There have been many unique and enriching aspects of this trip thus far, but one of the more unexpected merits has been connecting with the rest of the people in my class. Initially, the idea of spending six days with random classmates was daunting. Being an introverted person, I was unsure how I would fare being around my class constantly. But I can say that those worries have been definitively allayed. Our daily activities and interaction has become routine, and I feel comfortable and at home in the luxurious Comfort Inn Ballston.
A common interest certainly brings us together. Some of the most valuable conversations I’ve had included hearing another student explain impassionedly their research topic. From the evolution of educational rights, to the development of libel law, and the application Miranda rights, hearing about my colleague’s research is always fascinating. Additionally, engaging with other areas of law reveals universalities within doctrines and the decision-making process that helps me get my head out of the weeds of my own research over the Takings Clause.
During the day at the Library of Congress, most students take a lunch or snack break. I usually head downstairs to the Dunkin Donuts in the LoC basement. Despite looking forward to a caffeine boost, I also enjoy lunch because it is a time to vent frustrations, discuss issues, ask questions, and get advice about how one’s research is going. It’s all too easy to get bogged down, confused, or discouraged by your morning findings. But chatting with my peers at lunch provides a well-needed perspective change, and I return to my desk with new ideas and a bigger picture. It’s also a time where we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief, and just chat.
Additionally, in this seminar a fair number of students are asking questions about the same constitutional topic. Two to three students each are looking at issues of criminal, reproductive, and property rights. For some this means it can be more difficult to access a certain case file needed at any given time because a colleague is using it. But that is a small price to pay for the benefit of having another person who understands your question, and can discuss it with you. I appreciated that someone else could understand the implications of and get excited about a seemingly innocuous detail concerning a Justice’s certiorari vote (Justice Rehnquist voted to join 3 in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission). As I looked through the papers trying to find answers to my question, I couldn’t help but also ask myself how a piece of evidence affected my peer’s research question. Keeping the broader topic in mind prevented me from merely attempting to ‘fit’ the papers to my thesis, and therefore interpret the data objectively.
While appreciating my peers academically is certainly critical in helping me get through the day without losing my mind, getting to know them personally is an added bonus. The evenings at the Comfort Inn Ballston are happy and carefree. I have two amazing, kind, and hardworking roomies to keep me motivated in the morning and let me chill at night. On Tuesday we returned from dinner and all just passed out for the rest of the night at 9:00pm … day two had taken a shared toll on us. But most other nights we head down to the lobby, where we steal the breakfast cereal, and annoy the hotel staff with our loud cries of “fascist!” met with relentless pleas that we’re really “liberal”. Our class has become obsessed with the traditional seminar board game, “Secret Hitler”. Trust is built, and subsequently that trust is broken. But it’s all in good fun, and it’s the kind of game that we can play for hours and never get bored. Spending time with the other seminarians in the evening puts the “break” in “spring break”.
To conclude, the independent research aspect of this trip is obviously an incredible experience. But the tight-knit nature of the class facilitates enriching and relevant conversations, that lend themselves to a deeper understanding and passion about all of our research topics. And finally, the friendships I have made are valuable both inside and outside the classroom.