On Thursday, February 6, students and adults from the community gathered at the Williamsburg Regional Library for the spring semester’s second workshop in the Constitutional Conversations series. The Student Division of the Law School’s Institute of Bill of Rights Law (IBRL), the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and the Regional Library co-sponsor this community education project. The student-run programs seek to bring law students into the community to educate their fellow citizens about civic rights and duties, with the aim of fostering greater participation in the democratic process.
The student section of the February workshop discussed “Searches and Seizures,” and the adult section focused on “The Fourth Amendment and New Technology.”
Kristin Bergman ’14, co-director of the program with Laura Vlieg ’14, says the program has allowed her to indulge her interest in constitutional law and perform important work in the community at the same time.
“The Institute of Bill of Rights Law and the strength of William & Mary's constitutional law faculty really drew me to this school, so I sought out opportunities to throw myself into this field from my first day here,” Bergman says. “When I spoke to then-president of the student division of the IBRL, Julie Silverbrook, she encouraged me to get involved with this civic education project she started, Constitutional Conversations. I really enjoy teaching and have a strong belief in civic participation, so the program was a natural fit.”
Bergman and Vlieg run the events along with Violet Boggs ’15 and Christina Dwyer ’15, who write the lesson plans for the workshops, and Sarah York ’16, who works to publicize the events.
Bergman says their efforts aim to further the goals of democracy at large. “I think it's important for citizens to be informed of their rights as well as responsibilities in a democracy,” she says. “The workshops we hold encourage engagement and participation, not just with what we traditionally consider ‘politics,’ but with public issues more broadly. The more involved we all are, the more representative our democracy becomes.”
Bergman also notes that her involvement with the program has given her transferrable skills she hopes to apply in her future career.
“I think the skills I have developed volunteering for this program will carry through to any legal career. Regardless of what I pursue, I'm sure I will continue to stay engaged in the community and aware of the issues we're facing--something I think Constitutional Conversations really tries to communicate to those who attend. The Constitutional Conversations workshops are really dialogues, with a whole range of viewpoints being expressed and challenged, and I know I will be able to take away an open-mindedness and ability to defend any position--surely useful for any lawyer.”
Vlieg highlights the program’s relevance to furthering William & Mary’s citizen-lawyer ideal.
“In the three years I have been involved with Constitutional Conversations, it has attracted increasingly more participants, won community awards, and had the fortune to engage with community and state level educators, leaders, and policy makers,” Vlieg says. “I truly believe this is an outstanding program with tons of potential for future growth, and I encourage any law students to volunteer. Particularly at William & Mary Law School, which touts its citizen-lawyer ideal, law students should be engaging in deliberative democracy at the community level, and Constitutional Conversations offers that chance.”
This year’s Constitutional Conversations will continue with a workshop on a different constitutional issue every month through April. Future topics will include Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights in the criminal process and the limits of First Amendment free speech. Each workshop splits into student and adult sections, led by William & Mary law students, which discuss different variations on a constitutional theme.
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.