GOOD FAITH ADVICE
Dear Gertrude and Socrates,
Welcome to the VOICE. I hope you know what you are getting yourselves into. We UCI Law students are an irreverent group, and given the guise of anonymity you hope to maintain, I expect you’ll receive quite the set of questions in your inbox. (And by “questions” I mean bits of acerbic criticism designed to rile the crowds, un-artfully veiled as innocuous, sincere attempts to create dialogue and awareness on campus.) Here’s one to start:
At the end of last year, legal anteaters were worried: worried that the new students wouldn’t assimilate to the good thing we’ve got going on here, and worried that as the classes grew, the culture of support, friendliness, and non-competitiveness would diminish. We worried that the new class would not stand in solidarity with the UCI Law effort and would not fully embody UCI Law values. Now, after having spent a year with the class of 2015, I have to ask: were we right to be worried? Stories of “exclusive” study groups, where doors are shut in hostile moves to keep conversations private, and talk of legit Mod A/Mod B rivalries dividing the first-years make me think our worries were well founded. I’ve observed alarming levels of 1L cynicism towards PILF and overheard conversations denigrating the idea that we have a duty to each other and to future classes to help one another out and pave the way for our collective success. I’ve perceived a marked decrease in the value given to activities unrelated to coursework/GPA maintenance, and a marked increase in the value students put on traditional indicia of prestige. While I hope these behaviors and attitudes are more isolated than they appear, I still wanted to ask: what do we do about this? How do we perpetuate our unique culture and prevent UCI Law from becoming just like any other existing institution? How can current students successfully impart to new students the values that attracted us to UCI in the first place?
I hope this proves to be good fodder for your first column, G&S, and that I haven’t upset too many 1Ls. Truly, I like you guys. I only ask this question because I care.
Also, though I am neither Gertrude nor Socrates, I feel confident in preemptively replying to all those who are wondering if they’ve developed a drinking problem: yes, yes you have.
Drunk on UCI Law Kool Aid
P.S. If it’s you, Socrates, I’m expecting your response to be given in a series of questions. Points awarded for stylistic accuracy.
First things first. This column is called “Good Faith Advice.” Socrates and I are very proud of this name as we shamelessly spent hours trying to come up with a title we were happy with. Again, that’s “Good Faith Advice.”
Next, defining the entire UCI student body as “irreverent” is not the best way to make friends. But given your question, it seems that you are not really concerned with making friends. Though you’ve qualified your “question” as “acerbic criticism” inartfully “veiled” as an actual question, I’m going to respond anyway. I’m going to respond mainly because I do think you bring up an issue that has not only crossed your mind, but the mind of many other students. And, frankly, I’ve got something to say about these concerns.
Were we right to be worried? Well, I’m not sure if worrying is ever right. But we tend to do a lot of worrying anyway. This is one thing I’ve never quite understood about people, myself included. Regardless, I think these worries point out one thing about the people who have them: that they have some sense of elitism. You say we were worried that the new 1Ls wouldn’t assimilate into the good thing we’ve got going. That they wouldn’t assimilate to the UCI Law values we’ve established. Well, though I agree we have a good thing going, I’m not quite sure why we would want the new 1Ls to simply assimilate to that. I thought we wanted them to add to the good things we already had. To make our school better, not just to keep it as it is. We might think that doing X is good, but maybe doing Y would be better. Who are we to say that X is the best way of doing things? That’s what I mean about elitism.
I know you bring up this issue because you want to make sure UCI Law evolves into a top law school that fosters cooperation amongst students. I know your intentions are good. I want this for our school as well. However, I think it’s important to understand that our way is not always the best way. I also think it’s important to understand that these issues are not new to UCI Law.
You see my drunken friend, the 2L class has had its fair share of exclusive study groups and don’t forget the everlasting mod rivalries that was the basis for the school’s decision to integrate the mods second semester. This occurred in the 3L class as well. Also, much of the increase in attention to maintaining a good GPA is not specific to the 1L class. This is something I’ve noticed in all three classes. Frankly, I don’t think there is much wrong with this anyway. We can care about our GPAs and still be friendly to one another. We should care about our GPAs. Though we all know that GPA isn’t everything, it is important. Regardless, I don’t think your statement that the 1Ls are focused less on activities outside of coursework is even true. Though I don’t have access to the actual data, observation seems to demonstrate that 1Ls are very involved in pro bono work, possibly more so than the upper classmen were as 1Ls.
My point is that we shouldn’t be worried. There’s plenty to worry about as is, such as, how do I hide my alcoholism from my family? No person, or class, is perfect. All we can really do is uphold the values we find to be important, in the hopes that others will do the same. By creating rifts between the classes, like the mods did with each other, we are not fostering the friendly and cooperative environment that all of us want. The 1L class is not less cooperative than the 2L class nor the 3L class. Basically, let’s just stop hating.
My first day as a student at the University of California, Irvine was as close to a culture shock as it could get. Although I was told this school was different, I couldn’t help preparing myself in advance, based on the things I was told by others:
Things I was told:
1. Law school is competitive.
2. Law school is full of people smarter than you. (This is true, but you’re smart too.)
3. Law students don’t care about each other.
4. Professors don’t care about you either.
What I experienced my first day, and everyday thereafter, has created a more nuanced and probably more realistic understanding of what UCI Law School is.
Things I now understand:
For some reason that I don’t care to think about, it is in the nature of law schools to grade students on a curve. Grading students on a curve creates competition among students. UCI Law School is a law school. UCI Law School grades students on a curve. Thus, UCI Law’s curve creates competition among students. UCI Law School is competitive by its very nature.
The difference? I’ve seen the students here support each other’s successes and share in their misery. Students here genuinely do not like to see others do poorly. I’ve seen people cry; heck, I’ve cried, and been comforted by students I don’t personally think I was very close to, but who cared enough to offer a sympathetic ear.
This is one problem: the current size of our school does lend itself to camaraderie, and I think that as the school grows, students will lose that feeling of closeness. It’s easy to approach someone that you’ve met a few times, or who you’ve seen enough to know that they would accept your offer of someone to listen to. It’s human nature to worry about rejection, or fear of intruding on someone’s personal pain. Since our school is so small, students feel a sense of community. When someone talks to you about someone else’s life, you have an idea of the general facts compiling each student’s background because you’ve heard about them from others, or you’ve talked to them; maybe you’ve seen one of their achievements on the flat-screen TVs we keep around school; perhaps you’ve heard a professor or a staff member reference that student in conversation. We see each other almost every day. We see each other’s daily routines, feelings, and thoughts parade across our Facebook feeds.
So what do we do? We try to make a large school feel as small as possible. Close the gap. Do things that will take you out of your mod and put you into contact with different students in your year, and others not in your year. Even though it may not be second nature, cross the courtyard and say hi and chat for a minute with a 1L studying there. Introduce yourself. If they look worried, tell them not to be. Give your phone number or your email address freely. Friend everyone on Facebook if you have one. Go to bar reviews, do pro bono, join clubs and organizations. Get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be guaranteed to meet students outside of your mod, and hopefully you’ll be having fun.
The key to creating a small school is to make our community one where everyone knows each other. If you know someone, you’re more likely to care about them, and you’re more likely to feel less competitive and more friendly toward them.
Once the school has established processes and is ranked, will we need to perpetuate our culture anymore, or is it just manufactured because we need a supportive culture to survive? I admit I’ve suffered from this feeling many times; if the school didn’t need us to get a good ranking, and thus attract more students, would they care about us at all? Would other students care about me? ARE WE ALL FAKING OUR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER JUST TO GET AHEAD?
UCI Law will never succeed without everyone doing well. Competition, living for your own success only, and feeling happiness when others have setbacks is going to lead to your loss as well. When one of us fails, we all fail. When one of us doesn’t get a job, or doesn’t pass the bar, or does poorly in a class, our collective win/loss percentage goes down. This is a purely self-interested perspective, but no less correct because of the fact. We’re in a huge prisoner’s dilemma. We see that betrayal will get the bigger reward (a better grade, or feelings of superiority), but if we all choose to betray each other and strike out on our own, everyone loses.
So my answer to those who don’t want to participate in life at UCI Law (this is for all classes, not just 1Ls): You need to get involved. You have the time. Just do one club; just attend one lunchtime speaker every week, or two weeks; go to your Community Fellow events sometimes. The students, faculty, and staff put on these events for us.
We care about you, 1Ls. We remember what it was like to be in your shoes, and we remember how the upperclass people treated us when we first came to UCI. We want to pay it forward with you. We want to give you advice, and bring you candy, and bake you treats, and bring awesome speakers and events here that will inspire you and create an energy within you to help others. We do this with the full understanding that we’ve created a contract with you. Our performance is done. You now must hold up your end of the bargain. All of you must work together–don’t put it on 10 people in your class. Share the workload, and you will succeed. Sorry–share the workload, and ALL of us will succeed.