Jenna Goldman (she/her/hers) '18
The welcome letter from the editor of the Virginia Law Weekly usually includes quips about drinking at Bilt, war stories about gorging on free pizza, and tips on how to sneak jalapeno potato chips into 8:30am Civ Pro, ending with a desperate call for you to write for us. My first draft of this welcome letter written earlier this summer was full of such advice. As we prepared for production and I re-read my letter, it felt distant and out-of-touch with the events that transpired and the gravity accompanying the start of this particular year.
On Friday, August 11th, the day white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched through Main Grounds with tiki-torches, our staff learned that we had won the American Bar Association’s award for Best Law School Newspaper. Instead of celebrating, I felt numb and indifferent to this accomplishment.
The award was supposed to be a celebration of free speech; the heralded First Amendment we are charged to nobly defend as lawyers and budding journalists. A right we hold dear at the Law Weekly because it affords us the opportunity to critique, to praise, to disagree, to discuss, to applaud, and to mourn all aspects of the law school. It was all the more gut wrenching to watch the armed hate groups descend on Main Grounds and the Downtown Mall because they did so under the guise of “freedom of speech.”
Writing this new welcome letter was difficult because it invoked such feelings of guilt and hopelessness. How could I possibly welcome new students to a place where such a show of hate had occurred? How could I welcome new students when I didn’t feel welcomed back to Charlottesville myself?
These horrific events have provided a rude awakening that we (this school, this town, this country) have a long way to go on the proverbial “arc of the moral universe” that, from this vantage point, does not appear to bend towards justice.
Combatting racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia are daunting tasks, and in the aftermath of the violent rally I found it nearly impossible to know where to begin. But watching the brave counter protestors fight back with markers and posters, exercising their own freedom of speech, reminded me of the positive power of words.
We at the Law Weekly have always believed the best way to combat ignorant arguments is with informed ones. We are a stronger paper and a better school when everyone participates in the conversation. My goal for this paper is to foster discussions that educate and include all members of the UVa Law community.
Our major initiative is to hand the microphone (or the pen – OK, keyboard) over to marginalized communities in the law school. Though many of us were told to go to law school because we “love to argue” or “can’t stop talking,” the most valuable skill I have learned in the last two years is when and how to listen. Over the course of the coming year, the Law Weekly will feature stories by those who witnessed the white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally and who participated in the peaceful counter-protests, along with an ongoing feature by many UVa Law affinity groups.
Although we all came to law school for different reasons, I suspect our motivations share a common thread: we hope to learn how to use the law as a tool to right the injustices we see in the world. All of you 1Ls have already proven to be the best and brightest. Many of you are seasoned community activists and advocates. Therefore, I will only leave you with one piece of unsolicited advice. Hold on to whatever passion it was that brought you to UVa Law and participate in organizations that help you further those interests.
So, volunteer for the Innocence Project, run for your section’s First-Year Council, join Virginia Law Women, join Black Law Student Association, or make some other positive impact on UVa Law. 1L time commitment for the Law Weekly, and most other organizations, is truly less daunting than it may seem. We meet every Monday at 6pm in SL 279 to edit submitted work, listen to Kesha, and eat free pizza (thanks Domino’s).
Now I will end, as promised, with the traditional shameless plug to write for the Law Weekly. Whether it is your discontent with the school alcohol policy, an opinion about foreign elections, or an amicus brief for the esteemed Court of Petty Appeals, we want to publish your writing. If domestic terror groups can invoke the First Amendment, so can we. Submit your pieces to us in 800-1500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On behalf of the staff of writers and editors at the Virginia Law Weekly, good luck and welcome to law school!