Lawyer Magazine_Winter 2020

The School of Law’s Pandemic Journey


Photos by Liam James Doyle

A s soon as classes shifted to distance learning last spring due to COVID-19, Scott Swanson started making phone calls. His goal was to make sure all students in St. Thomas law school knew that faculty and staff cared about them. As he began connecting with students, he soon discovered he wasn’t alone in his endeavor. “The law school is very much a community, and we needed to reach out to people,” said Swanson, director of academic achievement. “I began going through the list of students and contacting 10 people a day. I discovered other [St. Thomas Law] people were doing similar things; it was clear for a whole bunch of us that this needed to be done. We didn’t need a meeting to figure that out.” In March, Dean Robert Vischer had to prepare his school for a quick transition to remote learning. Tackling the technical logistics was necessary and maintaining a culture that values personal connections was vital. When classes resumed in August, faculty and most students chose in-person learning, while some

remained online. Those on campus were required to wear a face covering and adhere to social-distancing guidelines. “We really believe that our mission as a Catholic law school calls us to transcend what the traditional, very individualized competitive approach to law school has been, and really try to figure out what legal education looks like in a place that takes community seriously,” Vischer said. “The pandemic has put pressure on that. How do you build a community for new members entering in a pandemic? How do you maintain community for returning students, faculty and staff?” The answer? Through a community-wide effort. KEEPING THE COMMUNITY CONNECTED The Law Student Government Association responded last spring by creating and supporting a strong online presence with events and activities, including virtual happy hours, Tik Tok video challenges, cooking contests, pop culture discussions and many other events.

Page 14 St. Thomas Lawyer

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