Lawyer Magazine_Winter 2020

AT ST. THOMAS LAW, building a culture of belonging is more important than ever.

The fall semester has certainly looked different in 2020 than in years past. Because of social distancing requirements, we split the entering class into two 80-student groups for orientation. One group could gather in the atrium at a time, with students sitting at their own individual tables, masked and ready for a new adventure. With COVID-19 capacity restrictions, large classrooms only fit 38 students instead of our usual 90, and students who have opted for online learning are visible on classroom screens to create one synchronous learning environment. Downtown Minneapolis also looks different this fall, with the pandemic and social unrest combining to turn our normally bustling neighborhood into one that has far fewer people than in previous years. One thing hasn’t changed, though: our commitment to community. We know that our students will thrive when they feel connected to others, when they’re learning in the context of strong, mutually supportive relationships. This is an especially important recognition now, when we’ve all endured months of sheltering at home and less time with loved ones beyond our immediate families. Exacerbating the sense of alienation is our society’s reluctant reckoning with the many ways in which racial disparities continue to plague our country. The death of George Floyd has placed our city at the center of that painful journey, and our students are by no means immune from that pain. We are walking the difficult journey of 2020 in relationship to one another. Our students – even our 1Ls who began law school masked and six feet apart – are connecting. The noise level in class before I begin teaching has risen steadily over the weeks as students get comfortable with new protocols and new friends. Student organizations are being creative and intentional about hosting COVID-friendly events that bring us together. Faculty are reaching out via Zoom office hours and small-group gatherings to get to know the newest members of our community. And through it all, our alumni and other supporters have remained essential to our community-building work: • Your financial gifts empowered us to make emergency cash grants to students experiencing hardship because of the pandemic. • Your service as mentors provided each one of our students with a meaningful and engaging professional relationship. • Your contributions to our racial justice action plan – and your help in recruiting our most racially diverse class ever this fall – pushed us another step forward on a long journey toward being the community we aspire to be. • Your encouragement to take attorney well-being seriously is helping equip our students to care for themselves and leading the profession to become more humane and hospitable. This issue of St. Thomas Lawyer magazine reflects some of the many ways in which we are all in this together. The challenges of this year have been powerful reminders that we wouldn’t have it any other way. On behalf of our students, thank you for the gift of community.

Robert K. Vischer Dean and Mengler Chair in Law University of St. Thomas School of Law

Winter 2020 Page 5

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