begins with the English common law of coverture in which a female’s legal existence is erased by its merger into her husband’s at marriage.

So what’s a self-respecting feminist to do when she decides that a public commitment to her sweetheart is the next step in her spiritual and emotional growth? What happens when she loves someone in a way that—despite societal evidence—burbles with the hope of lasting a lifetime?

No new last name. No veil. No white dress. No “love, honor, and obey.” No father “giving the bride away.” No throwing the bouquet. No garter—goddess, no garter toss. No bachelor party. No church. No dieting for the big day. No pronouncement of “man and wife.” No updo, no French manicure. And no wife.

I told Gavin, “OK, look, if we get married, I will not be your wife. I never want you to refer to me as your ‘wife.’ I’m serious.”

He was a bit taken aback. “Why?”

“Let’s look up the etymology of the word.” 2002 AMERICAN HERITAGE COLLEGE DICTIONARY. “ME wif < OE wif. See ghwibh- in App.” So we looked up the root word “ghwibh-” in the appendix: “Shame, also pudenda.”

No joke.

Then we looked up “husband” and followed its root (“bheue”) into the appendix. “To be, exist, grow.” So he gets to be, exist, and grow while I am labeled a shame-pudendum? I don’t think so. Rejecting so many labels and traditions forced us to create new ones. A surprise: that creative process was more meaningful and fun than I’d imagined it would be. What emerged was magical, warm, celebratory, and quite personal.

Meanwhile my feminist students, gay and straight, seemed genuinely thrilled with my late-coming announcement. “When I heard you were getting married,” one said to me last week, “I was so happy. If even you can find someone, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us!”

If/When I get to the point of marriage, I'll describe to you then the intricacies of a Vietnamese-Buddhist marriage ceremony (asking ancestors' permission, the joining of the families, the groom picking up the bride and bringing her over to his house), and the nighttime Vietnamese-American banquet reception (with the requisite really bad Vietnamese wedding band doing covers of inappropriate songs like "Lipstick on Your Collar" and at least three gown changes for the bride and a couple of tiaras) in greater detail. Actually, just thinking about all that makes me never want to get married. Never say never of course--and this does indeed give me hope!

| links to this post

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Baby Whisperer



Sometimes, I think I spend more time apologizing for my blog breaks/blocks/fasts and blogging about blogging than I do blogging substantively. So, once and for all, sorry for this most recent blog block. I had some steam going from my commentary on that Prawfsblawg anonymous female academic blogging post, but spent it all. Last week the kids had their spring break. Which meant that they were home an awful lot more hours of the day. Which meant that I got a lot less reading done during the day, and had to read at night. Which meant that the blog was neglected as I attempted to Have It All and do the whole super nanny/super scholar/super exhausted insomniac trying to reform and establish new sleep patterns thing.

Parents and caretakers know intimately of the wonderful benefits preschool and kindergarten can bring to the lives of both the children and adults. Before the misery of junior high cliques and high school politics sets in, and before children can learn how to be truly cruel for the sake of their own amusement, there this wonderful socializing tool called pre-K and Kindergarten. I'm not saying it all goes downhill after that (it does), but these are truly wonderful years. Parker, a nephew I feared was mildly autistic when he was two years old (couldn't talk or communicate well, hit himself and others when frustrated) has within the last year gone from saying one or two words at a time to full sentences. He has even picked up "No, thank you." I try to teach the kids manners, but this kid was particularly hard to teach, owing to the whole hitting thing. I am one of those adults you see who looks stunned to hear that my child was very well-behaved and got along with everyone during pick up time at the preschool. I am one of those adults you hear muttering "why can't he be nice like that to his sister?" as I watch my child hand over a toy to another kid without hitting him. I am one of those adults who watches "The Dog Whisperer," despite having no dogs of my own, not just for the pure entertainment value of the show but also to adopt some of the methods to try to get my child to listen to me. I want to be the pack leader!

Don't call child services just yet, people. I'm not feeding him dog food or putting him in a kennel. I'm just saying I want to get Parker to stop hitting his big sister, my mother, and everyone else he doesn't fear (in other words, everyone except me, who does not coddle a kid who needs a time out in the Reflection Corner). I was once a professional day care worker, people. It's not like I duct tape babies to walls (honest to God, this happened in a local daycare) or otherwise abuse them. No, all I'm saying is that Cesar Milan's ideas about negative and positive energy are applicable to little humans too. Actually, Cesar, (who looks like the love child of Ricardo Montalban and Tatu from their tryst on Fantasy Island) says that he trains humans more than he trains dogs. It's all about the energy of the owner. I am trying to be a good caretaker by changing my energy so that Parker responds to me positively, yet sees me as the adult to listen to. I want to change from being frustrated, short, or otherwise not nice to being positive and loving, but assertive. Besides, I am adopting just one basic tactic: exercise from Cesar's mantra of "Exercise, Discipline, and then Affection." I tend to switch around the latter two in terms of importance.

I figure Parker has a lot of pent up energy being stuck in the house during our one or two months of rain a year. So every sunny day we get (and admittedly, that's almost every day) I take him and his sister outside for some real play time. The kids are a bit timid, and scared of everything, so I have been trying to teach them what little I know of nature (being an urbane suburbanite who watches The Science Channel, how much do I really know?). You know, like if you poke roly pollies with a stick they'll roll up into a ball. And that armadillos, something I've never seen before but saw on TV, do the same. So far, this is astounding news to a 3 and 4 year old. I'll have to kick it up a notch when they start becoming smarter. In fact, I worry that they will turn dumb when I leave in July for the LLM. Just kidding. But seriously, between feeding the kids three meals a day, bathing them, playing with them, having one hour of extra lessons from a preschool math/language activity book (hey, we're an Asian household), and trying to do the same for myself (it is important to bathe and eat), and there wasn't much time left over (not to mention energy) for anything else. I did have fun though. The kids being on spring break meant that I was able to go with the other set of 4 kids to a Bubble Show at the local Science Center. Then there was a birthday party for one of the eight kids. Ice cream was eaten. Laundry was done afterwards.

And almost as importantly, I chose my classes for next year's fall semester. Federal Courts, Courts and Social Policy, the requisite Independent Study with the TBD Faculty Advisor, and a workshop on researching and writing for this affiliate JD/PhD program that is open to LLMs. I honestly don't know how I'll adjust from a year of singing the ABCs to trying to go ABD, but it'll be done. I have this strangely sad luxury of not being completely obligated to put the kids first. They aren't my kids. And I'm sort of glad they're not--but when you spend a lot of time taking care of children, it's hard to feel like there's anything more important. So it's both exciting and extremely frightening to be focusing on myself and My Future.

I wonder if other young aspiring academics feel as I do. You know, abject terror and uncertainty. The few I know, personally (my own professors) or distantly (from the blogosphere) are at least ten years older than I am, married, with their own children, and well settled. I wonder if they remember the abject fear and terror that comes with that supposedly joyous period of one's raucous 20s. The not knowing where you'll be one year to the next. The not having anything in your life figured out--who you'll have as a life partner, whether you should start a serious relationship when you might be moving across the country for a clerkship or a new job. How you'll handle the "two bodies, two cities" problem if you meet and marry another academic. They have jobs and mortgages. I can approximate true adulthood when I take care of children--I am very good at it and I have 14 years of experience with it--but with the rest, who knows? I can change diapers, give baths, teach children how to read and add/subtract, give the dreaded "sex talk" to an awkward boy of 14, and discipline children without losing their affection--but I don't know anything else. I can read and write and do the school thing. It's the being on my own, without this whole extended tribe thing I'm used to that I need to learn. I need to know where I'll be living and what I'll be doing for more than one year at a time. I know how to be a mother, or at least what to do with a baby/child/pre-teen/teenager--but I need to figure out whether I want to even begin to search for the guy who will help make me one. Couple that with my father's intense xenophobia towards anyone who is not Vietnamese and the paucity of Vietnamese men in law school (dude, do they take the LSAT?) and that's a whole 'nother headache that I'd rather not think about. I can do the school thing for now. I can play at motherhood for now. But the big questions will have to be left for later.

And to all my blogospheric friends and mentors over 30 with the whole career/mortgage/spouse/kids thing worked out, who wish to comfort me and assuage my fears by saying that this is the best time of my life, I ask you, honestly: if you could, would you go back and do it all over again? Would you want to be me and decide not to buy real furniture just in case you don't get accepted to the JSD program and have to figure out something else to do and try to avoid moving back home again?

There is very little in my life I can control right now. Which is why I'm concentrating on the little things, and not the big questions. I can choose my classes. I can decide that it would be a good idea to apply to clerkships next fall just in case the JSD thing doesn't pan out. I can pack, 4 months ahead of moving. I can watch The Dog Whisperer and try to coax a 3 year old to stop hitting and get over his fear of toilets.

I can get over the blog block that has been plaguing me last week and finally write something.

| links to this post

Defining Belles Lettres

What are the chances?

From A Word A Day:


So many channels, so little worth watching! Do you sometimes find yourself muttering those words? Next week is TV Turnoff Week ( http://tvturnoff.org/ ) so give that TV a well-deserved rest, and instead say: So many books worth reading, so little time!

People in the US watch TV for more than four hours a day. That's equivalent to sitting in front of a TV for two full months nonstop every year. It's not for nothing that TV has been called the plug-in drug, the boob tube, and the idiot box. For more, see factsheets: http://tvturnoff.org/factsheets.htm and research: http://tvturnoff.org/research.htm

It's time to redefine television, from Greek tele- (far) + Latin vision- (view), as something that deserved to be seen far, far away. Instead, get closer to books. Cut your screen time and increase your page time. This week we'll explore a few words from the world of books.

belles-lettres (bel-LET-ruh) noun

Literary works valued for their aesthetic qualities rather thaninformation or instruction.[From French belles (fine) + lettres (letters,
literature).]

-Anu Garg

"Unlike official or traditional poetry, the poetry of survival is not madeup of consolations but of solutions. Unlike our belles-lettres, this book is fact-dependent, not word-dependent." Miroslav Holub; The Invaders; Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues; Los Angeles Times, Feb 2, 1997.

I often wondered if anyone other than former English majors who took that one semester of 18th C literature understood what I meant when I chose my moniker. Admittedly, I haven't lived up to my name. When I set it up, I meant for the site to explore, just a little, my love of all things epistolary (I am quite good at making my own stationary and love to read epistolary novels, poems, and The Letters of _____) and my love of literature. So far, no poems, famous letters, or book reviews posted yet. I've been reading a lot more non-fiction lately (mostly legal/political science academic texts). Just two years ago, this would have freaked me out and caused me to question my own identity. Now, ehhh. The law is important to me. And I'll get around to posting bits of A.S. Byatt's Possession and Ahdaf Soeuif's The Map of Love, passages from The Epistles of Burlington, and some excerpts of letters from famous authors soon enough.

But until then, you have the story behind the name. I am not just a lawyer. I have a bibliophile's soul. And whatever my own skill at writing poetry and my fear of being considered yet another Lawyer/Failed Poet, I am at least better than this guy. (Blech!) This is probably why I avoided Friday Poetry Blogging, even during April's National Poetry Month. You're better off reading some good Gerard Manley Hopkins or even Billy Collins.

| links to this post

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Continuing the Conversation

The comments to my last post are very interesting (it comes from having good readers), and I would also like to direct your attention to the comments thread (23!) to the Gaia Bernstein post at Prawfsblawg. I was but a minor participant in this lively debate. But I got a compliment from Ann Bartow, who's "a fan." I blush. She also warns me never to underestimate the misogyny of the blawgosphere. I furrow my brow and take heed.

After reading all of the comments, I feel validated in my choice to blog pseudonymously here, where the community-building "Chronicles of Academia" aspect is important to me. It is my blog, so I can control this structure and space to suit my needs and blogospheric ambitions. But I can't control reactions, and don't want to--what people do with my legal/non-legal ramblings is their choice--they can read me or not, they can take me seriously or not, and they can respond to me if they wish. But I can promise my readers this: I will not engage in "drive-by" blogging, taking down other people/ideas with snark and vitriol. If I have an intellectual disagreement, I will make an earnest argument about it. I will always endeavor to keep the tone of this blog civil and collegial. And if I comment on other sites, I do not act like a troll, drop F-bombs, or do any other kind of drive-by commenting. If I disagree or make a criticism on someone else's site, I write under my own name. In my space, I have the freedom to write about the more personal aspects of academia, and I choose to do so anonymously. I discredit no one but myself in that case. And if there are those who take me less seriously because I do so, then so be it. It is their choice.

For everyone who reads this blog, whether you are a beloved regular or a fortuitous click-by visitor, thanks for reading and helping to shape this blog. It changes everyday in its subject matter, focus and aspirations. The debate about anonymity is interesting and will always be controversial--since the days of Publius. And blogging about blogging is just the hi-tech, slightly less respected companion to scholarship about scholarship. Everyone (except critical theorists, linguists, and pedagogues) who reads such things is left wondering if there is anything nerdier/more loserly than to read writing about writing.

| links to this post

The Vietnamese Yentl


Newsflash: This Is Not a Blawg.

At least according to Ian Best's Taxonomy of Legal Blogs. I'm on the list of blogs not included, and the reasons for this are yet to be explained. Law and Letters doesn't fit Ian's taxonomy for legal blogs, I'm not really offended. I did once say that this was not a blawg, and then immediately contradicted myself by blawgging. Besides, I'm in some lawyerly company. Also not included are Left2Right, The Leiter Reports (admittedly becoming more and more a philosophy/theory blog), and The Yin Blog, among others, despite being written by lawyers/law profs. As far as I can tell, the blogs included are very focused on the analysis/teaching/practice of the law or the professional life of the lawyer/judge/law professor. There are a handful of "lawyer webjournals" that were included--I'm probably excluded because I'm not lawyerly enough. That's okay by me, since I'm going back to being a student. So if I don't fit "the day in the life of," I guess I wouldn't fit in anywhere--despite my best efforts at blawgging (not bad, eh? I have been driving away some of my non-lawyer readers with recent attempts to explain The Law Behind ____), this is not exactly a blog entirely devoted to legal analysis.

I have struggled since Day 1, January 26, 2006 (a whopping three months ago!) with the scope of this blog. I have struggled with my anonymity and whether I should step up, be a woman, and "own my words." I'm trying to just be myself and have fun with this, as wiser blog friends have kindly suggested, but it's hard not to be concerned with and worry about something you invest a good deal of time on. This blog has become significantly more political and blawggish in the past few weeks, whether consciously or unconsciously. Not very personal, but polemic enough to worry about future googability. I haven't done a very personal post in a long time (although I'm about to do one now)--but would you put me into the following category of anonymous (female) bloggers?

Gaia Bernstein at PrawfsBlawg has interesting and insighful comments about anonymous female blogging:


It appeared to belong to a parallel universe of academic blogging. All these blogs were highly personal, extremely frank, brazenly discussing irritations with students, colleagues and dissertation advisers. Many of them regularly posted to-do lists including the mundane tasks of everyday academic life. They were written by tenured professors, most often junior professors on the tenure track and also doctoral students on the job market. Particularly striking were the features shared by all of them: they were all women academics and they all wrote anonymously. For a glimpse at some of these blogs, see here, here, and here.Whether these blogs are authored by legal female academics is hard to tell. Subject matter descriptions are purposefully vague. The blogs are not subject matter oriented and are rarely political. One of their primary functions appears to be community building. The authors refer to each other's blogs, they describe their blog-reading and catching up as part of their daily routine, and they serve as a support group for each other. The comments on the blogs are extremely supportive regardless of the content of the entry. As many of these women academics find themselves starting academic careers in isolated places, they appear to have found a virtual community to support them.

Are women academics really greatly under-represented in the blogosphere or do many of them elect to operate in a separate blogosphere of their own? Do they use the blogosphere to address different needs resulting in two parallel academic blogsphers: One academic blogosphere being the highly visible, political and subject matter oriented and relatively male dominated sphere and the other academic blogsphere being the personal, anonymous and supportive female dominated one?

I think my blog posts are very subject-matter oriented and very political (and very often legal). So I think I'm different in that respect. But I do agree with Gaia about the community-building aspect of the blog. I'm not newly tenured or isolated geographically, but I've been feeling intellectually isolated ever since I graduated from law school and moved home. This blog has been tremendously helpful for allowing me to blow off some Bar-exam stress, making blogospheric friends in different fields and of different ages, and helping me to feel like an academic member of an academic community--even if I change a lot of diapers. More importantly, and more recently, this blog has allowed me to practice distilling and refining my thoughts on certain subjects of the law--a good skill to practice for any aspiring professor. In fact, knowing that my audience comprises mostly non-lawyers forces me to be even more clear and precise in my articulation of legal principles and arguments. So I'm really thankful for that aspect of the blog. Yet I'm bothered by the possibility that because I'm anonymous and because I sometimes blog about my frustrations how childcare affects my scholarship, I exist in this netherworld parallel universe--unseen and unheard. And I wonder if the anonymity and sometimes personal aspect of this blog will obscure my substantive and political posts.

One of the comments suggested, "Unfortunately, these blogs just perpetrate the sexist stereotype that women (even female professors) really just want to shop and cry. Luckily, none of them (to my knowledge) are female legal academics." To which the wonderful Dan Markel responded, "I don't understand why anon is anon here. If you think it's sexist claptrap these blogs are perpetuating and perpetrating, why hide behind anonymity? Gaia is asking whether these blogs are potentially serving a community of persons who may feel the need for support as they go through the academic motions. Why is that so worthy of dismissal as perpetrating sexist stereotypes as to not even warrant a serious engagement with the questions invariably raised by these blogs or by Gaia's observation?"

My blogospheric dream is to be invited to guest blog or be a permanent contributor at Concurring Opinions or PrawfsBlawg. So it bugs me that this blog--particularly the more substantive posts on this blog-- may not be taken seriously because it is "too personal"--should I thus stop being personal? Should I stop writing about myself, my gender, my racial identity, my cultural background and family history? Even though they inform so much of myself, my identity as an academic, and (sometimes) my scholarship?

I have recently begun to regret certain admissions I have made about my family or personal life (although with respect to the latter, I have been remarkably reserved). I write about family issues when I find that it affects or intersects with issues of academia. Work/family balance, gender issues, culture, identity politcs--I try to make sure that the personal details are suffiently abstracted to become academic questions. It's not new what I'm doing, and I'm actually much more restrained than many other CRT storytellers. I have issues with storytelling, but that was another discussion. When I do talk about myself in terms of my gender, cultural background, and experiences with race, gender, and family, I think of such discussions as a way to emphasize and focus my discussion of a greater meta-topic. But I'm always conflicted by the intellectual usefulness of making myself an example, and the strange self-exploitation of it all--not to mention the exploitation of my family history.

Yet whether because of a deluded sense of self-importance or an earnest belief in relevancy, I find myself needing to write about what it is like to grow up in a strict Asian household, having both public and private roles, and living to two different sets of expectations. The whole "you can be whatever you want" and "you have to go to schools within a commutable distance because you'll never survive living on your own" and "you shouldn't apply to Harvard because you could never handle the pressure." It's a strange, complicated story that I've only told in bits and pieces as I've seen fit. But it was a very strange and not-so-fun experience trying to be a campus feminist in college and a shark in law school (especially given the inherent patriarchy there) and come home to a different set of gender roles. Basically, all I've wanted to do in life is just go to school, do some activism, and not be forced to listen to a bunch of Vietnamese radio Rush Limbaughs when I get home (especially when it's parroted back by my father). I haven't had the most normal life, but it's been interesting--one in which I rush home from the "Take Back the Night" rape vigil so that I can be home by sunset/dinnertime as demanded by my strict father. One in which I'm thankful my command of Vietnamese isn't better than basic, so that my father and I don't debate feminism, anti-communism, civil rights, and immigration reform. One in which a critical race theorist slides down in her passenger seat as she's ferried about in her father's "Bushmobile." It's an interesting life. If I wanted to or was ready to, I could write a couple of articles of about the complexities of Asian-American feminism. And seriously, all I wanted to do was just go to school and learn without all these added complications.

This is not the oldest story to tell, but I find myself wanting to tell it. You know, like the Vietnamese Yentl--"Papa, can you hear me?" I want to tell the story to show people that women like me exist, dealing with two sets of sometimes conflicting, sometimes confluent gender roles, and I want to tell it to disabuse people of such stereotypes. And in this safe space, I can. It's all the complications that have made me appreciate every chance I get to prove myself. It's hard not to think that they're not important or worth mentioning. It's as much a part of my identity as an academic (and sometimes, my work) as Kenji Yoshino's homosexual identity is a part of his, or Patricia Williams' black identity a part of hers. Do other non-anonymous blawggers in positions of privilege have any understanding of what it's like to be able, for the first time in your life, move away to a school you want to go to? Do they know what it was like to be discouraged from applying to elite schools as being both a waste of money and time? Do they know what it was like to be told that it would break a mother's heart, resulting in disownment if you did not go to a school close enough to commute? To not worry about coming home every weekend to fulfill your daughterly duties of changing diapers while your classmates are studying or having age-appropriate fun? It's not as easy as you would think to say no to all of this. Not when you have 5 siblings and 8 nieces and nephews and aging and increasingly infirm, paranoid, and (senile) parents who appear more pitiable and needful everyday. It was, and has always been, a hard choice. I don't have to make this choice anymore, this third time around--but it weighs on me, the burden of all my past choices.

I suppose most other people would have been man enough to make the choice at 18, as I was able to do but didn't, to reject all the filial piety demands and move away to all the elite schools I got into. But instead, I stayed at home and went to my local state school, did really well there, and became a campus feminst. And I suppose, at 21, other people would have gone to a higher ranked East Coast school, if they were accepted as I was. But I stayed nearby and went to a highly respected but not "top-10" school and did okay there too. And now, at 25, I get to make this choice all over again, and this time I have the extremely hard-won support of my parents, who finally believe that this difficult path I've chosen is right (enough) for me, that I can hack it at a top-ten school, and that I'm ready to be on my own. They keep talking about how hard it will be when I'm not here to help take care of the kids. And I still have a severely constrained social life whenever I live with them. But the times, they are (finally) a-changin'.

And that is something to blog about. It's given me the space not to focus so much on the personal and think of myself as the external world sees me--as an academic. It deepens my understanding of how hard the path to academia really is if you have all sorts of barriers and restraints to entry. It makes me appreciate every door to the ivory tower that I can finally push open, run prancingly through, books in arm, drinking the noble draught of knowledge, and singing,

Where is it written what it is
I’m meant to be, that I can’t dare
To have the chance to pick the fruit of every tree,
Or have my share of every sweet-imagined possibility?
Just tell me where, tell me where?
If I were only meant to tend the nest,
Then why does my imagination sail
Across the mountains and the seas,
Beyond the make-believe of any fairy tale?
Why have the thirst if not to drink the wine?
And what a waste to have a taste
Of things that can't he mine?
And tell me where, where is it written what it is
I'm meant to be, that I can't dare-
To find the meanings in the mornings that I see,
Or have my share of every sweet-imagined possibility?

| links to this post