Columbia Law School allowed students who felt they were traumatized by grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., to postpone their exams. Photo by Lee Snider Photo Images/Shutterstock.com
NEW YORK, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Columbia Law School is granting final exam postponements to students who say they were traumatized by recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers responsible for killing unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y.
The school's interim dean, Robert E. Scott, announced the decision Saturday in an email to the school. He allowed the extensions after a petition was posted by The Columbia Law School Coalition of Concerned Students of Color on the same day.
"Recent events have unsettled our lives as students," the petition read. "We have struggled to compartmentalize our trauma as we sit and make fruitless attempts to focus on exam preparation. We sit to study with the knowledge that our brothers and sisters are regularly killed with impunity on borders and streets; we sit to study with the understanding that our brothers and sisters are marching to have our humanity recognized and valued by a system that has continually failed us."
The request also sought an emergency event be held at the school so students, administration and faculty could be able to discuss the group's concerns.
Scott approved the postponement of exams should it be requested by individual students.
"The grand juries' determinations to return nonindictments in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have shaken the faith of some in the integrity of the grand jury system and in the law more generally," he wrote in an email to the school community. "For some law students, particularly, though not only, students of color, this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society designed to protect fairness, due process and equality."
The decision drew criticism from some who argued these students should not expect this sort of deadline extension as future lawyers.
Eugene Volokh, a professor of free speech law at UCLA School of Law, said in a column in The Washington Post, that "fortitude in the face of injustice" is an important lesson for students to learn.
"Such requests for accommodation, if granted, seem to me to promote expectations and attitudes that won't serve the students well once they become lawyers (and won't serve their clients well, either)," he wrote.
Meanwhile, one second-year law student at Columbia who identifies as Latino, said the petition's use of the word "trauma" had been misunderstood.
"It's not a trauma that somebody has if they've been exposed to the war. It's not being able to focus, it's worrying about your family members. It's worrying about your future as a lawyer. It's an existential worry. Then having to apply the very law that's being used to oppress us," the student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The New York Times.