Current Research Assistants: Luciana Batkay, Alexa Barisano, Yara Chabchoul, Stephanie Diaz, Rachel Kuong, Yodelsi Marti, Luis Rodriguez, Brenda Salas, and Elizabeta Syku
The Legal Disruption Project (LDP), previously known as Food for Thought, has been in progress for almost two years. The project is a research study dedicated to learning about the problems in the communities and everyday lives of John Jay Law & Society (LWS) students, often perpetuated through legal institutions (law enforcement, lawyers, federal and state-level legal framework, etc.). Data is collected by LWS student research assistants through interviews with other LWS students in small focus groups. These interviews are then transcribed and coded, all by students. Legal Disruption, at the beginning, was first run by four paid research assistants.
In the Fall of 2019, LDP became a class that students could take for credit, resulting in additional assistants. Since then, multiple focus groups have been run but some changes have been made. Through the fall of the 2019 school year, we found that enticing students to come to focus groups during their free time was extremely difficult. In order to solve this for the Spring 2020 focus groups, we planned to hold the focus groups in LWS 225 classes, as this is the research methods course for the major and could provide them with a learning experience as well. However, this plan did not come without its own set of obstacles, including finding spaces to reserve, figuring out how to give students a choice to participate in our study, and how to disperse the time and location to those students. We managed to overcome all these obstacles, but unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, no focus groups were run. Now, with the transition to distance-learning, we have managed to not only schedule our focus groups during LWS 225 classes, but on Zoom as well. We’ve been working the kinks out of online focus groups, but anticipate them to run smoothly in the next upcoming weeks.
We hope to find common themes throughout the disruptions people are mentioning. These themes could help the project in the long run, when understanding the gaps between the law on the books and the law in action. Laws are created to help and support the same people we are interviewing, yet many of the disruptions in their lives are caused by the same laws created to protect them. We hope through coding and gathering more interview data we can find a reason for this gap. Some of the codes we currently use come directly from LWS 200; Intro to Law and Society course. With the data gathered we form connections; themes that allow research assistants to further understand the problems students face. We hope through coding, our project will become more than just a data set of interviews, but instead a project to truly help explain the reason laws are disrupting citizens' lives.
Our experiences have varied during this time. Many of us have tried to find our niche in the process -- from learning to balance how much we talk in relation to how much we listen, deciding whether to be the lead or secondary RA, to discovering if we can efficiently transcribe after each focus group. Nonetheless, it’s also been a learning experience in its own right. Research assistants have found textbook ideas such as gentrification come to life. We’ve learned new levels of empathy as we hear different stories of immigration and LGBTQ+ experiences. The idea of intersectionality becomes real as different identities overlap in each interview. With interviews done in Spanish and Albanian, we expand our context and understanding through students with unique experiences with systems of law (cultural/federal). Terms like legal pluralism manifest themselves, especially with the enhancement of the question allowing for more experiences to be gathered. The biggest experience for us as research assistants has been seeing the relationship between law and society come to life as we lead The Legal Disruption Project into new territories as undergraduate students.
Additionally, from LDP, a student club at CUNY John Jay has been born. The idea of Legally Conscious as a club at John Jay was thought up in the Fall of 2019 by Luciana Batkay and Joshua Rodriguez-Valenzuela. Both students are Law and Society majors who were inspired after spending a semester as research assistants on The Legal Disruption Project. The Legal Disruption Project inspired them by showing them first hand the different socio-legal issues that other students face, as well as how little representation Law and Society has in schools where the content of the courses are beneficial. They decided that our community at school needed an informal space to talk through these topics and problems with peers, in hopes that conversations would not only create a community amongst Law & Society students, but also create a better understanding of how law and society actually interact in real spaces and lives. In the Spring of 2020, Legally Conscious was officially made a student club on campus. It has created a community among Law and Society students and produced a space that allows for collaborative conversations. Around the same time as its conception, Luciana and Joshua began bouncing around the idea of making a more encompassing Legally Conscious. It was then that they, with help from Professor Jean Carmalt, contacted CULJP with the idea of creating a national society for Law and Society students, modeled after Legally Conscious. The goal of this would be to bring Legally Conscious to other schools and create a network of Law and Society students and mentors, something that has yet to be accomplished. Among a variety of recreational activities like game nights and movie nights, Legally Conscious has already had discussions on topics such as the morality of gentrification and the history of police reforms in New York City. We find that it’s educational in it’s own way to hear other people’s points of view and to tell a story that might help others understand a new concept or interaction. The goal of Legally Conscious National would be to expand these collaborative conversations to other areas in order to continue educating each other and create a network of Law and Society students, scholars and teachers.
Luciana Batkay is in her senior year at CUNY John Jay. After graduating with a undergraduate degree in Law & Society and a certificate in Dispute Resolution, Luciana plans to go to law school and pursue a PhD in Economics. Alexa Barisano is currently a sophomore at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is actively pursuing a Law and Society degree and a possible English minor. After graduation she also plans to attend law school to be a criminal defense lawyer. Luis Rodriguez is a Dominican immigrant in the Bronx. His inspiration are the women in his family who inspire him to be free, happy, and wise.