Thursday, June 30, 2011
Today was rather uneventful, but that in itself is, in a way, a blessing; after a week of frenzied activity, its nice to breath easy again, curled up with a good book on a warm day with your homework done and tomorrow looking bright.
That right there is essentially my one and only major critique of this program. Yes, that whirlwind of college visits was incredibly informative and I'm grateful for the opportunity to expand my college list as well as rule out places unfit for me and my personality; and yes, the class I am taking here at Columbia is both rigorous and engaging, and again, I'm very grateful for the chance to further my academic interests. Neither of those things do I dispute, and I truly do appreciate them. But this past week has been undeniably very stressful, and the effects are long reaching: I found myself eating and sleeping less merely because I am worried and because it is what my body has adjusted to, and I've observed that I am now quicker to snap at others without really meaning too, more so than is anything I would consider a usual amount. The long hours at the beginning of this trip, added to the stress of being in a completely unfamiliar environment far away from family and friends, made it that much harder to fully grasp, utilize, and appreciate the myriad of opportunities that were being graciously presented to us, and I would say that, personally, its actually hampered my ability to perform here at Columbia. Just a side note: I'd like to point out that my aim here is not to whine or complain or unduly criticize, merely to inform and discuss so future ILC forays can perhaps have an easier time.
There is definitely something to be said for the “thrown in the deep end” approach to learning, one that I think works just fine... so long as there's someone at the edge shouting encouragement and advice. That's not to say that I feel that, if I had a real problem, I could not come to the ILC for help; but at least from my point of view, there seems to be a very small involvement from those not “on the ground” as it were. And perhaps there shouldn't be. Perhaps this is more of a social experiment, giving students a taste of real college life and watching, almost impassively, as they overcome obstacles in the hopes that the result of this close observation can help future college-bound students deal with the incredible shock that leaving home really is. But, if that is the case, I can help but wonder if that is the right approach. In all of the feedback I have gotten from current university students, many of whom have the trails of their freshman year, only a few months gone, firmly imprinted in their minds, they all stress the importance of time management. That has been duly noted by myself and I believe the rest of my cohort; but its one thing to say and another to do. Whatever good time management is depends incredibly on the person managing their own time, and I would make the argument that it takes a year (if not more) for every student, no, person, to fully know themselves enough from living on their own to really develop a system that works. I bring up this example because it seems as if the ILC is throwing this information at us and expecting us (or perhaps I should say “me” because I cannot speak for my cohort), expecting me to achieve in less than a week what takes most people a year or more by simply having the forewarning of that it is necessary. It appears, to me, to be an impossibility; but perhaps it is only my unique personality that makes me feel that way, and there are others so in tune with themselves that a forewarning can be immediately turned into a system that works for that individual. Again, none of this is meant as a criticism, merely an explanation of how I personally am coping (or not coping as the case may be) with the pressures that are part-and-parcel of the Ivy League Connection.
Class today was a lot of fun, as usual, but I found no new information engaging enough to fill a whole blog within those four hours. We went over our reading in our morning lecture, learning about how Congress has used an enumerated power, the regulation of interstate commerce, to influence everything from monopolies to civil rights to even (and I found the justification for this incredibly weak) the growth of marijuana plants for personal (i.e. not commercial) use. Over lunch I met with Eric and our study partner Min from Sol, Korea to review the things we would need to know for the quiz in our afternoon session, which I believe I did remarkably well on, in no small part due to the help I got during that brief but useful half-hour of review. After the quiz our small class played Constitutional jeopardy where, according to our instructors, anything we'd learn so far was “fair game” and the subjects ranged from the Federalist papers to the Clinton cases to the system of checks and balances. After a meeting with Mrs L and dinner, I relaxed and recuperated for the rest of the evening and afternoon, getting to know a little bit more about my suite-mates as we all lounged about, a slow process of familiarization that I'm looking forward to progressing down as he days tick by.
- In a society which is becoming increasingly mobile, prohibiting service to blacks causes barriers for blacks to travel to other states in search of jobs, which may contribute to interstate commerce.
- Because the motel's customers are primarily from other states, about 75%, discrimination isn't protected under the 14th amendment. Interstate commerce is regulated by Congress who has the right to enforce the Civil Rights Act.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
“Hey, look, its dropped down into the 70s; starting to get cold. And wow, there's a low of 62 tomorrow!”
Almost those exact words ran through my head when I popped open my laptop and glanced at the little weather-widget on the screen for New York City. Whereas a forecast of anything above 70° would have warranted a grumble back home, I barely batted my eyes at a high of an even 90° for Friday. I really am getting used to this place!
Even walking up and down Broadway by the campus (Milani and I made a detour during the midday break to send off packages and swing by a coffee shop on our way back from the post office), I realize I'm more and more comfortable with the bustle here, even if it is relatively subdued here in Morningside Heights. Our trip down to SoHo yesterday was to a very lively area of the city, and I didn't find myself overwhelmed by the honking cars or people rushing by me; in fact, I was rushing by other people!
As the time between visiting the colleges and reaching Columbia is increasing, I find myself mentally holding each school up to one another and comparing their respective strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the neighborhood around Columbia is starting to really feel like home even after a few days, and I'm beginning to really love New York, but as prestigious as their campus appears from walking around, the inside of their dorm buildings (hallways, laundry rooms, suites, bathrooms, and bedrooms all included) are absolutely drab and lifeless and appear to have been built with no thought for anything but the exterior. In steep contrast to that, Vassar College's dorms were nothing special from the outside but boasted spacious and well-decorated parlors and lounges inside for each student to access, but the location of the school itself is not within the bustling city that so appeals to me. Yale's campus is, like Columbia's, very impressive, and the immense resources Yale has ensures that an education there is one-of-a-kind and gives anyone a leg-up on the competition, but the school itself did not give me that feeling of welcome I felt visiting the University of Pennsylvania. When asked why he chose to attend Yale, our tour guide in New Haven answered promptly, “Because I got in,” and there was definitely a (probably completely justified) sentiment from every Yale person we talked with that if a student was lucky enough to be accepted they were very privileged, in the sense that a great favor has been bestowed upon. The UPenn alums and students I spoke with placed a greater emphasis on the “fit” they had seen between themselves as individuals and a University that would support them as individuals, and the general feeling was more of a “Come join us because we want you!” approach instead of a “Come join us if we feel you're good enough” mentality, both of which are entirely valid. Perhaps labeling the schools as similar and equally good places to apply to because of their affiliation through the Ivy League is not the right answer, as I felt that each school we visited had incredibly different things to offer every student; it was not a one-Ivy-fits-all experience. A student in love with Columbia would be unhappy at Yale but might be comfortable at UPenn and vice versa, simply because of the kind of personalities each school attracts.
But I should talk more about class today! The morning class was spent going over the opinions we had read last night. For those who don't know, a Supreme Court opinion is essentially the verdict at the end of Supreme Court cases and is written by one of the justices on the majority side; other justices in the majority side can write a concurring opinion, meaning they agree with the outcome of the trial but not the legal reasoning behind it, and justices in the minority side (the side that looses, essentially) can write a dissenting opinion explaining their own legal reasoning and how they reached the opposite decision from the majority group. Both opinions had to do with clashes and disputes over the power of the Executive Branch and just what is the scope of and limitations on the President's enumerated (aka listed in the Constitution) powers. As I'm reading and dissecting tonight's homework, I'm finding that the cases seem to be dealing with issues between state and federal authority, so perhaps that will be the highlight of tomorrow's lecture.
Our afternoon session today was phenomenal. I was a bit bummed when our second instructor said that the afternoon class was going to be in more of a small lecture format as we learned about how a bill becomes a law (a lengthy and arduous process that School House Rock explains very well but certainly leaves some complicated things out) as well as the set up of the federal courts. But as we started getting more and more into how we, as scholars of law (in training, at least), interpret the Constitution, a rather impromptu debate rose up in class about the validity of the Second Amendment. It was rather a novelty actually, as an Irene vs Irene debate; there's another Irene in class who seems to have views that are completely opposite from mine, which definitely will make for interesting conversation! As I mentioned before, I've changed a bit in my views, and since this class has started I view the Constitution in a very originalist and textualist sense, meaning that the actual words in the document should be the primary (if not only) source of consideration when deciding whether or not an act or law is unconstitutional. I and a few other took the position that the 2nd Amendment, while perhaps not morally right depending on your personally views, does allow people to own guns, whereas Irene and the rest of the group felt that the historic value behind the amendment (keeping the government from preventing revolt and dissent among its citizens) no longer held to same value pertaining to guns and that public safety and the common good should be the highest law. It was quite the discussion, one that I doubt a group of high schoolers could resolve in a few days when its already been debated for years and years with apparently no significant strides for either side.
Before I head off to bed (study group with Eric meets in the morning and I need to be awake for that), I'd just like to express my thanks to the school board for having the vision to create a program like this, that can send six students (and more) 3,000 miles for almost a month to take a class and experience life in a real Ivy school; and also thanks are due to the sponsors of this program, without who's support the school board's vision could have been achieved and turned from an idea to reality. On that note, good night!
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Its the end of day two of class and I am beat.
I suppose a large chunk of this tiredness must be attributed to the fire drill from this morning. Rather an unkind trick of the University, I thought, waking students up with ringing bells and shrieking alarms after their first night of staying up late to finish their homework; but I suppose it was planned in advance to make sure everyone knew at least what they would have to do in a real emergency. Or at least how to recognize the alarm: I was convinced it was a dream, then that my phone alarm was going off, and it took my fuzzy brain a good two minutes to figure out what this incessant noise meant. I also hadn't planned on being awake for almost another two hours, so it did cut my sleep short (all situations normal here then).
A quick run to the nearby Starbucks with Will and breakfast with the other ILCers raised my spirits as well as lifted the morning fog from inside my head, and I was ready for class. For last night's homework we had been asked to read Federalist papers 10 (dealing with the power of factions and the tyranny of the majority) and 51 (discussing checks and balances and the reasons for separation), as well as two Supreme Court opinions by John Marshall, the first justice to really bring the Supreme Court any power or recognition, as well as one other document from our reader. I must admit that a large part of the information went unprocessed by my brain due to the late hour when I finished, but we discussed all five readings in our morning class and now I'm very confident I understand the importance and legal theory behind each document.
Lunch was quiet today; snag some lunch from the dining hall (the food is actually pretty good; I haven't had that delicious a grilled cheese sandwich in years!) and mosey on over to a stationary store to scope out possible ID holders with no lunch before heading early to the afternoon class.
Constitutional Law this afternoon was very mellow: we watched three videos and took notes, though I was not the only one feeling the temptation to nod off as the third video seemed to drag on. The first two were conversations between justices: O'Connor and Breyer in the more sedate first set, followed by a more heated debate between Scalia and again Breyer. The first conversation had to do with why the government was set up in the way it was, as well as explaining difference in O'Connor and Breyer's opinions: Breyer favored a stronger and more centralized version of government to encourage unity and limit confusion through uniformity, while O'Connor championed the smaller courts and legislative bodies of local and state government as being better suited to deal with the real issues of the people in each area that would arise. The second conversation was quite the jousting match. Coming into this program, I favored a more evolutionary view (thought I did not know the term for it until today) of the Constitution, as Breyer does, meaning that the interpretation of the Constitution should be based in today's society, not a two-hundred-year-old idea that may not hold true anymore, and that the document's interpretation should evolve over time along with society. But as the conversation (which turned into a debate) progressed, I became more and more impressed with Scalia's “originalist” view and lens for interpretation. He rested the power to add or change laws with the elected representatives in the legislature, meaning that the Supreme Court's only purpose was to declare laws unconstitutional. His example was capital punishment: thought he did not voice his own private opinion on the issue, he explained that the amendment that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment” was written during a period of time when capital punishment was very usual and common, and therefore the Court had no legal (not moral, ethical, or political; the difference is very important when dealing with law) jurisdiction to define the death penalty as “cruel and unusual punishment” unless an amendment was ratified that made capital punishment thoroughly illegal. Scalia argued (successfully, in my opinion) that the Court had no right to impose its own values upon the law unless the justices were elected and not appointed. The last video told us more about the story of John Marshall, the chief justice who essentially gave the Supreme Court teeth and respect.
After class was our daily check-in with Mrs. L, dinner, and a quick trip down to SoHo (the neighborhood south of Houston Street) for some wonderfully touristy shopping. It was a fun trip with all the ILCers except Will, who had stayed holed up in the library to diligently continue his research for his paper, and an experience in how to transfer between trains in New York City. I was greeted at my return to the dorm with cupcakes, as it was one of my suite-mate's birthday today and we had a little makeshift party for her before heading off to bed.
Mrs. L has asked us to focus on water and sleep for the next few days so we can take care of ourselves properly, and armed with a water bottle I'm about ready to hit the sack.
Yesterday, I had absolutely no clue what SoHo was until I saw on my R.A.’s sign out sheet that two friends on my floor had left for SoHo some 4 hours ago and had not returned. This sparked my interest to find out what SoHo really was, and what it had that could draw students away for 4 hours on the first night in New York City.
After doing some online research, I found that SoHo stands for South of Houston Street and is primarily a shopping and dining neighborhood. Originally, SoHo was known as the cast iron district because it was one of the first areas of the Big Apple to have buildings made of cast iron instead of bricks and motor. It was a relatively cheap manufacturing neighborhood which began to attract artists because of affordable space for studios and galleries. However, the artists didn’t stay for long and were forced to vacate due to high rent and SoHo became the residential area bustling with tourists looking for good food and souvenirs that we know today.
When Milani told our group at dinner yesterday that she would like to get some souvenirs, I immediately remembered what I had just researched and told our cohort what I knew. After asking for directions from R.A.s, we decided that Milani, Beilul, Irene, Masao, and I would travel via subway to SoHo tonight after dinner. The trip down to SoHo was awesome in itself because it was like an adventure. With nothing but scribbled down directions, we walked to the 116th street subway stations prepared to board for the first time without Mrs. L. After a transfer at Times Square and 45 minutes, we arrived at SoHo which I must say, fell short of expectations.
As we window shopped, I was surprised to find that most of the stores were brand names, not the small tourist venues that I had expected. It wasn’t until we had arrived at the edge of SoHo did we find a store that had the “I Love New York” t-shirts we wanted, but even then they cost more than we were willing to pay. Thankfully, Milani’s R.A. provided an alternate solution should we not find what we were looking for. She told us to go to Chinatown, which was adjacent to SoHo. Almost immediately we found what we wanted and quickly paid. I wished we had more time to stroll through Chinatown, but we had to head back because we had Supreme Court opinions to be read, and for the Presidential Powers group, an outline to be made for a 20 page research paper.
While I may have wished to do more, I enjoyed our first excursion out of Columbia.
This morning we were rudely awakened by an obnoxious fire alarm drill. I was planning on sleeping in a bit, but that was not an option.
The Columbia campus is surprisingly wonderful. When I think of a NYC school, I immediately think of a set of buildings spread out through many streets and blocks - not a traditional campus. But Columbia is not like that at all. The school is in its own little world, relatively secluded from the busy city. It’s quite nice.
Our morning class consisted of another library presentation to help us begin researching our topics. Furthermore, we were assigned reading tonight for our first class discussion tomorrow. For our afternoon session, we were given the choice between two libraries: Butler or Lehman. I stayed in Lehman gathering sources for my topic.
After class we had our daily chat with Mrs. Lilhanand and then headed off on our separate ways. Irene, Masao, Eric, Milani and I decided to get lunch at the dining hall and then headed off to SoHo to get souvenirs.
Tomorrow marks our first class discussion and time is running out as our 1st assignment is almost due.
Monday, June 27, 2011
My first full day at Columbia University's Summer Program for High School Students! So exciting!
This morning was (yet another) early start as our suite headed down to the dining hall at 7 AM for breakfast, which I thought was very good, especially for a dining hall. The actual hall itself is also very pretty, with large wooden beams holding up a high ceiling and big windows with stained glass letting in a fair amount of light. After eating we headed to another nearby building for our orientation, which our RAs informed us was at 8, but didn't end up starting until a little after 9 AM and lasted only about fifteen minutes; it seemed a little silly to be woken up more than two hours before that point just to watch a small video and go over some of the guidelines to the program, which, to be honest, the RAs had done a better job of describing the day before. I had a feeling the orientation was really more for the parents who were dropping off the “commuter” students (meaning people from the area who weren't living in the residence halls) than an actual orientation. We did, however, all get our class schedules as well as a map; I was very pleased to learn that both my classes are in the building directly next to my dorm, so there's no trek across campus every morning for either me or for Eric, who is in the dorm just one building down from mine.
After orientation we all went straight to class and met our instructors. For Constitutional Law, we have three: Kelly Rader, Jeffery Lenowitz, and Kate Krimmel. Kelly Rader led my morning class, which was done almost lecture style in a small room holding I would guess around twenty students with plenty of space left over. I was impressed at how we just jumped right in; I used five pages of my notebook just during the two-hour session in the morning. Eric and I both sat near the front; I can't say for him, but I plan on making that seat my permanent seat as our instructor requires a seating chart so she can take attendance and mark participation much easier. That was another great thing about this class: 40% of the class is participation, which each instructor keeps track of each day, while the rest in divided between weekly quizzes and a “writing exercise” that hasn't yet been fully explained. I like classes where participation is a big aspect; it means you don't ever get (or shouldn't get) just a few people sharing opinions while everyone holds back because of shyness of because they are merely tired or, however far fetched it sounds, uninterested. Like I said before, our first session in the morning involved a lot of note-taking as our instructor found and filled the gaps in our knowledge about the Supreme Court and the judicial process in general. She also reminded us that, in this class, moral or ethical or even political arguments have no bearing (although she did make a convincing argument that the judicial branch is a largely political body) in this class, and that the only realm we were interested in discussing would be the legal realm, which can include everything from the specific wording of the text to trying to interpret law through the “spirit” of the lawmakers such as the founding fathers.
Lunch was quite a hub of activity. I met some of the other ILCers for lunch in the dining hall (burgers, fairly standard fair here my RA tells me), and we were given a coupon for free bubble tea (tapioca) which we immediately rushed to redeem. Pulling on our bubble tea, we made our way over the carnival that the RAs of all the dorms had set up on big lawn on campus; Milani and I tried our hand at “jousting” (aka whacking each other with big inflatable “spears” while trying to stay balanced on a small stand raised off the ground); it was very difficult to keep my balance on my wobbly surface while also fending off Milani's attacks and trying to disrupt her sense of balance. We had to quit before we could snag a snowcone since we had to be in class by 2 PM.
Eric and I both moved down the hallway from the morning session and had class with our second instructor, Kate Krimmel, in a much smaller setting; including myself and the instructor, there are only ten people in the room. The afternoon is meant to be a much more discussion-based section of the class, although occasionally we will meet up with the other three groups (both Kelly Rader and the third instuctor, Jeffrey Lenowitz, have similar small classes on Constitutional Law students at the same time) to either watch movies and documentaries or participate in debate. I'm hoping in those combined groups I can meet Jeffrey Lenowitz and get to know him a little more; while both of my female instructors are great (all three of them are in their fifth year of their PhD), they seem very professional and focused, whereas Jeffrey Lenowitz seemed like he would bring a more relaxed feel into the environment and would certainly have different views than either of my two instructors.
After class we met with Mrs. L and chatted a bit about our first day of class as well as our impressions of the dinners and any comments or suggestions we had. I suggested that perhaps the next batch of NY-bound ILCers should get an extra day here of lighter, puttering-about-the-city activities before they begin their grueling pace for the college visits, as that would give them at least a day to get their sleeping schedules straightened out; for me personally, the first few days of early risings and late turn-ins have really messed me up, sleep-schedule wise, and I'm getting used to attempting to function on four hours sleep, which is a deadly combination when mixed with the intense course I'm enrolled in. Also, I've been here almost a week and I feel like I've seen almost nothing of New York City, so maybe that extra day would give the students a chance to get better acquainted with the city in general, or perhaps more specifically the area around the University. Afterwards Mrs. L took the Presidential Powers to buy their textbooks (ours won't be in until the end of the week; in the meantime, we have a reader for the class) while Eric and I stopped by the admin building to try and fix his ID problems (no luck there) and swung by another bookstore to grab my AP Lang summer reading assignment book, Fast Food Nation.
I ate dinner with my suite-mates (the Hartley 8C girls are becoming quite the group) and headed back to my dorm after that to putter around, alternating between reading my AP Lang book, my reader from Constitutional Law, and whatever novel happened to be in arm's reach; I'm building up quite a collection on my desk, as every time we go into any bookstore I cannot help but window-shop and eventually find something that catches me I and my wallet. Then I met with Will, Milani, Beilul, and Eric again to run by the nearest convenience store for some odds and ends (kleenex and wrapping paper for me); all of us were in great spirits, happy to be in the city together and thrilled that we were keeping our little group in one piece even with all the people around us, even growing closer as a result. The making-friends vibe here is an odd one; very few of the girls are here completely on their own, so few people are actively trying to make new friends since most already have a built-in set; I'm hoping as the week wears on we'll get closer, at least with our other suite-mates. And hey, there's always trying to make friends with the guys through Will and Eric!
The day had come. The day where all of us would finally be doing what we were sent to Columbia to do. Irene and I arrived at our classroom in Hamilton Hall and I was surprised to see that we were in a lecture hall with 3 instructors. Our class had somewhere in between 20-30 students which surprised me because I had expected our class to be the American Presidential Powers course where there is about 15 students. Once the clock struck 10 AM, our instructors introduced themselves and explained that our entire class would meet together for the morning session with Ms. Rader and will spend the afternoon session divided among into three rooms with each group being taught by either Ms.Rader, Mr. Lenowitz, or Ms. Krimmel. Fortunately, Irene and I will be taught by the same instructor which is nice because it’s reassuring to have a familiar face in a new environment.
When we dived into the meat of the class, I was hooked. I found that the discussions that we will have once we cover the basics will be extremely interesting. For example, each citizen is entitled to equal protection from discrimination for race, religion, gender, and veteran status. While “white” and “black” bathrooms are prohibited due to equal protection for race, what about male and women bathrooms? In addition to this question, there are always the core debates for issues such as gun control. Those who want to purchase whatever weapons they wish will argue that according to the second amendment it’s “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” while gun control advocates will argue that the second amendment wasn’t intended for anyone to purchase a weapon of their choice unless it is for “a well regulated militia” or “being necessary to the security of a free state.” I am truly looking forward to learning how to make convincing arguments based on the Constitution by reading the opinions of cases written by likes of Chief Justice Roberts.
Moreover, I really think I’m going to enjoy the afternoon session classes because of the small class size, nine students, which allows for great discussions regarding interpretations of the Constitution. While I will be learning from justices, I have a lot to learn from others in my class, many of whom are aspiring lawyers. I cannot wait to learn how to take the vague laws of country and make a decision whether or not something such as is the same privacy guaranteed to a motor home as a house, or is a motor home guaranteed the same privacy as a vehicle?
This is what I have been waiting for!