The Baldy Center Blog features interdisciplinary perspectives on research and current events from interdisciplinary UB scholars whose work intersects with law, legal institutions, and social policy. New blogs are generally released twice a month during each semester.
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Julia Merante, a second-year law student at the University at Buffalo School of Law, is host/producer for the 2021-22 Edition of The Baldy Center Blog. Merante is the Vice President of the Jessup International Moot Court, a Human Rights Fellow at Legal Aid, a Student Ambassador, and an Associate of the Buffalo Environmental Law Review Journal. The award-winning poet and essayist graduated SUNY Geneseo summa cum laude with a Bachelors Degree in English, Biology, and Human Development. Merante plans to become a public interest advocate, and then become an educator to continue engaging in important, legal scholarship.
Professor, UB School of Law; Director, The Baldy Center
Associate Director, The Baldy Center
LSAMP Poster Symposium, 2019. Photograph by Holly M. Evert, courtesy of UB Engineering. See photo galleries, here.
Published December 8, 2021
Blog Author: Letitia Thomas, PhD, Assistant Dean for Diversity, UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Keywords: Social Justice, Social Change, Modern Architecture, Inequality
Engineering education has historically been limited in developing students’ awareness of social justice issues, even though research tells us that students who are underrepresented (by class, race, gender, etc.) can be empowered and retained when participating in social justice projects related to engineering (Lucena & Leydens, 2015; Mejia, 2017). My goal is to integrate social justice theory into engineering practice, to empower UB students to make a lasting, collective impact in their community. I want students to study and learn social justice themes while becoming more socially and critically conscious about their own influence, as creators of technology. Students can analyze problems and ask questions such as:
Social justice perspectives can increase students’ sense of belonging in STEM and student success in technical courses (Hurtado et. al, 2010; Carpi et al, 2016; Peters et. al, 2019). The goal is to encourage students to use their skills to broaden and improve the impact of engineering and computer science technologies on humanity. A key component in achieving these goals is a commitment to engage students in undergraduate research. The literature identifies research as a key strategy for broadening participation in STEM and as a high impact educational practice (Kuh, 2008), increasing student engagement and retention. Undergraduate research is important in helping students pursue scientific discovery and begin to engage in critical thinking and inquiry. To that end, reinforcing undergraduates’ self-confidence and belonging in STEM and strengthening their academic skills through hands-on learning approaches is an important feature of my work.
In my position as Assistant Dean for Diversity in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (UB SEAS), I am responsible for ensuring our commitment to building a pathway for the next generation of engineers and scientists. My research interests include STEM education, socially responsible engineering, social media, and qualitative research methods. In a previous role, I taught a Social Justice course which allowed me to offer students a set of critical examinations about what is “just” for society and lead discussions on the problems, possible solutions, and action items for change. I wanted to prepare students to understand, examine and challenge the roots of oppression and injustice; and begin to think as citizens invested in collaborative action, not just college students here temporarily, and thus disconnected from local issues. My expanded areas of interest include graduate engineering education, addressing the shortage of underrepresented students in computer science, faculty/student mentoring relationships and, more recently, the social determinants of health (with respect to the intersection of engineering and medicine).
I believe that increasing the diversity of students pursuing research careers in engineering, computer science, biosciences, public health, etc. is an important step toward mitigating these issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed both a stunning lack of public health preparedness and pre-existing healthcare inequities, resulting in tragically fatal consequences for nearly 650,000 Americans. The pandemic has been especially difficult for people of color, who have historically experienced systemic health disparities. Students from communities that suffer disproportionately from inequities in medical care are more likely to become engaged in health disparities research (Vazquez, et. al, 2017). Our ultimate goal is to create a UB center for social justice in engineering, that will unite students, faculty, professionals, and community members, in solving social justice problems.
Published November 24, 2021
Blog Author: Ed Steinfeld, ArchD, AIA, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Architecture, UB School of Architecture and Planning
Keywords: Disability, Health and Society, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Inequality, Modern Architecture, Public Policy, Social Justice and Social Change
Why is it so difficult to ensure equality of access to public toilets for all? To find pleasant facilities? To implement design practices that support safety, health, and function? Public toilets have been around for over 2000 years!
In recent years, restrooms have become the major spatial locus of conflict over trans* rights. But the trans* population is not the only one that has problems with restrooms. Human rights advocates recognize the importance of access to public toilets for dignity, health, and social participation. In low-income countries, providing safe and secure public toilets to reduce the spread of disease is a major public health initiative, especially important to support access to education and social participation by girls and women. Advocates have identified the “potty parity” problem as evidence that even high-income societies have not physically adapted to full equality for women. While many countries may have turned the corner on access for people with disabilities, it remains a major issue for people with disabilities in the developing world and, even in high income countries, regulations do not address all the disability issues.
My colleagues, Adam Thibodeaux, Shira Gabriel Klaiman, and I recently started a research initiative on inclusive restroom design. As part of this effort, we are looking for examples of inclusive bathroom designs that not only address the issue of trans* access but also benefit other groups by improving infection control, reducing inequality of access, and addressing unmet needs of people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. We would love to hear your thoughts on this issue and recommendations of good practice restrooms to document, in the WNY region or beyond! We are also interested in recruiting colleagues to join us in this initiative. Learn more.
Blog Author: Arabella Lyon, PhD, Professor Emerita, Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies
Introduction: Some legal scholars have responded to the liberal, autonomous subject by theorizing a vulnerable subject. In doing so, they recognize vulnerability as a universal and constant characteristic of the human condition. Alternatively, many humanists use a different conceptual frame which follows Judith Butler’s distinction between precariousness as universal human vulnerability and the political state of precarity.Precarity is a useful critical tool because the rhetorical constructions of precarity demonstrate how activists and politicians create worldviews and assemble publics. Political cultures construct precarity, shifting the precarity of different people fluidly. On what days does the precarity of Afghan women exceed that of US soldiers? In an earlier study of the discourses surrounding Buffalo’s refugees, I suggest that precarity is often denied or ignored, not just because people wish to be competent, but because dominant discourses obscure our ability to recognize precarity and its causes. Over a decade ago, Buffalo media occasionally worried about the precarity of refugees and their economic cost to the county. Now, it reports that refugees have stabilized the city’s shrinking population, revitalized the city’s West Side, and provided an international economic network.
Published November 11, 2021
The Paradoxes of Precarity: Buffalo Refugees Reconsidered
Blog Author: Arabella Lyon, PhD, Professor Emerita, Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies
Keywords: Refugee, Precarity, Neo-liberalism, Politics, Rhetoric, Humanists, Buffalo, Media, Economic Development, Multiculturalism.
Some legal scholars have responded to the liberal, autonomous subject by theorizing a vulnerable subject. In doing so, they recognize vulnerability as a universal and constant characteristic of the human condition.[i] Alternatively, many humanists use a different conceptual frame which follows Judith Butler’s distinction between precariousness as universal human vulnerability and the political state of precarity.[ii] Precarity is a useful critical tool because the rhetorical constructions of precarity demonstrate how activists and politicians create worldviews and assemble publics.[iii] Political cultures construct precarity, shifting the precarity of different people fluidly. On what days does the precarity of Afghan women exceed that of US soldiers?
In an earlier study of the discourses surrounding Buffalo’s refugees, I suggest that precarity is often denied or ignored, not just because people wish to be competent, but because dominant discourses obscure our ability to recognize precarity and its causes.[iv] Over a decade ago, Buffalo media occasionally worried about the precarity of refugees and their economic cost to the county. Now, it reports that refugees have stabilized the city’s shrinking population, revitalized the city’s West Side, and provided an international economic network. For example, in a 2016 Buffalo News editorial, Michael Weiner, the president of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, observed that Buffalo has gained from refugee entrepreneurship, cultural exchange, global connection, addition to the tax base, reversing population decline, and replenishing the 19 to 44 year old demographic. Tracking recent immigration on Buffalo’s West Side, University at Buffalo sociologists Robert M. Adelman, Watoii Rabii, and Aysegul Balta Ozgen also observe that community organizations and local media both emphasize trends in housing and economic development, entrepreneurialism, and multiculturalism.
U.S. citizens are often celebrated as self-reliant and entrepreneurial; alternatively, refugees are characterized as precarious. In reversing these common places and denying the precarious lives of refugees, the Buffalo media creates a number of paradoxes. By denying precarity to refugees and constructing them as neoliberal subjects, it offers them a more secure place in the city, including them in an imagined community and representing them as active contributors. When the refugees are re-purposed as arriving to save the U.S. city, their precarity remains unrecognized, even unrecognizable, while the economic precarity of Buffalo is acknowledged. Neoliberal representations of refugees implicitly suggest that the Buffalo economy needs to be saved by geopolitical actions outside the U.S. borders. In characterizing forced migration as a source of development, the representations omit the failures of U.S. economic policies, here and abroad. Instead, they rearticulate the failures as opportunities, just not opportunities for long-term residents.
The representation of refugees as saving precarious U.S. cities—once revealed and analyzed—disrupts the stability of neoliberal discourses and opens new possibilities for critical responses. If refugees become “We the People” through neoliberal imaginings, the usefulness of that rhetorical strategy is worthy of attention, but glib inclusion—even if it facilitates politics—is not in the service of a new politics. Rather, it diverts attention from failed economic histories and the struggles of precarity. A more liberatory strategy would be to link the precarious lives of both refugees and the long-time residents through an explicit acknowledge of the cost of global capitalism. Both refugees and long-time residents share a common, if not universal, human vulnerability to failed economies. The paradoxes of precarity can be productive in disrupting cultural monologues and mono-logics and expanding possible responses; paradoxes can disrupt single answers and push us to struggle over meaning. For this reason, I have come to see precarity as a key critical lens for revealing cultural conflicts, creating deliberative or political moments, and calling forth citizen response.
Please see Journey's End Film Festival, occurring in February, as a local fundraiser for Buffalo refugees, here.
Please see UB’s video project highlighting Buffalo refugees, here.
[ii] Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: the Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso, 2004.
[iii] Katie Oliviero is articulate on this. See her Vulnerability Politics: The Uses and Abuses of Precarity in Political Debate. New York: New York UP, 2018.
[iv] Lyon, Arabella. “Reversals of Precarity: Rewriting Refugees as Neoliberal Subjects.” Precarious Rhetorics. Ed. Wendy S. Hesford, Adela C. Licona, and Christa Teston. Columbus: Ohio State UP. 2018. 125-45.
Blog Author: G. James Lemoine, Associate Professor, UB School of Management, and Faculty Director of CLOE
Introduction: Republicans wonder how New Yorkers could have ever supported disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, amazed that his polling among state voters remained so high throughout almost the entirety of the scandals of 2020-21. Meanwhile, Democrats are flabbergasted at the strong levels of support former President Donald Trump continues to receive from conservative voters, despite his numerous moral miscues. The rise and fall of these politicians (as well as that of countless others) offers fascinating evidence on the ethics of our elected officials, and other things that don't exist.
Published October 27, 2021
Why are so many political leaders unethical and what can we do about it?
Author: G. James Lemoine, Associate Professor, UB School of Management, and Faculty Director of CLOE
Keywords: Constitutional Law, Culture and Society, Economic and Community Development, Law and Society, Legal and Professional Ethics, Legislation, Media and Society, Politics, Public Policy, Regulation
“To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are,
ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President
should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
- Douglas Adams
Republicans wonder how New Yorkers could have ever supported disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, amazed that his polling among state voters remained so high throughout almost the entirety of the scandals of 2020-21. Meanwhile, Democrats are flabbergasted at the strong levels of support former President Donald Trump continues to receive from conservative voters, despite his numerous moral miscues. The rise and fall of these politicians (as well as that of countless others) offers fascinating evidence on the ethics of our elected officials, and other things that don't exist.
Why do we keep electing and re-electing devious, narcissistic, tyrannical and immoral men and women to positions of power? Scholars much wiser than I have spent careers and lifetimes digging into this question, and it is impossible to offer a complete answer in a short blog such as this. One of the most common explanations, though, is as compelling as it is depressing: Our partisan loyalties override our moral judgments.
Start with the question of what we want from our elected officials: We’d hope that most of us would respond that they expect politicians to work for the good of their constituents and their region. Obviously, people on different sides of the political aisle vary on what they see as that “good” that elected officials should work towards. Research indicates that Democrats believe the common good is best represented by caring for and taking care of people, with emphasis on those who have historically been ignored or oppressed, whereas Republicans tend to equally value caring for others alongside matters of liberty, loyalty and personal responsibility.
How much immoral behavior are constituents willing to tolerate, then, to accomplish these aims? Widely regarded as one of our most effective presidents, Abraham Lincoln took several actions of questionable legality at the beginning of his term, such as suspending the writ of habeas corpus, in his attempts to hold the Union together. Franklin Roosevelt is widely recognized by modern Democrats as one of their greatest and most effective presidents for his roles in the New Deal and World War II, despite his interment of thousands of Asian Americans and his moral failures to act against the Nazi Holocaust. Similarly, in their honoring of Ronald Reagan, Republicans tend to gloss over his numerous ethical scandals (the most of any president to date), allegedly including illegal arms sales, rigged contracts, and bribes.
Members of one party are likely to attack the moral flaws of the other, but they somehow always manage to find excuses for members of their own party: “He’s not immoral, he’s just working the system.” “She didn’t mean that the way it sounded, she was just taken out of context.” Or, more recently, “I don’t even need to see the evidence; it’s just a partisan hit-job, not even worth replying to.” Partisans give their own candidates a pass, which gets Bad People through primaries and into the general elections, where the public is confronted with the choice of two highly flawed candidates.
This process is illustrated by Americans’ reactions to the troubling sexual assault accusations levied against U.S. Supreme Court nominee (now Justice) Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. In a poll following the release of the allegations, 76% of Democrats said they believed he was guilty, whereas 76% of Republicans were convinced on his innocence. These numbers are virtually identical to the level of support for Kavanaugh’s nomination in the two parties before the accusations came out. This represents either a startling statistical coincidence, or it suggests that members of both parties judged Kavanaugh not on the basis of the evidence around the allegations, but on whether they personally hoped to see him as a Supreme Court justice.
It could be argued that the biggest contributor to this problem is the endemic mental laziness in humankind (no offense intended to you, dear reader — it’s a natural flaw we all share). According to psychologists and neuroscientists, we are all “cognitive misers.” Our brains are confronted with so many stimuli that we could think about during the day, so to avoid becoming overwhelmed we subconsciously choose to think deeply about only a limited number of things. For instance, right now I could deeply cogitate regarding what to say the next time someone walks into my office, or whether I’m sitting in the most efficient and ergonomic posture, or how the mechanisms within my computer keyboard actually work. Instead, to spare cognitive energy, I just go with intuitive answers to these questions or don’t worry about them, while I continue to type this paragraph. We do this all day long, every day. The good news is that it keeps us sane and makes progress possible. The bad news is that, often, it causes us to underthink the things we really should be more deeply considering.
One of those things we should really think more about is a psychological process called “splitting.” Splitting means that because our minds dislike having to process contradictions, we tend to perceive things in all-or-nothing terms — most frequently, seeing things as 100% good vs. 100% evil. It’s simpler for us to think of things this way: my child can do no wrong and my grandmother is a saint, but the big tobacco executive and the guy who cut me off in traffic have no redeeming qualities.
Therefore, if evidence emerges that a politician from our own party has poor moral character (or that a position of our party is actually the wrong one), this would (and should) cause uncomfortable cognitive dissonance and spur us to reconsider our views and allegiances. But this would involve difficult cognition and consideration, and raise the possibility that we are wrong, none of which our subconscious is comfortable with. It’s much easier and simpler to consciously or subconsciously convince ourselves that we were right all along, our favored candidate or position is 100% correct, and therefore any evidence against them must be flawed.
So, short of altering our electoral system (which isn’t necessarily a bad idea), the only way to improve the moral character of our kakistocratic elected officials is to subvert our own human nature by looking at moral issues as they are, rather than as we want them to be. I’m willing to try it if you are.
Blog Author: Paul Linden-Retek, Lecturer in Law & Society; Research Fellow at The Baldy Center
Introduction: The devastating images of chaos and suffering in Afghanistan have left an indelible mark on citizens and policy-makers in the West. They have made the evacuation of those Afghans who served alongside U.S. and European militaries a moral obligation—and raised the question whether that obligation must extend, as well, to any and all Afghans who are imperiled by the return of Taliban rule.
Published October 11, 2021
'Safe third countries’ and our obligations to others
Blog Author: Paul Linden-Retek, Lecturer in Law & Society; Research Fellow at The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy
Keywords: Conflict and Post-Conflict Studies; Culture and Society, Health and Society; Inequality; Human Rights, Civil Rights; International Relations, Law, Trade and Globalization; Law and Society; Legal and Professional Ethics; Social Justice and Social Change; Politics; Public Policy.
The devastating images of chaos and suffering in Afghanistan have left an indelible mark on citizens and policy-makers in the West. They have made the evacuation of those Afghans who served alongside U.S. and European militaries a moral obligation—and raised the question whether that obligation must extend, as well, to any and all Afghans who are imperiled by the return of Taliban rule.
The pledge that many countries—Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, among them—will resettle tens of thousands of Afghan refugees is a positive development. But it is only a beginning—and not solely in the sense that these quotas remain far too conservative and that many more Afghans can build a home with us, safely and fairly. These policies are a beginning, too, in that we must think carefully about how to sustain such moral commitments over time.
In today’s political climate, the commitment of states to their obligations under international refugee law is a fragile, often fleeting affair. French President Emmanuel Macron, while expressing solidarity with Afghans, immediately added that Europe must protect itself against ‘major irregular migratory flows’. The leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats tweeted that Germany must not repeat 2015, when the country opened its borders to Syrian refugees.
If the recent history of mass migration is a guide, we will see states, particularly those in the Global North, enact policies designed to control and to impede the free movement of refugees seeking safety. Some will be plain to see: the construction of border walls, the interdiction of ships at sea. Many of these efforts will be illegal. They will violate key provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its codifications in domestic law—most prominently the principle of ‘non-refoulement’, one of international human rights law’s most sacred principles that prohibits states from returning anyone to where they will face danger of persecution.
Some of these actions, however, will have the cover of law. Not only will they appear to pass international legal muster; they will make active use of specific, long-standing legal concepts in refugee law itself to effectuate their goals of preventing refugees’ free movement. Among them is the so-called ‘safe third country’ (STC) concept.
The concept’s fundamental assumption is that certain asylum seekers may be returned, without full scrutiny of their asylum request, to third countries if those states can be considered safe. It first emerged from the conviction that the uneven distribution of asylum seekers across the European Union was due to ‘forum shopping’ by applicants, who chose to travel to the Member State they perceived as more sympathetic to their plight. The principle has a number of applications and uses: as a filter for the admissibility of asylum claims and in some cases as a basis for exclusion from refugee status at the merits phase of proceedings; and as a justification for blocking the passage of refugees in transit or for summarily returning those who have reached national territory before they file a claim to protection.
Scholars of the concept have focused their attention principally on the conditions under which STC transfers lawfully accord with the 1951 Convention’s guarantees of effective protection of individual rights. Many have pointed to the difficulties of securing such guarantees on the ground and have warned that the ‘safe third country’ concept is often unworkable in practice. Only a few studies have addressed the lawfulness of the concept itself from a refugee law and human rights perspective, and this without reaching a definite conclusion—and not discounting the legality of the STC idea itself.
In my recent work, I examine the effects of STC rules in the European Union (through the Dublin Regulation and in arrangements with Turkey) and in bilateral asylum cooperation agreements between the United States and Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. I offer a new analytic frame. I reconceive the nature of the fundamental harm at stake in the ‘safe third country’ concept as a violation not, in the first instance, of the effective protection of individual human rights but instead of the principle of democratic responsibility. The key wrong is better conceptualized as a relational and distributive harm before it is felt as an individual one. It is relational in that it distorts the character of the relationship between the removing state and the individual refugee. And it is distributive in that it unfairly maldistributes responsibilities among states for the protection of refugee rights. My argument does not deny that individual rights violations do indeed come as effects of that core harm. But as effects, they do not yet reveal the most vital dynamics of the concept—and why, even should its applications be made to satisfy individual rights minima, the ‘safe third country’ concept would remain immoral and unlawful.
Focusing on individual rights protection alone is too passive a mode of legal critique—and, as I argue, inadequately reflects important doctrinal innovations in international human rights law. New conceptions of ‘functional jurisdiction’, for example, that emphasize creative, evolving theories of effective control and the duty to prevent harm are usefully understood as relational concepts. Democratic responsibility also makes clearer sense of why performance of treaty obligations in good faith requires the fair distribution of burdens. The core illegality of the safe third country concept lies in the manner it insulates the state from accountability in its relations with the refugee and the foreigner alike.
Consider how STC rules can entail subtle but consequential shifts in the burdens and standards of proof required of refugees seeking asylum. Under the Trump Administration’s modification to asylum procedures in the United States, applicants who traveled through safe third countries were automatically subject to withholding of removal proceedings, which demand a higher standard of proof for establishing fear of persecution than do petitions for asylum and disregard any justification for the refugee’s secondary movement. These shifts alter the dispositions of the questions asked and the testimony required—and in so doing change the nature of what the state hears. They displace in their own ways the applicant’s agency: they fragment the integrity of the story a refugee can wish to tell, make it more difficult to understand how trauma can inform inconsistencies in that story, and thus prevent a responsive judgment on the merits of the claim to protection.
Seeing these broader dimensions of asylum law matters deeply. The language of rights can often appear too narrow. But we should find more in human rights and affirm, indeed, what those who assert rights for themselves have long known: that while a rights claim might seek redress for an individual harm, it also indicts the relations of recognition, power, and material distribution that make this harm possible.
All of this suggests that the normative horizon of international human rights law is not exhausted by the protection of the individual. The rights of refugees defend not only those who seek asylum—they also promise to restore concerns about equality and fairness to our sense of the world. Today, and in the months ahead, we should not close our eyes to them.
Please see the Boston Review article, Whose Suffering Matters', by Dr. Paul Linden-Retek, 'here.
Blog Author: Carole Emberton, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of History
Introduction: In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, a grassroots movement to remove, and in some cases reimagine, Confederate monuments has refocused national conversations about racial justice, memory, and public space. While some have lamented these removals as an effort to “erase history,” others point out that these edifices represented only a mythologized past that itself erased the experiences of enslaved people and their descendants.
Published September 28, 2021
Monuments to the Enslaved
Blog Author: Carole Emberton, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of History
Keywords: African-American History; Conflict and Post-Conflict Studies; Culture and Society; Human Rights, Civil Rights; Social Justice and Social Change; Modern Architecture; Politics; Race, Law, and Policy
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, a grassroots movement to remove, and in some cases reimagine, Confederate monuments has refocused national conversations about racial justice, memory, and public space. While some have lamented these removals as an effort to “erase history,” others point out that these edifices represented only a mythologized past that itself erased the experiences of enslaved people and their descendants.
While sites like Whitney Plantation in Louisiana have centered the enslaved experience, monuments that memorialize slavery and enslaved people are not nearly as numerous as those that commemorate white slaveholders. However, there is a cache of historical documents that acts as a memorial to slavery that was in part created by the enslaved themselves.
In my forthcoming book, To Walk About in Freedom: The Long Emancipation of Priscilla Joyner, I use the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) Ex-Slave Narratives to explore the lived experiences of the charter generation of freedom — the men and women who were born into slavery but who came of age during and after the Civil War. As part of the New Deal in the 1930s, the FWP conducted over 2,000 interviews with formerly enslaved people, who were then in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Many had been children during the war, but they recalled not only their own memories of slavery and freedom but also stories handed down to them by parents and grandparents. These interviews represent one of the largest and perhaps only federally-funded public history projects in the United States.
Previous histories of emancipation in the United States have focused on freedpeople’s efforts to obtain economic justice as well as civil and political rights. But the emancipation stories I feature in To Walk About in Freedom reveal more intimate struggles. Priscilla Joyner, whose emancipation story anchors the book, searched her entire life for the truth about her parentage. Raised by a white slaveholding woman who claimed to be her mother, Priscilla grew up isolated from other Black people and tormented by the white woman’s husband and other white children. It was only after she went to live with “her people,” a community of freedpeople in a neighboring county, did she finally begin to understand the meaning of freedom.
Priscilla’s struggles to find love and belonging are echoed throughout the FWP interviews. They evoke the emotional history of freedom, a subject that is sometimes obscured in other historical sources. But those needs are the center of all movements for social justice, including our current ones. The presence of Confederate statues have long signaled to Black people that they do not belong, that they are not welcome, that they are not part of the larger social fabric of a particular community. Our efforts to remove those monuments are based in the hope that other barriers to full inclusion and participation will come down as well.
Blog Author: R. Lorraine Collins, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior School of Public Health and Health Professions
Introduction: On March 31, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law. The new law is designed to establish a framework for regulating the cannabis industry in New York and to providing adult access to recreational cannabis. The retail market likely will be launched in 2023, following the establishment of the Office of Cannabis Management and other necessary entities.
Published September 13, 2021
Medical and Recreational Cannabis Laws are Being Passed Even Though We Do Not Know Much about Its Effects
Blog Author: R. Lorraine Collins, Associate Dean for Research, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior School of Public Health and Health Professions
Keywords: Cannabis, Marijuana, Policies, Medical Cannabis, Adult-Use Recreational Cannabis, Health and Society, Economic and Community Development, Public Policy
On March 31, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law. The new law is designed to establish a framework for regulating the cannabis industry in New York and to providing adult access to recreational cannabis. The retail market likely will be launched in 2023, following the establishment of the Office of Cannabis Management and other necessary entities.
This law builds on New York’s previous passage of a Medical Marijuana statute in July 2014. In passing laws to regulate medical and recreational cannabis, New York joined a number of states that previously had approved access to cannabis. Currently, a total of 37 states have approved the use of cannabis for a range of medical conditions and 18 states plus Washington DC now allow access to recreational cannabis. The laws were passed using rationales that ranged from the need to undermine access to illegal cannabis, which can result in unsafe products, to the tax benefits that result from the legal retail sale of cannabis products.
While some of these arguments have merit, it is important to highlight that there is little or no research to support the use of cannabis for certain medical conditions. There also are many myths about the benefits and lack of harms of recreational cannabis.
In the US, the road to broadening access to cannabis began in 1996 when California advocates for cannabis use narrowly passed Proposition 215, which allowed for medical use of cannabis. Based on their success in California, cannabis advocates in 13 of the 18 states that have passed recreational cannabis laws have done so based on majority votes for “citizen initiatives”. A few states, including New York, have legalized recreational cannabis through legislative action. Meanwhile, since 1970, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has designated cannabis as a Schedule I substance. This designation was based on the DEA’s determination that cannabis had: 1) a high potential for abuse; 2) no currently accepted medical uses; and 3) was not safe. To put this into context, heroin, LSD, and mescaline also are Schedule 1 drugs. The DEA Schedule 1 designation of cannabis means that it remains illegal based on federal law.
Currently, the US consists of a patchwork of cannabis regulations covering everything from the number of plants an individual can grow at home, to tax rates, and the marketing of cannabis products. For the most part, the regulation of medical and recreational cannabis is not based on research, but rather on advocacy and case studies. In New York State’s Department of Health medical cannabis program, conditions for which cannabis can be used include Cancer, Epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, ALS, PTSD, Parkinson's disease, MS, Chronic pain, Spinal cord injury with spasticity, and Opioid Use Disorder. As reviewed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, in 2017, there is little or no evidence as to the effectiveness of cannabis for treating many of these conditions. The lack of evidence does not seem to matter. In New York and numerous other states, medical conditions are added to the list based on advocacy, including by affected individuals, special interests, and case studies. Neither of these is an informed or credible basis for advocating for medical use of a drug.
Our society has accepted the use of alcohol and tobacco, each of which has been documented to produce harms to health (e.g., cancer) and other negative outcomes. However, neither alcohol nor tobacco is being promoted as having medical benefits. Those substances also are complex but are easier to study in humans because we have science-based definitions as to dose and mode of use. They do not face the barriers of the DEA’s Schedule 1 designation. To better understand cannabis and its effects, including its benefits and harms, we need to remove the Schedule 1 designation to begin to answer the many complex questions about this increasingly popular drug.
The public needs to understand that cannabis is a very complex substance. The plant consists of more than 500 phytochemicals and 104 cannabinoids. The most commonly studied of the cannabinoids are Δ9tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, which has psychoactive effects) and Cannabidiol (CBD, which is not psychoactive). We need to learn more; however, the Schedule 1 designation is a major barrier to studying the components and effects of cannabis. Researchers need to be approved by the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and must source their cannabis from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In some cases, this approval process can take years. We have approved the medical and recreational use of cannabis, but still have not begun to answer many basic questions as to dose, potency, and ratio of THC to CBD for treating medical conditions and lessening cannabis harms.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Contributor/author. (2017). The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24625
Blog Author: Catherine Cook-Cottone, Professor, Director, Advanced Certificate in Mindful Counseling, UB Graduate School of Education
Introduction: The American Bar Association’s (ABA) National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being released the The Path to Lawyer Wellbeing Report in 2017. The report begins, “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being.” The report cites studies that reveal the high rates of chronic stress, depression and substance abuse among lawyers and law students, what they describe as the toxicity of the profession, and the stigma associated with help seeking behaviors. The report held as its central guiding principle that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer's duty of competence.
Published August 31, 2021
The Mindful Lawyer
Blog Author: Catherine Cook-Cottone, Professor, Director, Advanced Certificate in Mindful Counseling, UB Graduate School of Education
Keywords: Health and Society, Social Psychology, well-being, mindfulness, meditation Yoga therapy, substance abuse.
The American Bar Association’s (ABA) National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being released the The Path to Lawyer Wellbeing Report (see lawyerwellbeing.net) in 2017. The report begins, “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer. Sadly, our profession is falling short when it comes to well-being.” The report cites studies that reveal the high rates of chronic stress, depression and substance abuse among lawyers and law students, what they describe as the toxicity of the profession, and the stigma associated with help seeking behaviors. The report held as its central guiding principle that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer's duty of competence.
Lawyers and the practice of law focus on the needs and concerns of others (Riskin, 2002; Scott, 2018). Often there is a winner and loser mindset; disputants are adversaries -- if one wins, the other must lose. For some, it can feel like there is a reduction of deeply important and intensely personal disputes to financial settlements or judgements: a reduction of human needs to material outcomes (Riskin, 2002). Deep acting is frequently required in which the lawyers’ personal reactions and feelings are masked while professional services are exacted (Kadowaki, 2015). The legal profession values external accolades such as high grades, awards, rankings, and prestigious jobs. Inner experiences such as feelings, a sense of self, and personal values, meaning, and purpose often take a back seat exacerbating risk for depression, anxiety, and substance use.
A survey of nearly 13,000 licensed, employed attorneys found that 28% experienced depression, 19% anxiety, and 20.6% problematic drinking (Krill, Johnson, & Albert, 2016). Suicidal thoughts were reported by 11.5% of respondents (Krill et al., 2016). Interestingly, 75% of respondents skipped over the section of drug use with those who completed the section reporting use of stimulants (74.1%), sedatives (51.3%), tobacco (46.8%), marijuana (31.0%) and opioids (21.6%). Of even more concern is that only 6.8% reported past treatment for alcohol or drug use. The two largest barriers to getting help were not wanting anyone to know they needed help and privacy/confidentiality concerns. Similar findings were discovered in a survey of law students (Organ, Jaffe, & Bender, 2016).
The Mindful Lawyer
The Well-Being Taskforce offered solutions. First, lawyers, judges, and law students should be educated on well-being issues. Second, small incremental steps are needed to change how law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated to instill greater well-being in the profession. Decreasing stigma associated with seeking help, normalizing treatment for mental and substance use disorders, crisis intervention protocols, and changing the culture through education and practice are detailed as critical to the pathway forward.
The Well-Being Taskforce highlights mindfulness, which doesn’t detail what we do, but helps us remain connected to our own inner experiences as we work to relate to, and sometimes solve, external challenges. In her review of mindfulness practices for lawyers, Scott (2015) documents the components of mindfulness: awareness, paying attention non-judgmentally and on purpose, and cultivating non-judgmental awareness in a sustained and particular way (mindful practices).
In mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga, you practice noticing the inner and outer experiences and simply being with them. What is striking about mindfulness-based practices, is that they do not ask us to judge, push away, ignore or pathologize our anxieties, depressive thoughts, and compulsions. It asks us to have a relationship with them. Specifically, mindfulness practice is about noticing and naming an experience (e.g., an anxious thought, sadness, loss) and then to relate to it with a sense of kind curiosity, rather than judgment. Ultimately, mindfulness-based practices ask us to balance two truths- (1) we must accept and be with what is and (2) it is this very acceptance that creates a powerful place from which we can make changes.
Scott details short mindfulness exercises specifically for lawyers in her 2015 review. Among the practices that Scott (2015) offers for lawyers is the compassion meditation. Try it and see what you think. It was created to help you be with your difficult feelings about a challenging person and to support self-regulation, tact, and tolerance.
Although mindfulness is not a substitute for counseling or professional help, it can be a subtle and powerful practice that can begin to shift the how of your daily work in ways that promote resilience, well-being, and a more effective you as lawyer and a human being with well-being.
Kadowaki, J. (2015). Maintaining professionalism: Emotional labor among lawyers as client advisors. International Journal of the Legal Profession, 22(3), 323-345.
Krill, P. R., Johnson, R., & Albert, L. (2016). The prevalence of substance use and other mental health concerns among American attorneys. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 10(1), 46.
Riskin, L. L. (2002). The contemplative lawyer: On the potential contributions of mindfulness meditation to law students, lawyers, and their clients. Harv. Negot. L. Rev., 7, 1.
Scott, C. (2018). Mindfulness in law: A path to well-being and balance for lawyers and law students. Ariz. L. Rev., 60, 635.