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Keep calm and carry on…studying law during a pandemic

Law students work with Dean’s office and each other to keep up health, morale

November 10, 2020 — 

As Manitoba enters an official Code Red pandemic situation, University of Manitoba law students have demonstrated determination not to let the situation get the better of them, staying connected with a fitness challenge, virtual Bingo, and other online events. Nick Noonan, President of the Manitoba Law Students Association and Faheem Kamran, MLSA Sports Committee representative, share some insights on how law students have been coping:

Keeping studies going during a pandemic – Notes from Nick

Continuing our law studies during a global pandemic is, of course, significantly challenging. It is a different and challenging time to be a human being right now, and that difficulty applies to law students as well. Luckily, it’s a challenge that students have rallied to and a difficulty that students have taken head on, grabbing the metaphorical bull by the horns and trying to make the best of the situation.

Classes are all held online, either by live online lecture software, pre-recorded lectures and a question-and-answer period held by the professor, or some combination of the two. This different mechanism of course delivery has certainly presented a challenge – particularly to our first years, who have the unenviable task of learning the foundations & ‘language of the law’ online – but, while the interpersonal support, collegiality, and fun of law school cannot be fully experienced digitally, students are doing their best. All in all, this is shaping up to be an exciting, albeit very different, year at the Faculty of Law. 

There is scarcely anything that anyone in our community wants more than to be back home in our building – hanging out in the common room, going for a walk to Starbucks to grab coffee, following the smell of pizza at lunchtime to an exciting guest speaker, or seeing Dean Asper’s beard in person.

Unfortunately, we can’t return until it is safe to do so, but I’m confident we’re all making the best of it. Students, faculty, and staff alike have been remarkably kind and considerate as we adjust to this new normal, and though it is certainly difficult, with compassion for each other and a drive to move forward, we can do it, together.  

We’re going to be having a series of Zoom Bingo Games, where students all get together on Zoom with a Bingo Sheet chosen from a variety of law school related terms like “Equity,” “Trust,” “Impairment,” “Reasonable,” and of course, “Irvine.”

“I have been clear with the students that the beatings will continue until morale improves. They didn’t think the Monty Python-esque reference was funny. We’re in the middle of a fitness challenge and I’ve signed up. It’s unfair that I have to compete without some kind of age adjustment, but there are over 70 students engaged, with lots of amusing things happening. The upcoming Bingo should be boffo! We’re doing all we can to support faculty, staff and students to get and stay engaged, and I think it could get progressively more creative as the year unfolds!” – Acting Dean of Law, David Asper, Q.C.

MLSA Morale-boosting and community-building activities held this term:

  • Pet ‘Therapy’: In past years, the faculty held an annual “Dog Days” event where students would bring their pets to campus to share some furry joy with classmates – outside the building. Instead, the MLSA ran a#PetsofRobsonHall series of photos on its Instagram page, @theMLSA, where it was a barking success. As Noonan notes, “one of the underappreciated aspects of online classes is the fact that, now, classes have the privilege of being ‘interrupted’ by our classmates’ and professors’ pets – I’ve counted several dogs, many cats, and I think at least one bird visible during classes this semester. They’re always a welcome surprise!”
  • Yoga in the Park: In September when it was safer to gather outdoors with social distancing, the MLSA Spirit Committee organized a great Yoga session at the Forks. It was a chance for students to de-stress with physical activity, see and laugh with each other, and get some fresh air on a lovely September morning.
Yoga at the Forks during safer times

Yoga at the Forks during safer times. Photos by Nick Noonan.

  • Guest Speakers: Instead of student groups bringing in their impressive guest speakers to speak in-person at the law school, these have transitioned to being held over video conferencing. “Dare I say some are better attended, now that students can attend them in their pajamas?” Noonan remarks.
  • Networking Events: Networking with law firms is as important now as ever with most law students seeking to become legal professionals. “Though nothing can replicate the interpersonal interaction and ‘feel’ you get for a firm when you meet their lawyers in person in their offices, law firms have shown a wonderful interest in still getting to know students in a safe, responsible, and fun way,” Noonan reports, adding some firms initially held very small gatherings (when still allowed) or virtual events paired with firms sending goodies, like charcuterie boards or your drink of choice, to the students.
  • Community Building Events: Noonan says, “As our alumni and current students will all tell you, the Robson Hall community is what truly makes the program like no other. There are several events ongoing, and many more in the works, where students can have fun, compete, and stay well together.”
  • Robson Hall Fitness Challenge: The most current community-building event is the Robson Hall Fitness Challenge, running (pun intended) for the month of November. Students sign up on an app, and track and share all of their workouts on this app. It’s a great way to encourage everyone to get outside, stay active, and de-stress. The app-based sharing has led to plenty of enjoyable, community-building ‘trash talk’ and the prize draw for anyone who logs a workout doesn’t hurt, either, Noonan says.

 

Keeping fit while under duress: The ultimate law school challenge – Thoughts from Faheem

This year has been unprecedented in many aspects, one of which saw law school moving to an online format to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Keeping up an adequate fitness routine can be difficult in the best of times, never mind attempting to keep one up while self-isolating, working out from home, or simply dealing with the challenges presented by this global pandemic. This has made it more important than ever for students to escape from hours of Zoom meetings and reaping both the mental and physical benefits of exercise.

It is important to recognize the obstacles we are facing, such as feeling overwhelmed or hopeless. Some helpful tips to get moving include:

  • Start small
  • Work out when you feel most comfortable
  • Develop a daily routine and incorporate a workout when possible
  • Reward yourself!

To further motivate the Robson Hall student body, the MLSA’s Sports Committee has put forward the above-mentioned fitness challenge for the month of November. We recognize that exercise can be challenging, and different students may have different barriers, therefore the challenge is participation-based, and students are encouraged to share their participation in any form of exercise. This is further incentivized by opportunities to win weekly prizes, with winners drawn randomly.  

In addition to the health benefits, the challenge provides a platform for students to engage with one another and see how their colleagues are staying active. Although we may not be able to partake in the intramurals and sporting events which would regularly take place in a school year, we are confident that together we can overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic and look forward to reconvening law school, in person.

 

Mental Health Supports

The Dean’s office continues to encourage students to take advantage of mental health supports available to students by telephone or video. The partnership between Robson Hall and the UM Student Counselling Centre (SCC) continues:

To access counselling support: 

  • Contact the SCC reception at 204-474-8592, Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. 
  • Identify yourself as a Law student 
  • Select the best available option to meet your needs

Students in need of urgent/immediate counselling support, please use one of the below crisis services: 

  • Mobile Crisis Service (204-940-1781) 
  • Klinic Crisis Line (204-786-8686) 
  • Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line (1-877-435-7170) 
  • First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Services (1-855-242-3310) 
  • Support line for women experiencing domestic violence (204-940-6624) 
  • Sexual Assault Crisis Line (1-888-292-7565)

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