We are two Black Harvard law students. Ask Us Anything about racial justice in the Trump era and other legal developments!

Harvard Petty Politics
Mar 8, 2018

Briana Williams and Cameron Clark are third-year students at Harvard Law School. They co-host and produce Petty Politics, the Harvard Black Law Students Association's podcast. Brie and Cam discuss the important news items and pop culture topics of the day, with conversations ranging from nuclear disarmament to the latest single from Beyonce. Subscribe to Petty Politics wherever you listen to podcasts!

Follow Brie, Cam, and the Harvard Black Law Students Assoc. on Twitter:




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Conversation (60)

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Would you say Hardvard Management works along social and political movements in order to stop racial disgregation?
Mar 13, 8:25PM EDT0
Have you ever thought of having Trump interviewed in one of your podcasts? What would be the first three questions you would ask him?
Mar 13, 4:48PM EDT0
Do you guys remember when you got accepted into Harvard? How was it for you and, in any way, has your perception of this university changed alongisde the years?
Mar 13, 2:55PM EDT0
How many years from now do you personally expect this racial confrontation within many areas in the US to stop?
Mar 13, 2:39PM EDT0
How would you describe what you do to someone who has never heard of a podcast?
Mar 10, 11:34AM EST0

Hey there! Great question!

As a medium, podcasting is not much different from talk radio: the major difference is that podcasts are episodic and can be replayed. 

We intitially became interested in podcasting because we talk a lot about social and political issues in our spare time. We make fun of politics in the same way that we discuss pop culture issues, but are also sensitive to the real world implications of these projects. 

As Black students at Harvard, we recognize just how privileged we are to have these conversations, knowing that we may one day have the opportunity to change things. We also recognize that many of these conversations remain within the halls off Ivy League institutions like Harvard, rarely reaching the Black communities from which we come. 

Petty Politics is a labor of love to our communities which seek political commentary that is sensitive to the concerns and challenges facing marginalized groups. In essence, we’re really just shouting into microphones about things that we may (not) know about. But, in its fullest context, having Black voices in the podcasting space is an important form of representation. We are proud to contribute to the conversation within the Black community!

Mar 10, 11:28PM EST0
What are your majors and how much longer do you think it'll take to graduate?
Mar 10, 8:44AM EST0

Hi, thanks for the question!

Juris Doctor (J.D.) programs are three years long. Law school does not have majors in the same way that an undergraduate institution would. Students are allowed to be as broad or as focused as they want to be when choosing classes. 

Many students plan to enter into corporate law careers, so they will often focus on topics that might be relevant to their practice e.g., mergers and acquisitions, trademarks/copyright, etc. 

Students preparing for a career in criminal justice or civil rights might seek seminars on niche topics like mass incarceration or specific civil rights issues in disability, race, LGBTQ, or gender contexts. 

With that in mind, Cam has focused his coursework on civil rights issues, including the concentrations mentioned above. Brie has taken courses on corporate law, but she has also taken courses and internships on issues of poverty and women’s/children’s rights. 

Mar 10, 11:17PM EST0

Can an employer ask his/her employee to remove a symbol of their faith like a Hijab,cross or turban?

Mar 9, 4:50PM EST0

Thanks for this legal question! As with nearly every legal question, the answer is: it depends. This, unlike other legal topics, is still being hotly debated in courts. 

This would fall under the Employment Discrimination case law, which serves as a chronicle of legal protections over time. Title VII establishes employee protections against discrimination and retaliation by employers. Various courts have weighed in on the issue of employment discrimination in different contexts. 

For example, last year the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer was permitted to fire a employee for wearing her hair in dreadlocks (the employer believed they could get “messy”). 

I recently read that a hijabi woman is suing after being fired from her teaching job. Because many of the laws on this issue are still inserted, it will be interesting to see what the court thinks of this case and how they rule. 

Last edited @ Mar 10, 11:47PM EST.
Mar 10, 11:40PM EST0
What was one of your most and least favourite topics to discuss and why?
Mar 9, 10:11AM EST0

Hi there! This is a tough one and we’re taking time to think about it. Check back for an update!

Mar 10, 11:49PM EST0
How often do you release a new podcast?
Mar 9, 9:03AM EST0

Hi there! The goal is to have an episode out every Tuesday, but various logistical challenges can delay episodes by a week or more.

For example, we are beginning our Spring Break, and had to plan ahead for an episode to publish while we are away from campus. Over Winter Break, we developed the Law School Admissions 101 as a series of short episodes which could be released weekly while we celebrated Christmas and New Years with our families. 

Mar 9, 2:11PM EST0
What was your GPA for getting into Harvard?
Mar 9, 5:55AM EST0

Hey, Cam here. I will preface by saying that the law school admissions process recognizes two different types of GPA:

  • Undergraduate GPA (uGPA): your GPA based on courses taken specifically at your undergraduate instituion. Law schools do not consider this GPA.
  • Cumulative GPA: your GPA based on courses taken across undergraduate institutions up until the completion of your first undergradute degree.

The difference may seem arbitrary, but it allows students to strategically plan their course schedules to maximize their ability to make As and increase their GPA. For example, I took college courses at other institutions during the Summers before and during college, allowing me to take shorter and sometimes less-intensive classes to maximize the number of As I could put on my transcript. By taking my basic curricula and foreign language courses over the Summer, I freed my school-year schedule to focus on major-specific courses, which gave me more time to dedicate to intense study and research (which impressed my professors and secured excellent recommendation letters). 

My uGPA was between 3.75 and 3.8; with the addition of transferred courses from outside of my undergradute institution, my cumulative GPA (the one that was used to determine my admission) was between 3.8 and 3.85, which brought me right around the median of Harvard Law School applicants.

We speak about this in our episode on GPAs and LSAT scoares–it's called "The Numbers Game."

Mar 9, 2:08PM EST0
Do you recieve letters from fans or students asking you to discuss a particular topic?
Mar 9, 3:40AM EST0

Thanks for the question!

We definitely do! Since we began our Law School Admissions 101 series, we have solicited emails from prospective and current law school applicants to determine what questions and concerns we should address on the podcast. Thus far, we have discussed the law school admissions process broadly, including tips for developing personal statements, networking, interview prep, grades, and standardized test scores. Since we began the series, we have been able to work directly with law school applicants in our free time, offering tailored guidance to assist them as they navigate the process. Thus far, we have successfully coached students and prepared them for interviews at various law schools, including Harvard.

We are always accepting questions via email: harvardblsapettypolitics@gmail.com

Mar 9, 2:00PM EST0

Have you seen a significant shift in what you do now versus prior to Trump era?

Mar 8, 8:46PM EST0

Hi, thanks for the question!

Absolutely! Both of us are a bit left of democrat, so our criticism of the Obama Administration often involved us trying to push "progressives" to take a stronger stance on the issues that their base care about. Under the Trump admin, we have had to push back against 1) the dismantling of Obama-era policies (ex. protections for transgender students under the Dept. of Education/DACA); and 2) the replacement of those policies with incredibly harsh and legally questionable initiatives (ex. transgender military ban/end of DACA). The Trump admin has encouraged the relitigation (literally and figuratively) of long-settled issues like abortion, affirmative action, and social services. This prevents us from having more progressive conversations because we are stuck arguing about the same topics that have been fought over for decades.

With the change of administration came a shift on the left to a defensive posture, where democrats felt forced to justify their policies from the Obama era. For us personally, we have maintained an offensive stance in that we believe that some of Obama's policies speak for themselves; we really want the Trump admin to justify their policies and the (often bigoted and refutable) assumptions that they are based upon.

Mar 9, 1:57PM EST0
If a school teacher is known to have a personal social media account on which she displays racist views, are the parents allowed to demand legal action from the school?
Mar 8, 4:55PM EST0

Thanks for the question! As a disclaimer: we are not lawyers (yet), and our suggestions are not meant to serve as legal advocacy or advice.

We assume you are asking if there are any professional or legal consequences to having publically expressed racist viewpoints. As with many legal questions, it depends on the specific facts of this scenario. Parents likely do not have the authority to demand legal action, meaning that the school would sue the teacher or in any way bring her before a court. Parents can demand professional action against the teacher e.g., training, suspension, termination, etc. Of course, it is within the school administration's discretion whether or not to move forward with this, and to what degree the teacher would be reprimanded (if at all). If you're from Texas (like Cam), it is not guaranteed that the school administration will even see an issue. Pressuring the school by organizing with other concerned parents or teachers might increase the likelihood of the school taking meaningful action.

In terms of legal action, parents might be able to plead to the federal government in an action against the school (for its inaction in dealing with the teacher). Cam interned at the U.S. Dept. of Education while in law school, and got to see some of this work first-hand. Parents can file a complaint with their regional U.S. Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights, citing the school's inaction with regards to the teacher. Complaints typically require some evidence of discrimination, meaning that you might want more evidence of actual discrimination in the classroom or elsewere to supplement the evidence of racist viewpoints on social media.

This recent article about a teacher being fired for her connections to a white nationalist podcast might be helpful, and serves as an example of professional action taken by the school administration. If the school failed to act, parents may have been able to reach out to the Office of Civil Rights to complain of the school's inaction.

A small caveat is that the Trump era Department of Education, under Secretary Betsy DeVos, has significantly altered its mission and is seen as less likely to entertain cases like this. The DeVos Department of Education has dismantled core civil rights and protections for vulnerable student groups, and has officially reoriented its legal advocacy towards white students who are victims of "racist" policies like affirmative action. They could very well see this as undue persecution of a teacher's personal beliefs.

Last edited @ Mar 8, 6:26PM EST.
Mar 8, 6:26PM EST0
How long do your podcasts usually run for?
Mar 8, 2:16PM EST0

We usually run from 45m to 1hr15m. While on Winter Break, we developed a series of short, 15-20m episodes where we discussed strategies for folks applying to law school. 

Mar 8, 2:24PM EST0
What are some topics you can't discuss due to severe backlash?
Mar 8, 7:50AM EST0

It depends on who the backlash would be coming from. The most important thing to keep in mind is that Petty Politics is a communication platform under the umbrella of the Harvard Black Law Students Organization ("BLSA"). Because BLSA is Apolitical, we are unable to speak for the organization in any way that translates derogatorily towards the larger group that we are representing. We try to make sure to highlight that our viewpoints are ours alone and that we do not intend to pressure anyone in or out of the organization to subscribe to them. 

Last edited @ Mar 8, 3:54PM EST.
Mar 8, 3:30PM EST0
What would you tell someone who wants to get into Harvard?
Mar 8, 1:03AM EST0

Plan ahead! Harvard is looking for thoughtful applicants who have specific reasons for their interest in attending the University (other than the name recognition). If you are seeking admission to the College (undergrad), planning extracurricular and internship experiences from 9th grade to 12th grade will help you to develop a narrative about your interests and why Harvard would be the best place to pursue them. With regards to SAT/ACT prep, treat the test like a workout, building strength and competency over time. Don't make the mistake that we and other frequently make by studying for these tests for merely a month (or a week) prior to the exam. These tests do not measure innate aptitude; they measure your willingness to study and apply your knowledge consistently!

If you are thinking about law school, check out our podcast episodes on Law School Admissions 101!

Mar 8, 2:34PM EST0
What are some pop culture topics and what are they focused on?
Mar 7, 9:45PM EST0

Thanks for the question! We assume you are asking what pop culture topics we have discussed on the podcast.

We like to find pop culture news items that leave room for cultural commentary based on race, gender, class, etc. They often pull from events in music, tv, or film.

For example, we discussed the #Oprah2020 movement that sparked earlier this year, questioning whether an Oprah presidency would actually be beneficial for this country or just a represenation of Oprah's amazing branding. 

We talked about the 2018 Grammys and the impact that Black artists had throughout the awards show.

We joked about Trump's proposed military parade and just how ludicrous the concept is.

Mar 8, 2:29PM EST0
Do you have someone in mind to take over your podcast once you graduate?
Mar 7, 7:51PM EST0

Great question! We are actively seeking folks to continue this legacy, but recognize that it is a significant commitment that others may not want to take on. We also are questioning whether we want to take the Petty Politics name with us and allow the next generation to rename the podcast!

Mar 8, 2:22PM EST0
What is it like attending Harvard University? Is it as amazing as other say it is?
Mar 7, 7:28PM EST0

Harvard, like every other academic institutions, has its pros and cons. It is important for folks to realize this before they apply, because many people apply simply because of the Harvard brand and then end up regretting it. 

Harvard can definitely do more to support its underrepresented student body. While there have been changes made incrementally over time, the University sometimes puts its own interests above students, with conflicts inevitably resulting. 

When you are here, you kind of forget you are at Harvard until you return to your hometown. When you are here, the "Harvard" name loses the "wow" factor that it has for folks who have only read/heard about Harvard. 

Harvard is like a city in and of itself, so leaving the "Harvard Bubble" opens students up to a totally different world in Boston and abroad. 

Mar 8, 2:41PM EST0

recently visited harvard during halloween time my cousin is a pre med freshman i found the family atmosphere really comfortable and i noticed it being extremely racially diverse as a hls students do you find that to be the case on both fronts family atmosphere and racial diversity ?

Mar 7, 5:53PM EST0

Thanks for the question!

Harvard does a pretty good job of integrating families into the University's events. The University offers family housing for students and visiting scholars, and many of the graduate schools have organizations specifically catering to parents and their young children. 

Briana: The University also offers familial support in the form of financial aid and healthcare packages for dependents and spouses. As a mother, other than the financial help, I find the childcare options most valuable. Harvard has 6 on-campus childcare centers, which are accessible depending upon how proactive you are with signing/ following up with the waitlists. 

Harvard is certainly a racially diverse institution, as it should be. Harvard Admissions have worked to develop better techniques to identify unique candidates for admission. The better question: is Harvard inclusive? That is a trickier question to answer. While students of color roam the Harvard Yard, it can often be challenging for students to have a seat at the table for important administrative and academic decisions. Racial diversity is meaningless if that diversity does not fundamentally influence the thoughts and actions of Harvard administrators. 

Last edited @ Mar 8, 4:00PM EST.
Mar 8, 2:46PM EST0
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