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LANIUS: Law students can help too

In addressing sexual assault, law students have a valuable role to play as advocates and policy experts

“Two years ago, the Seven Society raised . . . banners as a call for unity and action at the end of a semester that had seen” similar suffering and turmoil to what we have seen on-Grounds this semester. That semester saw “hate speech, sexual assaults, and the loss of one of our own.” This one has seen similar turmoil, this time drawing national attention to our University.

The Law School has not been “an island, entire of itself” on North Grounds during all of this. We have had many of the same discussions the entire University community has had in the wake of this turmoil.

Our administration held a public Town Hall Concerning Sexual Assault on college campuses after the Rolling Stone article made public, uncorroborated, allegations about horrors that are said to have happened to a University student. One of our professors participated in the Batten School’s panel on the legal issues of student sexual misconduct. Our Student Bar Association hosted a panel on student safety in the aftermath of the Hannah Graham tragedy and has plans for a follow-up event next semester on safety post-graduation. The halls of the Law School echo and our personal social media news feeds buzz with discussions of safety, violence and veracity in journalism and sexual assault allegations.

The Law School has also had its own unique, though related, discussions this semester. We have had constructive public discussions about women’s contributions to our Law School community. We have hosted public forums on our administration’s Student Conduct Committee, which has overlapping jurisdiction with student-self-governance boards such as Honor and the University Judiciary Committee. Such discussion is especially poignant given the calls by many to use student boards to adjudicate sexual misconduct cases.

Law students are uniquely situated to add to the public dialogue about the problems facing our University. Many of us have studied or are otherwise involved in issues of personal safety and sexual assault. Some hold formal positions as advocates for victims of domestic violence. We are adept at reading policies and procedures, changes to which will likely be necessary solutions to our University’s problems. Many of us have gone to other undergraduate institutions and can provide perspective on successes we have seen elsewhere. Our skillset can be harnessed to foster positive policy changes in the University.

Given all of this, I am disappointed that the Law School has seemingly been shut out of recent discussions by the Seven Society and the rest of the University community. When the Seven Society last publicly addressed the University community two years ago, banners were hung on the Law School, a copy of the Seven Society’s letter was delivered to us, and we were made to feel like part of the community. None of that happened this year. Most law students are unaware that the Seven Society solicited proposals to address the problems facing the University. Law students do not begin classes after winter break until January 19, a week after the rest of the University begins. Yet the deadline for proposals is January 17. Meetings at the Law School to discuss and submit proposals are effectively precluded given that we are now in the midst of studying for final exams and will have no time after winter break with the current deadline.

Many of the solutions proposed in the discussions we have had in the Law School this semester are equally applicable to the greater University, yet our voices are rarely sought and seldom heard in discussions there.

I therefore urge the Seven Society to please consider taking two actions: (1) extending the deadline to submit proposals to allow meaningful participation by law students; and (2) delivering to the Law School a copy of its most recent letter to the University.

I further urge my fellow law students to join the larger discussion by: (3) submitting proposals to the Seven Society’s fund, regardless of when the deadline is; and (4) submitting public comments on the University’s new Student Sexual Misconduct Policy. It is our University too, so let’s help make it better.

I finally urge the rest of the University community to (5) remember the unique role law students can play in moving our University forward. We can serve as advisors, counselors, advocates and sources of ideas for change. Our education is unique in that we are trained each day to be all of these things. We want to solve the same problems as the rest of the University community and have special training to do so.

“The problems of our University belong to no one but us; so must their solutions.” I urge the Seven Society and the University community to consider that the Law School is not “an island, entire of itself,” but rather a vibrant part of our University’s community in a unique position to offer solutions to its problems. The “bell tolls” for us as well as “for thee,” but we must be allowed to hear it.

For a better Virginia,

W. Andrew Lanius

Law ‘15

Law Representative to Student Council