Hurt on Classroom Sensitivity

My colleague Christine Hurt wrote a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education about her experiences teaching torts. She describes how she led the class in thinking through various harms that people suffer and how the legal system values those harms. This can lead to some grisly but darkly amusing fact patterns, but meanwhile some of her students had first-hand experience with the harms being clinically discussed in class, and for them, their experiences were intensely personal, and far from academic.

This article hits all too close to home. I had the same experience this semester in my Professional Responsibility course, walking a fine line between pointing out the destructive nature of alcohol abuse in the legal profession and acknowledging (sometimes in lame attempts at humor) that students include alcohol in their social activities. But midway during the semester, a student discussed her struggles with alcohol in my office. This made me realize how the points (and “jokes”) I had been making in class must have only exacerbated her challenges. I felt truly terrible–but perhaps I needed the reminder that every student comes to class with their our unique experiences and problems, and I have a responsibility to be sensitive to these.