By: Merve Ciplak and Kate Thoreson
Sarah Rutherford ’21
Record: Why are you running for DoSO?
Sarah Rutherford: I never saw myself at HLS. Both my parents were immigrants who came to this country from Caribbean islands, and so I’m a first-generation college student. I’ll be the first person in my family to graduate from law school, so as soon as I got to Harvard, I said “I’m gonna be a part of everything that I can possibly be a part of. I’m so thankful that I’ve been in community in BLSA, I’m a student attorney for the Tenant Advocacy Project, and I’m also active in First Class, which supports first generation and low-income students. It’s been so nice to have group that are so focused on inclusion and diversity, and I really want to help to lift up the work that those organizations are doing. I’m so impressed at the student orgs’ ability to create community at this campus.
Record: You’ve just listed a number of other commitments. How would they affect your ability to do this job?
SR: Some [organizations] are not huge commitments. Some are just about creating spaces where people can go and feel comfortable. So I would say that my responsibilities for First Class or for BLSA are just being a great member of that community and being someone that younger students can reach out to if they need any help. But I don’t actually have leadership positions in those organizations; I would say I am part of coalitions and committees. I think the Tenant Advocacy Project is a significant commitment, but that’s what we came to law school for. So many people came to law school saying they wanted to do community service, and that’s the great part about SPOs.
Record: My understand is your campaign is tied in with Jake and Parisa’s campaign for co-presidency. What made you decide to ally yourself with them?
SR: I really believe in what they’re fighting for. I think a lot of our goals and values are aligned. So many organizations at HLS have been fighting to get Belinda Hall officially recognized. BLSA, La Alianza, so many organizations have been fighting for this. But what I really like about Jake and Parisa’s platform is that they are willing to work with those organizations and really want to help them get to the next frontier in the work that they’ve been doing. There’s a little gap between what these organizations are doing and just having more backing and support from the administration. Jake and Parisa will get it done; I just wish that more people would give them the chance or had the chance to meet them and hear their thoughts.
Record: If you were elected, what kinds of changes would you want to make in the next year?
SR: This position is so unique because you get to meet with the Dean of Students office every week, so what I would love to have is biweekly, invite leaders from different student organizations to come to those meetings for a listening session between them and the administration. I would also love to address some issues with funding and make it more equitable, because right now, there’s one big opportunity in the spring to make a request for funding. There would be a great opportunity for collaboration if, throughout the year, organizations could crowdsource funding within the organizations. I think a lot of organizations really appreciate the town hall the administration tried to have after the Kavanaugh hearings, and I think that we shouldn’t just wait until a contentious moment to hear from the school’s administration. It should be something that’s on a regular basis, so I’d like to institute a State of the Law School every semester where we’re able to hear from the Dean and students are able to participate in a town hall. There are also small things we could work on, like having a spring semester orgs fair. Even the training for student org leaders can be addressed. Student organizations are the heartbeat of this school, so it’s exciting to have this opportunity.
Record: Let’s circle back to your work with First Class. What kinds of things would you do as Director of Student Orgs to support first generation and low-income students?
SR: It’s about asking student organizations with hierarchical power if they would collaborate with a newer organization that supports an affinity group. It would solve a lot of problems. First Class did a dinner with Harvard Law Review during first semester. It was very informal. Just hearing about it ahead of time was really helpful. I think that there could be a greater emphasis on academic support and how you can have mentors between different organizations. There’s also an opportunity socially. A lot of clubs get funding to make sure students are able to participate in things that the rest of the school is going to. DOS should provide additional funding for organizations that want to sponsor their members to do things. First Class got 25% off to go to Parody, and BLSA got $5 tickets. Things like that are integral to what it means to be an HLS student. If you aren’t able to go on the HL Central Boat Cruise, or you can’t go to Parody, you might feel like you missed out.
Record: Do you think there should be more dogs, fewer dogs, or about the same number of dogs on campus?
SR: We need way more dogs. How come Remy has a prime spot and goes in and out of buildings? We need an equivalent dog that’s just prancing around the law school. People love corgis.
Record: I love corgis! Anything else?
SR: I’d like to add that Jake, Parisa and I love this law school, and when you love something, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be critical of it. The school can grow, it can be more inclusive, and it can come up with a better way to build community, and that’s what we want to work towards.
David Shea ’20
Record: Why are you running for DoSO?
David Shea: I don’t want a campaign like this to come down to empty promises. I came as a transfer, so I was scared that HLS was gonna be a place that you could get lost in the woodwork. Harvard provided the newly formed Section 8 to help bring me on board, and I realized how incredible the school was at providing opportunities for transfers in the student body more generally. Seeing that, and seeing how much they gave me to make me feel comfortable with my classmates and the different student orgs on campus and how much outreach they did to make us feel at home made me realize I had to give back. First I was Transfer Rep, and then I got invited to be Events Chair, and I just had an amazing experience working with them and talking with a diverse set of student groups. It’s about giving back and trying to empower people to have the same opportunities that I did to get involved and to hear their voices.
Record: This is the second time I’ve personally interviewed a transfer student running for this particular job. Is there a reason that transfers are drawn to it?
DS: I think transfers come in as very high achievers, just because in their respective law schools they were not only top students, but usually highly involved. I think part of it is self-selection, but I also think there’s a natural opportunity to compare and contrast that gives a transfer an upper hand to look at things at HLS objectively. I had a very narrow aim coming in as transfer rep in changing the write-on process for law review for transfers because it was not geared towards transfers. You had to write on prior to being accepted to HLS on the hope that you would get into HLS, which for most people is not a realistic proposition. So we worked closely with the Law Review to change that process, which is a conversation that’s been ongoing for years, but I set out to actually change that process, and we have. They have now opened up a new summer write-on specifically for transfers to write on with 1Ls. That opened up my eyes to the fact that I could take experiences of being a transfer and help change the overall culture for everyone. I made a point of getting involved with the 1Ls’ effort to reform LRW here, because again, I had all these transfers saying “things are different at our other schools and we can tell there are things missing in [Harvard’s] 1L writing program.” So I was able to work with Micah and I compiled a cross-section of commentary from transfers on their experiences with LRW at their respective universities and gave it to Josh, who was leading the charge on LRW, and Josh gave it to Dean Manning, and it has led to the change that we’re now seeing today where they’re instituting a total overhaul of LRW next year. I’m not saying I was the lead by any means, it was a group effort, but I was involved.
Record: What could you do to increase inclusion for transfers in orgs across the law school?
DS: A lot of it is symbolic. Having me in the DSO position would show that you can have a place here, that you’re not an outsider. If you make an effort to make a place here at HLS, you can do that. This is the ultimate example that if we really want to show that HLS is a place that’s welcoming to transfers, I could be that figurehead that could help. But I don’t want to be typecast as a transfer, and that’s part of my hope in breaking out of the Transfer Rep role. You can build consensus broadly, and that’s what a DSO does. Your budget is always a fight, but that doesn’t mean you can’t carve out a space for everyone, and the more a DSO can be open and listen, the better. The outsider status does help in that, because it’s a visual sign that we are open to listening to other parties and bringing another perspective.
Record: What other commitments to student orgs do you have?
DS: The DoSO position would be an absolute priority for me, but I am an executive editor of online content for CRCL. They’re helping push for more professors of color. It’s great to have activism on the ground level, but if they don’t have support from Student Government, they’re dead in the water. So I want to empower things like that, but I also don’t want people to think that those are pet projects for me. I really want to have the door open for everyone. In terms of other things, I am invested in PLAP pretty heavily. I would love to get involved in [CJI] 3L, but at the moment, I’m in PLAP. I made an effort to pick up a disciplinary hearing. It’s been amazing to act as a student attorney. I wanted an opportunity to be on the ground helping people in need. I think that’s one of Daniel and PD’s mottos, leveling the playing field. And you have to level the playing field not just here at HLS, but in the world at large, and for me, PLAP is that opportunity to find the people in prison who are most in need of representation. I go to Talks. I love the Talks program. Daniel is instrumental in putting that out, and I think it’s amazing. That is the core of what I want to bring to Student Government, which is a space where people can be heard and listened to. There are so many times when people are shouting at each other and not listening, and I love the passion, but we have to create a space where people can talk about their experiences and share with each other. We have to change the campus culture in terms of how people communicate because whether you’re left, right, or otherwise, there’s no reason people should be shouted down. If we create a culture where people are really engaged and listening to each other, I think we can shift that tone.
Record: How would you help improve student organizations?
DS: I think input from the student body needs to be better. Student Government is very siloed. We do a lot of work behind the scenes, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it leads to a perception that we’re inactive. I think we need to make students understand that we are truly open to listening. I can promise you that not everyone on Student Government fully internalized what the Prison Divestment Campaign said, let alone what they believe. I personally signed the petition. I believe there was a core of something that needed to happen there, but I also think the job of student government is to take that passionate, activist message and put it in a way that’s politically soluble. So we’re working on drafting a proposal that could pass muster with Student Government, but also take the administration to task, and it’s that kind of consensus-building that Student Government has to be cognizant of. That’s a strength of mine.
Record: How do you think the DoSO could make it easier for student orgs to do things?
DS: That gets down to the equity and transparency debate. I stress democracy, but that doesn’t mean the majority always rules. There is a time where we have to recognize that there are marginalized and vulnerable groups on campus that may need a microphone because they don’t have the larger support. FedSoc is not the darling of the left, but they have every right to organize, have money, do their events, and further what they believe in. They’re ironically a minority here whereas in the larger sense, they may not represent minority views. You look at the opposite of that, a group like Lambda, who is representing the LGBTQ+ community. That’s a marginalized group that you have to recognize probably doesn’t consist in the majority either and also needs someone fighting for them, so when they reached out to me and said, “do you support more gender inclusive bathrooms [or] an increased budget for Lambda in light of JAG being on campus,” I would be hard pressed to say no realizing that [every] dollar that goes to Lambda may in effect be taken away from a student org. That’s a reality that if a candidate doesn’t admit to, [they’re] lying. It’s easy to say I can fund every initiative, but I can’t. I have to make some executive judgment to figure out, where are the voices that need empowering, and where are some that just have a large consensus behind them? It’s a question of balancing.
Record: Do you think there should be more dogs, fewer dogs, or about the same number of dogs on campus?
DS: I really can’t say that this is an issue I’ve thought greatly about. There’s a fine number of dogs on campus. I would love to know who these people are who have strong concerns about dogs and tell them to please come speak to me.
(Ed. note: it’s me.)
DS: I’m a huge dog lover, but I do love cats, which has drawn the ire of some dog owners. I think cats are greatly misunderstood animals. They’re very smart, but they play coy. There’s people on campus that are a little bit more like cats than dogs. They’re very smart, but they can be siloed in their interests. The DoSO’s goal is to make us a little more doglike and a little less catlike. We’re all very smart, but we’ve gotta remember that friendship and loyalty are important things, and people of all different stripes can be friends. Ginsburg and Scalia were friends, so it’s not a pipe dream.
William “Billy” Wright ’21
Record: Why are you running for DoSO?
William “Billy” Wright: When I got to HLS and started my 1L year, I found a home in the section very quickly. I felt a real sense of community right off the bat. I didn’t want to just be a part of the community and exist in it, but I wanted to help shape it and make it something that worked more for everyone.
People complain all the time about problems at HLS, going back to Scott Turow, and there are all the tropes about it. I’m a big believer in the idea that if you’re at a place, you’re part of the place and you’re responsible for it. You can’t just complain, you have to find solutions. So I was 1L Rep, and was very thrilled and honored to be the representative for the section, and really did get to address a couple of problems I had identified at a low level with HLS in general. I’d like to start doing that at a higher level, and I think that Director of Student Organizations and Journals is a really powerful way to do that because they’re at the center of so much of student life. Student organizations are a real strength, and once you leave 1L year you’re not really in a section. Your main student organization is your real home at HLS, and it does contribute to community, but it can also hurt community by keeping people siloed. I think we stay siloed from sections, and we don’t really talk to a lot of other sections, and we see, just as an example, FedSoc and ACS people who aren’t talking. It’s bad for the community and for discourse in general. It’s a bad state of affairs in the profession if you’ve got two major camps going forward and not engaging with each other.
Can you expand on the things you worked on as a 1L Representative in Student Government this year?
BW: Last semester, Veteran’s Day was coming up. It was the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which is the day most other countries call the end of the war. There were a few events across campus that recognized it, but they were mostly Harvard or organization events. It was usually veterans’ programs, and there really wasn’t anything at HLS about it. Being a veteran and being passionate about that part of history, I noticed this. It’s really not just a veterans’ thing, and it’s such a seminal event for human history that touches on law and shaped the world so much. I thought we should do something to recognize this in some way, and it should be a more sober event than a dinner or a happy hour. So I put together an Armistice Day Run the Friday before at sunrise. I wanted to make it a Student Government thing and not an Armed Forces Association thing, because it’s not just veterans. I wanted to open it up to the university at large, because it shouldn’t just be a law school event. I like doing things beyond HLS if at all possible. We got a handful of people out from the law school, which is a small miracle at sunrise in November. We got some people from the College, the Kennedy School, and the Business School. We were 30-40 people out there in total, and it was a really cool thing to see a diverse group of people come together around this event. Not many people who fought in it are alive to remind us that it’s important and of the pitfalls of a failure to have a respect of the downside of failing to keep international peace. I think it’s really important that we recognize that, and I was glad and excited that we did and to have been able to be driving something that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
After that wrapped up, I started digging into the Pete Davis public service report. It’s a huge report, and it’s got all sorts of components to it. I was struck by the discussion of how all these little, subtle cues around us sway us towards the corporate side of things. There’s nothing with the corporate side of things, it’s absolutely essential for the economy to work as it does, but people are going to go there regardless because the money’s always pulling people there, and it makes sense. So you need some sort of counterbalancing push to help people get excited about public service and attach prestige to it. You look around at other schools, and West Point, for example, has a lot recognizing the achievements of its graduates. The new building here has not really been used as well as it could be to honor graduates who have actually impacted society. If you go into the lobby, you look and there are two portraits: one is Wasserstein, and one is Caspersen. Both of them give a lot of money, but they’re not really going to inspire anyone in terms of public service. The Obamas, who I respect profoundly, and most people do as well now, aren’t recognized at all. We’re two years from the Presidency now, and it’s not politicized to honor them. So many activists who were instrumental in the civil rights movements aren’t honored. Say whatever you want for his recent political influence, but Ralph Nader, as the one-man wrecking ball that he was in his heyday and the young HLS grads that he got on board to really change the consumer rights scene, should be recognized. There are just so many people who were trailblazers in women’s rights, civil rights, consumer rights, people outside of the US who were political leaders and came through HLS…none of it is recognized, and it’s a real shame. I think the building doesn’t really do anything to inspire, and for 1Ls especially, we spend most of our time in this building and it’s a mission that the school should be taking seriously. So I’ve been looking at ways we can try to change the physical space in a way that honors those who have had worthy impacts on society. We’re starting to try to move forward with it, and funding’s a big issue right now, but we’ve got a couple things we’re going to try to do. A great example to give something concrete: in Langdell North, they have black-and-white prints of social activists at work, and they are very poignant scenes. It’s very aesthetic as well. But it’s hidden away. The most prominent space is just kind of blank. We should be able to commit to at least the people who change society; that’s not really that controversial.
Record: Is there anything you know you want to accomplish as a part of Student Government next year if you get elected?
BW: Like I said, things can get kind of siloed. Student organizations play a role in that. We can bring about a state of affairs where student organizations have more cross-talk, engage each other and aren’t afraid, where people don’t just leave the classroom and go their separate ways and not ever see anyone except the certain people similar to them. It doesn’t have to be confrontational. One good example is the trans ban. After that happened, LAMBDA and the Armed Forces Association hosted a joint discussion on litigating against the trans ban, and I thought that was great because that kind of event has the potential to create a lot of hostility towards veterans and it was the opposite, where we communicated that we were going to confront this together, and that we were going to figure this out as a cohesive and as a community. I thought that was way more powerful. Director of Student Organizations plays a role in allocating funding, and if there was a way of equitably providing certain incentives for organizations that do this more often, bearing in mind that some organizations can do it more readily than others, I think that could be an interesting incentive. Similarly, spreading it across the university-wide community through organizations.
Another area is pushing for a sleeker, more up-to-date digital presence by a lot of organizations online. We’ve got the WordPress suite that student organizations have to use. It’s okay; they all look serviceable, but not great. If you survey the Harvard student organizations, you’re going to get the same kind of thing and it’s fairly uniform. There is something for every organization, which is good. If you survey other schools’ organizations, they’re much more variable. Some are better, and some are far worse or don’t exist. That is a benefit of the uniform system, but WordPress is far more powerful than that, and I think a lot of student organizations would run with it if the system were looked at and changes were enabled. A stronger web presence helps prospective students find things they’re interested in and gets them excited about the school, and provides information about them. It provides more transparency to the rest of the school about what all these other organizations are doing, so that helps cut through the siloed nature as well. It’s good for the organization itself, it makes it more functional. A good counter-example is if you look at some of the big journals on campus, their websites are excellent: JOLT, ILJ, JLPP, and I’m sure a bunch of the other ones have incredibly well-done websites. At least one of them are run off WordPress platforms, so I’m sure there’s a way to fix that. That would be a big initiative of mine.
Another is creating a nimbler constellation of student organizations. There are two issues: it’s intimidating and hard to start the process to start an organization, and that goes into all the administrative requirements for it, getting people on board with it, developing the idea to the point where it’s ready to go and be presented, and then having an idea that’s not already addressed by some other organization. I think Director of Student Organizations, and Student Government or DoS largely, could provide a better pathway. This could maybe consist of a pitch event to have student organizations that are only ideas at this point, or things they want to address and they want to run by someone. We could tell them “hey, this is a good idea for a student organization and it’s not addressed already on campus, this is what you need to do to get it done”, or not by saying “this should be done through another organization”. Post-pitch event, a separate event could help people prepare for the actual pitch to DoS. I think that could be powerful to creating organizations that respond to things that are more current. You’ve got the Mississippi Delta Project, and that organization is very nimble. They address specific problems. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t have an “Opioid Crisis in Massachusetts” organization, or a “Wind Energy Project”. But it is very intimidating to try to go start something like that.
The other side of that is the dormant organizations policy. We’ve got organizations that aren’t started, and those that are hanging on and still getting funding but don’t do anything. There’s got to be a policy put in place that balances that where you phase out organizations that aren’t doing anything, which Student Government is trying to do right now. Some students have actually used organizations to get funding and then just used it to go out to dinner. But then you also have to not hurt organizations that actually do something. That’s directly a Director of Student Organizations role.
Record: Is there anything you think is beyond your, or Student Government’s, control that you would like to change?
BW: The clerkship hiring pilot is coming down the pipe, and it’s something that I believe in and is really important for us to do because it’s obviously a problem at Harvard. It leads to inequitable outcomes at large and it induces a lot of stress. If you hear about people trying to go out and do stuff for clerkships as a 1L in your first semester, that just makes you sweat a little bit more. You should have a bit of a buffer where you don’t have to think about these things yet. It’s an important thing at Harvard and in the legal profession at large, and if it’s not done at Harvard, I don’t see it getting done for a long time. We should be leading the way on this. Student organizations are a vehicle for this and for the letter that Radhe Patel put together. A lot of student organizations on campus signed on to the letter, and student organizations have also been a way that people have found information about clerkships and have gotten on the right path, if not outright help. I think that’s a powerful way to address it, but 90% of organizations isn’t good enough. If anyone’s circumventing it, then the whole thing falls apart. I don’t think you can impose this on people who don’t want it and fight them on it. It’s got to be a collective buy-in type process. There’s a faculty working group who’s looking at it, and it would take a whole-school approach and the right judges signing on as well. This is certainly happening, and I think Director of Student Organizations and Student Government play roles in generating buy-in and seeing what the issue is for those who oppose it and how to work with them on it so we can get the right people who are leading the clerkships on board with this. But it’s definitely a huge thing that goes way beyond Student Government. But just the fact that we’re working on it is a powerful signal to the legal community.
Record: Beyond Student Government, what other commitments do you have on campus that are important to you personally?
BW: I’m currently involved in the Armed Forces Association and HLEP, and I’m a strong participant in Section 6 and Student Government, of course. I’ll probably also be subciting for the National Security Journal and maybe try to take on a roll with them going forward as well.
Record: What do you think distinguishes you as a candidate?
BW: Immediately upon getting here 1L year, I got involved with Student Government and have been as active as any 1L representative. I’ve had one small project that was just initiated and completed. I’ve had another project that I’ve started that’s in the works. I think I’ve been a fairly active voice generally in the discussions. I don’t think you see a lot of people as involved from the get-go and as constantly committed to taking some sort of initiative. I think that distinguishes me. I’m trying to find things, I have been from the get-go and I’ll continue to do that. It’s hard to do that if you haven’t been involved in the process. It’s easy to say “I’ve got this issue I’ve identified and I’ve thought of a solution”. But then once you start talking to DoS and you’re in a couple of meetings with them, you realize they have constraints as well and there are a lot of big things going on at this school. Solutions are very hard to actually stitch together. If there’s a problem that hasn’t been solved it’s often because it’s a tough problem with competing interests. Having seen that and having navigated it a little bit is a powerful platform to actually go address things at a higher level.
The other part of it is that if I’m involved next year in this capacity, then the year after that would be two years of involvement in Student Government at a high level. One of the biggest problems with Student Government is that the turnover is so high that even if you’re involved for three years, three years is a blink of the eye. You’re gone, the administration is generally the same, the school sails on as it does, and the same problems keep rotating back. It does help to have people who are consistently involved all three years, even though even that’s not enough. That’s something that I would be able to offer: a consistent, long involvement.
My background also helps a lot. I was in the Army in Europe. For most of my time in the Army, I dealt with a lot of different interest groups: foreign militaries, a lot of varying components with the US military and US government. I think there’s something to be said for learning how to deal with all of these different stakeholders, and to take initiative and leadership in that kind of environment. There are things in the Army that don’t translate to being successful, but that’s definitely something that would not only benefit a leader anywhere, but particularly Director of Student Organizations. When you’ve got this very different constituency of people with different and sometimes competing interests, and you have to find a way to be representative of all of them and help them find the best possible and broad solution, I think that’s something I’ve been trained to see.
Record: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BW: Being involved in Student Government has been the best part of my 1L experience (except for Section 6!), and it’d be really cool to be able to continue to do that.