Called On and Called Out

Posted on April 21st, 2009 by Katherine Franke

hazleEbonie Hazle is a 3rd year law student at Columbia, who offers these thoughts on her experience in law school:

As is so often the case with endings, during this last semester of law school, I’ve been thinking a lot about how it began. When I first started at Columbia, I was excited about the newness of arriving in a new city, moving to a new apartment, and meeting new people. Then classes started. And it was only my first week when I was startled by an unfamiliar phrase, “Ms. Hazle.” What could be more ominous for a student than being called by her last name? Typically, I am neither particularly anxious nor afraid of public speaking, but I felt a wave of dread and anxiety at the prospect of asking a few simple questions in front of my fellow classmates.

I felt that my answer was bound to expose me as not smart enough, not prepared enough. The students, who were strangers, were bound to judge me. They would surely turn to their neighbor and quietly whisper, “Oh, she must be in the wrong place.”

The Socratic method has long been vilified, often unfairly. I don’t deny that that the system can be effective to encourage preparation and full participation. In any event, professors could probably ask a third year student the questions in a foreign language without getting much of a rise out of her. But I think the Socratic method works best when it highlights difference between self and other. For example, the method might expose how a student’s particular experiences have informed their understanding of an issue and how the views of his classmates might contradict or rub up against it. Answering even the simplest of questions, like whether you agree or disagree with the holding of case, can involve revealing a position on an issue that can be quite personal. Sometimes being called on really means being called out–your personal view, once guarded, suddenly becomes the day’s lesson plan.

A class like Gender Justice, in which I am enrolled this semester, certainly involves disclosing one’s personal views on a variety of sensitive topics–from whether certain sex differences are culturally or biologically based to whether rape should be conceived as a crime of violence or of sex. Views on these topics can be particularly sensitive because they were probably formed long before we came to law school—they weren’t based on the reading of a case, but on our upbringings, our morals, faith and personal beliefs. Since we come from a variety of cultural, racial and religious backgrounds, the views on any particular topic tend to cover a wide spectrum.

But there is a certain ease with which the students in this class reveal what they really think about these subjects and how the reading might have annoyed them, insulted them, or absolutely captured their opinion on the subject. Despite our sometimes clashing views, there is a sense that you can breath a little easier, that you can speak freely.

I can’t help but think that this ease of expression exists because of a baseline commonality—the class is composed almost entirely of women, a fact that’s obvious because it’s so rare. Most classes (and the school as a whole) have a pretty consistent 50-50 split. For that reason, I usually don’t notice gender imbalance as much I notice racial imbalance.

But it’s difficult not to notice when there are only three men in the room. Of course, the very premise of classes like Gender Justice is that as women we are uniquely affected by certain areas of the law, from abortion law to divorce law, and that sometimes its helpful to view these topics from a feminist perspective.

Of course, the men in the class have valuable and significant contributions and I’m glad they decided to enroll. I laughed to myself one day in class when one of them spoke up, and I realized how refreshing it was to get a male view.

If I do feel anxiety in Gender Justice, it is probably the quiet and forward looking anxiety of knowing that soon I will be thrust into the working world, with all of the disadvantages that women there face.. Maybe I’m just getting older, but I think being surrounded by women who are about to embark on their careers makes me really focus on issues that I never seriously considered before– such as how to ideally balance family and work life and whether its best to have children early or late in one’s career. Even if the only thing I remember after the final exam is the realization that it’s crucial to think about and plan for these issues that will uniquely affect me as a woman, it will have been worth it.

– Ebonie Hazle, 3L, Columbia Law School


  1. Gender & Sexuality Law Blog » Blog Archive » Called On and Called Out: Maybe I’m just getting older, but I t..

  2. Gender & Sexuality Law Blog » Blog Archive » Called On and Called Out: Maybe I’m just getting older, but I t..

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