IEI Panel: The Challenges of Virtual Learning and Tools for Success

On October 8th, CLWA held its inaugural event for the Inclusion & Empowerment Initiative (IEI), which was co-sponsored by BLSA, the Journal of Law & Social Problems, and the Transfer & Visiting Students Organization. The event featured student panelists who discussed the challenges generated by COVID-19 and remote learning, and resources to cope with the stresses of these unprecedented times.

The topics discussed encompassed the challenges faced by black law students during a time marked by the horrific killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others; the challenges faced by international students as they attend remote classes from different time zones and deal with harsh immigration policy changes; and the challenges faced by students struggling with heightened mental health or financial pressures during the pandemic. Some highlights of the discussion include:

  • The feeling of powerlessness that black law students may be struggling with due to their inability to meaningfully participate in the Black Lives Matter movement while in virtual classes;
  • the inability to participate efficiently in classes when there is a 12-hour time difference from a student’s remote location;
  • the mental health toll the pandemic has caused by eliminating human contact; and
  • the heightened financial insecurity created by growing law firm layoffs and pay cuts.

The panelists recognized the support that CLS has been providing to combat these challenges and suggested further assistance is necessary to meet students’ needs. Specifically, the panel recommended the administration take the following actions:

  • To support black students, the administration should strive to provide consistent communication on ongoing social movements. The administration should recognize the added stress faced by black law students and aim to provide extra support and resources to these students during this difficult time. CLS should also hire more professors of color, particularly for black letter law classes.
  • To support international students, the panel recognized the administration’s existing support in securing WeWork spaces in 8 cities around the world dedicated to allowing the local Columbia community to connect during the pandemic. However, the panel confronted the need for a clear and consistent policy exempting international students from attending classes live or, alternatively, providing classes that accommodate an international schedule. The panel also recommended that CLS provide legal assistance to students facing immigration challenges due to the recent policy changes on student and work visas.
  • To support students dealing with heightened financial pressures, the panel recommended that the administration be more proactive in providing aid to students in need (i.e. rather than requiring students to apply for different aid or grant programs, the administration should automatically consider students who qualify for those programs). The panel also emphasized that reducing tuition and other fees would offer great relief to students impacted by the current financial crisis.

Ending on a positive note, the panelists shared tips about dealing with these challenges, including connecting with family, forming a support group with friends, and staying engaged with your community. The panelists encouraged students to check-in on their friends and to be more cognizant of and empathetic towards the challenges they may be facing.

IEI is proud to have hosted this panel with the support of our sponsors: Cahill Gordon, Cleary Gottlieb, Debevoise & Plimpton, Morrison & Foerster, Paul Weiss, Schulte, Shearman & Sterling, Simpson Thacher, & Sullivan & Cromwell