In Light of Grand Jury Decisions, Law Students Petition for Exam Extensions

Harvard Law School affinity groups demanded that the school’s administration “grant exam extensions” and “provide student support” for those who may be suffering emotionally or psychologically from the controversial decisions by Ferguson and Staten Island grand juries in an email to Law School Dean Martha L. Minow and other administrators late Sunday evening.

In addition to considering the trauma of students, the letter called for the Law School itself to support the student protests. “Our peer institutions have made efforts to stand on the right side of history,” the email reads. “We challenge Harvard Law School to be not merely a school of law, but also a school of justice.”

Similar requests have been made at Georgetown Law and Columbia Law School.

In the past few weeks, law students have petitioned President Obama, led protests, hosted vigils, and published an op-ed in The New York Times, according to the letter. The wave of activism was sparked by the decisions of Ferguson and Staten Island grand juries not to indict two police officers in separate cases that led to the deaths of two unarmed black men.

The email drew a flurry of responses from Minow and Associate Dean of Students Ellen M. Cosgrove in the following days.


Before midnight Sunday, Ellen M. Cosgrove provided a detailed list of support systems for students that were dealing with what she called “a challenging moment for many who care deeply about justice and fairness,” in an email to the student body.

In the email, Cosgrove told students that her office was prepared to “support [students’] specific needs during exam period.” Cosgrove also said that the Law School was planning “many opportunities” to examine and better understand the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, and noted that Minow has co-authored an op-ed piece for The Boston Globe about the controversial grand jury rulings.

The next day, Minow announced an event, scheduled for Wednesday, “to begin to think together about how we might move forward and contribute to the effort,” in an email to the Law School student body.

“I know this is a busy time of year,” Minow wrote in the email. “But I am convinced that this conversation and the work that flows from it should not wait until we return in January.”

Later Tuesday evening, Cosgrove responded to the leaders of the affinity groups, reiterating the exam deferral policy and announcing that Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree will hold walk-in hours with students on Friday.

While Harvard has not made additional exceptions to its exam deferral policy, students suffering from any trauma can receive support and an exam deferral, according to Law School spokesperson Robb London.

“We already have in place an exam deferral policy that allows for individualized consideration of  a student’s request,” London wrote in an email to The Crimson. “Our staff is available to consider all such requests and, more importantly, to provide students with the support they need.”

—Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @OlkowskiTyler.


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