Inspirational Office Art

written by Melissa Breger, Albany Law School

It was late April in the Spring semester of 2017. The course was Gender and the Law. It was that time at the tail end of the semester when the seriousness of the course material weighed heavily on the shoulders of the law students. Students were asking: Could the legal system effectuate real change in society? Can we ever truly achieve gender equality?

That May in 2017, I decided it was time to have the law students engage in a motivational exercise and put theory into action.

Each law student was provided with two index cards.  One was entitled ACTION ITEM and the other was entitled TAKE-AWAY. The students were asked to complete the cards in their own handwriting and in their own words. I explained to the students that the cards would be placed onto a poster that would hang in my office. The Action Item was to describe a concrete step forward in the area of Gender Equality that the students hoped we could achieve. I had them tie this action item to their specific research and final paper in the class. If the goal had been achieved by the next time they saw the poster, they could remove the card from the board.  (Cards were taped loosely with decorative metallic tape). The Take-Away item was to describe what each student would take away from the course and hopefully pass forward.

Once the cards were completed, I had the students bring the cards to our last class. For this class, I reserved a free conference room in the back of a nearby coffee and bagel shop. My (mostly, but not entirely female) students apparently had named this our “Empowerment Brunch.”

I had each law student “present” their cards and tape the cards onto a black poster board. The end result was an inspirational poster board that the students can re-visit whenever they visit their alma mater.

Ahead of class, I had explained to the students in an email:  “During this class, we will engage in a BRAINSTORMING SESSION about how to CHANGE THE WORLD. To that end, please bring with you your two INDEX CARDS filled out in advance. Remember the TAKE-AWAY card is what will you take away from this course (perhaps from the readings, the presentations, the classes, other).  What will you take with you for years to come (and perhaps pass forward)? Remember the ACTION ITEM card is based upon the research you conducted this semester – what do you hope we can accomplish specifically?  What is the one action item that could solve or ameliorate your legal dilemma/question?

I will make up a poster board with our cards and other graphics and keep it on display in my office.   In future years, when you come visit me—perhaps we will see real progress on some of these action items. After a semester of heavy coursework, let’s stay positive and push this ball forward. We are all relying on YOUR GENERATION to change how the law treats gender going forward.”

Some of the students’ Action items would likely actualize in the near future, such as “Get three people a year to watch a women’s sports events.” Others were loftier, but so important to articulate: “I want to dedicate my legal career to public service to help women, transgender and non-gender conforming individuals to gain full equality under the law.”

In terms of the Take-Aways, the cards were varied and proved quite moving as well, such as: “The law touches nearly every aspect of women’s lives,” and “Discussion about equality promotes equality.”

It was a terrific final class full of motivating conversation and plenty of dreaming. This poster proudly hangs in my office and still inspires me today.

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