The Moritz College of Law launched a new initiative this year that allows first-year law students to choose elective courses from a variety of timely and challenging practice areas. The Legal Practice and Perspectives Program (see pages 22-25) is designed to enrich the first-year experience and help students develop their professional identities.
One such timely course, Legal Issues Surrounding the “MeToo” Campaign, will be taught in the spring by L. Camille Hébert, Carter C. Kissell Professor of Law and an expert in sexual harassment issues. The course is already at capacity.
Hébert, author of the article, Is “MeToo” Only a Social Movement or a Legal Movement Too? (Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal) discusses #MeToo, her new course, and why she loves teaching first-year students.
Q: Will #MeToo spur changes in sexual harassment law?
A: #MeToo has already had dramatic effects on the way that sexual harassment is viewed as a cultural matter, raising societal awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and of the harms that it causes. I believe that it has the potential to change the ways that courts view the seriousness of sexual harassing conduct.
Recognition of the high prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace and the real harms that it causes has the potential to reshape the ways in which the courts interpret and apply the elements of a sexual harassment claim. The realization that a large number of women have been harmed by sexual harassment, but have remained silent for years, may change the way courts apply the rules by which employers can be held liable for sexually harassing conduct.
Q: What is the goal of your course?
A: The goal of this course is to introduce students to the legal issues surrounding #MeToo, particularly issues concerning sexual harassment in the workplace and academia. Students who have heard about the movement and even had experience with the issues that form the basis of the movement may have little understanding of the issues involved in the prohibition of sexual harassment and the actions of universities and employers in enforcing those prohibitions.
I also want students to see how the law and popular culture are oftentimes intertwined. I hope that my course gives students context for how the law is relevant and how the law shapes movements and vice versa.
Q: What do you like about teaching first-year students?
A: I love teaching first-year students! It’s all new to them, and I enjoy watching them grow and develop their perspectives on the law. I’ve been at this for more than 30 years, and I never get tired of watching what I think of as the “light bulb” moment, in which they start to understand complex legal issues and to develop and articulate their own views on the law.
For law students, #MeToo strikes close to home
In March 2018, then 3L Stacey Hauff posted her hooding photo on social media and reflected on her ex-boyfriend, who once told her that she would never get through law school without him. Hauff asked others to submit comments from men that made them feel like they didn’t belong in law school or the legal profession. What started out as a single expression of frustration grew into a chorus of like-minded sentiments from law students and faculty at Moritz.
“Close to 80 female students and faculty responded, and their comments were just heart wrenching,” said Hauff, now a staff lawyer with Legal Aid of Western Ohio.
Hauff and then fellow 3L student Gabby Colavecchio decided to compile the submissions and display them on the second floor of the law school. The Value Her Presence campaign was launched. For several months, students, faculty, and staff— women and men alike—stopped by. Many stayed to read all of the submissions. Many others added their own hand-written notes.
“Our hope was that seeing the submissions encouraged other women in difficult situations and let them know that we’re not alone,” said Hauff. “At the same time, we wanted to encourage men to value women’s presence in the field.”
Hauff, a first-generation college student, grew up in a working-class family in Berea, Ohio. As an undergraduate history major at Earlham College, she realized that she didn’t want to just be a bystander to history, but an active participant.
“My generation came into law school prepared to confront the many ways that the law preserves inequities,” she said. “We needed to interrupt the status quo and say, ‘This is not OK.’ We needed to move the needle forward regarding sex and racial justice.”
“I was so inspired by the women of Moritz for sharing the invisible burdens many of us carry as we break into the legal field,” Hauff added. “Those of us who have already graduated law school have a responsibility to make the profession a better place for the next generation of women.”
2L Sophia Mills from Huntington, West Virginia, was inspired by Hauff’s efforts to raise awareness of the challenges women confront in school and in practice. She joined the campaign.
“Women are underrepresented in law and politics and we’re at a time when women are finding their voice and their place,” Mills said. “I just felt that I had to stand and be counted and support these women who were coming forward with their testimonials.”
Mills, an only child, was homeschooled through the 12th grade. She knew she wanted to go to law school following the 2008 presidential campaign when she learned that the then-candidate Barack Obama was a constitutional law professor and an advocate for civil rights.
“I’ve grown up in a place of privilege and learning about how people have been discriminated against, either because of their race, or because they are gay or because of their sexual identity, I believed I had a responsibility to use my skills to do something to combat it.”
While Hauff has begun practicing law, Mills is at the mid-point of her law school journey. Both have been energized by the Value Her Presence campaign and the #MeToo movement and are determined to play an active role.
Hauff has her sights set on running for office in Ohio, drawing on her knowledge of education and public benefits law. Mills plans to return home to Huntington after graduation to immerse herself in local politics.
From left to right: Maddie Berry, Sophia Mills, Gabby Colavecchio, Erica Duff, and Stacey Hauff