Life Beyond the Classroom – Kristin Slawter

Kristin Slawter 14L

Kristin Slawter 14L

At W&L Law, students benefit from the many experiences and learning opportunities both within and beyond the classroom.  We asked several of our current law students to discuss the activities and organizations they have chosen to devote their time and energies to.   Kristin Slawter is a 3L from Wayne, Pennsylvania, spending her fall semester interning for Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as a part of the inaugural W&L Law D.C. Semester. After graduation, she will clerk for a federal district court judge, and then join an international law firm in Washington, D.C.  Today, she discusses her involvement with the Dean’s Advisory Group.

Aside from its impressive reputation and innovative curriculum, the thing that drew me to W&L Law was the level of interaction between the students, faculty, and administration. Each of the individuals in those categories came to Lexington because they want to be at W&L Law, to make it a fantastic school—and that is most evident in the Dean’s Advisory Group.

When Dean Demleitner arrived in Lexington last fall, one of her main priorities was to get a sense for student opinion on big issues. She, with the help of Dean Twitty, created the Dean’s Advisory Group (DAG) to serve as such a conduit for the student voice to reach the administration. The DAG is composed of approximately five students from each year, as well as Dean Twitty and Dean Demleitner. The deans interviewed scores of candidates and worked tremendously hard to create a group of students that would represent the myriad of different backgrounds in the W&L Law community.

The group typically meets monthly to discuss issues such as curriculum reform, career services, and building improvements. You can imagine my amazement the day we met with the school architect, who informed us that our 1970s-esque Sydney Lewis Hall was designed in the style of a Japanese temple! (For the record, I still don’t see it.) But what I did see through that meeting was the school’s commitment to building and creating the space that the students want. The architect and Dean Demleitner devoted immense detail and time to discovering how we study, where we study, who we study with, and when we study, in order to best design future space in the law school. While it might be tempting while looking at law schools to be drawn to the most stunning library, once you’re on campus, the beauty pales in comparison to the functionality of the space—having student voice in this process is vital to ensuring the space works for students.

The DAG also worked on different seating options at carrels, as the current wooden chairs do not fit under the carrel desks. Describing and discussing how people study at their carrels—or don’t—helped formulate the plans for the renovations to the Sydney Lewis Hall based on student need. Similar suggestions for the career center and course offerings have seen implication over the last year, and as students react to the new changes, the DAG provides the feedback to Dean Demleitner to gauge success and effectiveness.

This group has truly enhanced my respect for the administrators and expanded my understanding of my colleagues. As the DAG only got underway last March, much of our meetings were merely feedback by May. But over the summer, the administration announced changes to W&L that directly mirrored the student opinions voiced in our group. Having deans that are not only interested in listening to students but committed to implementing their desired change is so valuable. Further, I have learned a great deal about my colleagues through each meeting—listening to what they value, what their experience has been like, and what change they would like to see. It helps us to be more understanding of differences in opinion and be more willing to come to compromise or consensus. In other words, the importance of the group goes beyond getting fancy new swivel chairs.

In my opinion, the importance of such groups cannot be overstated. As a former student body vice president during my senior year at the College of William & Mary, I’ve seen firsthand the power to effect student-led change that comes from having students in direct contact with decision makers in the administration. Having a group like the DAG further fosters a sense of community at W&L Law, as students understand that they can have open dialogue with the administrators and the administrators can more accurately implement change that will benefit everyone.

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