By: Melissa Berouty
3L at Syracuse University College of Law
What will the job market look like post-grad? Will online classes prepare me for the Bar exam? In March, questions like these began to spin through my mind. I was afraid of the uncertainty. I was afraid of what the future held for myself and my loved ones. I can now see the beauty in uncertainty.
This summer, I split my time between Columbia Law’s Eviction Moratorium Project and Harvard Law’s Worklife and Labor Program. I spent the summer researching the eviction crisis in Hawaii and Indiana. To my surprise, Hawaii led the nation in homelessness rates. Daily, I read devastating testimonies of families fearing eviction as moratoriums lifted around the United States.
Additionally, I researched worker’s rights in various industries. I learned about workplace conditions and safety, which were evidently dwindling in the face of COVID-19. I read stories of employees being furloughed or fired as businesses had no choice but to shut their doors.
It was humbling work, to say the least. I spent most of my summer quarantined in Florida with my best friend’s family. While yes, it would have been nice to be back home in California with my family, not once did I fear not having a roof over my head as millions across the United States were. I did not face the uncertainty of whether I would have a bed to sleep on at night or a warm meal on the table for dinner. For so many, housing is a symbol of security and stability. Without it, where would you be? It is a necessity of life— a human right.
While I worried about obtaining summer employment, employees significantly more qualified than me lost their jobs. As I conducted my work at the kitchen table with my best friend’s dog laying at my feet, essential workers’ put their lives at risk while being offered inadequate workplace protections. Before COVID-19 and our living rooms actually becoming our offices, many spent more time in their respective workplaces than their actual homes. A workplace should feel like a second home. Safe and healthy working conditions, a globally recognized human right, should be a non-negotiable.
While my fears of uncertainty were valid and justified, they were a product of a privileged space. After work, I logged off my computer and tuned back into “my reality.” My reality was secure employment, a roof over my head, and good health. My reality was extra time. Time I used to work out, to laugh with family and friends, and to try my hand at baking rosemary bread. During this pandemic, not everyone could simply log off and carry on with their days. Around the United States and beyond, peoples’ realities were the topics we law students researched.
In law school, I have been guilty of reading cases, extracting the rule, and moving on. I try my best to humanize the parties, but this can get lost in the mundane task of outlining. There are people behind every case, who have stories. Stories that both you and I can relate to. Stories that even on my worst day, I could never imagine experiencing.
This summer, my employers cared about these stories. Of course, I researched the law, but I also researched the impact of the law on the most vulnerable and I am better for it. Just because your reality is fortuitous, does not mean everyone is so lucky. Just because you feel as if an issue does not touch your world, does not mean it is nonexistent. Take a step out of your bubble, wearing a mask of course, and look at the world around you. What can you do to make it better? A consideration as simple as this, I firmly believe would make our world a better place.