The groups aim to help incoming students build a sense of community within themselves as well as with faculty
By Yulia Nakagome
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, USC has made several changes to campus life for the fall 2020 semester, including instituting online classes, which pose challenges to creating and maintaining community. This summer, incoming law students have had the opportunity to meet informally with faculty and other students through a new reading group program that fosters community and helps students gain their footing as they enter law school.
Professor Tom Lyon hopes that the reading groups will get incoming students excited about law school.
Professor Tom Lyon, who helped introduce the project to faculty, hopes that the reading groups will get incoming students excited about law school.
“Because so many may have learned little law as undergrads, they may feel as if they’re in first grade all over again,” he says. “I want them to think, ‘No, I have a lot of great background knowledge that will make learning law that much more interesting.’”
Beginning in mid-June, the groups meet bi-weekly via Zoom for one to two hours. The meetings focus on a variety of source material including books, articles, TV shows and films. The groups serve to add value to students’ legal education in a relaxed environment while acquainting students with faculty they may take classes from later in law school.
“The primary aim behind reading groups is to foster close faculty relationships amongst small groups of incoming students,” says David Kirschner, director of admissions.
The informal groups consist of 12 to 15 incoming students led by a full-time faculty member. Each faculty member has chosen a topic of personal interest that they believe may appeal broadly to students. “Race, Rap and Redemption in Criminal Law,” led by Professor Jody Armour, addresses timely issues including the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’m talking about prejudice in the rule of law,” Armour says. “The conversations we’re having are ripped directly from the headlines. The reading groups give students a chance to see how the classroom is relevant to the real world by bringing the real world into the classroom.”
Armour says the reading groups give incoming students an opportunity to dive into an area a professor knows well and is passionate about.
“They can catch some of the professor’s fire or zeal or inspiration for the subject,” he says.
Professors’ passion and knowledge drive reading groups
Professor Abby Wood helped encourage colleagues to set up reading groups and is also leading her own reading group, called “Money in Politics.”
Professor Abby Wood was a driving force in stoking faculty enthusiasm for the project.
“I helped encourage colleagues to set up reading groups, and we had a great response,” Wood says. “We're all faces on Zoom right now, and we want to be more than that. Some students are in the workplace right now, so it’s also a chance for them to flex their intellectual muscles and start thinking about things in the way we do in academia.”
Wood is also leading her own reading group, called “Money in Politics.”
“For our first meeting, I had [the students] read a piece about race in campaign financing,” she says. “It was nice timing because people are talking about race in America right now.”
Lyon leads a reading group called “Psychology and the Child Witness.”
“The reading group topic is everything I'm interested in — the intersection between law and developmental psychology,” Lyon says.
Incoming students feel supported by Gould community
Incoming law student Leilani Stacy said she appreciated the laid-back nature of the meetings, which encouraged her and other students to participate.
Incoming law student Leilani Stacy says the reading groups feel like being in a "normal classroom setting."
“It was really casual; we talked about what we thought of the article while working through guided questions and also questions we brought up,” she says. “Everyone’s feeling weary about the online learning situation, but it felt like we were in a normal classroom setting. Everyone was able to participate — maybe even more so than we would normally.”
Stacy chose Wood’s “Money in Politics” reading group because she felt it aligned with her interests.
“I studied economics and political science at Wellesley College for my undergraduate degree, and I’m interested in the intersection of democracy and economic power,” she says. “I knew Professor Wood is actively doing research in that area, so it seemed like a unique opportunity to be able to see her perspective.”
Fellow incoming law student Rachel Kartin joined Lyon’s reading group, “Psychology and the Child Witness” and called it a “wonderful” learning experience and introduction to the Gould community.
“I hope to understand how children are treated and viewed in the courts because I’m thinking of going into family law,” Kartin says. “I also hope to make good connections and friends, given the uncertainty for fall. I’m thankful to Gould for setting up this program because it gives me a way to get support and a community even though I'm not physically there.”
The reading groups will continue to meet into the fall semester, wrapping up before Halloween and final exams.