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New MLaw Students Build Community Through Michigan Access Program

By Katie Vloet
August 24, 2015

Phillip Turner expected that the Michigan Access Program (MAP) would provide a good introduction to Michigan Law, but he had no way of knowing that it would help him to build a community of friends so quickly, that he would learn how to interact with people who address conflict differently, and that he would gain an understanding of people whose struggles with identity parallel his own experiences with racial identity.

MAP Participants“One thing that has always been central for me has been issues of race, but MAP really introduced different kinds of issues surrounding gender and other identities that I didn’t really think of before,” Turner, an incoming 1L, said after completing the pre-orientation program. “I know that, in the classroom, I will feel more comfortable bringing up all the identities that we have talked about at MAP. I now know that I don’t have to be the only one to bring up issues of race, and that I can bring up that something is sexist even though I’m a man. This program helps you feel empowered to take up for everyone.”

MAP is an innovative social justice leadership program at Michigan Law in which a group of 24 students who are entering their 1L year explore issues of social justice, identity, and diversity during a four-day program. MAP also includes workshops throughout the academic year. “Our goal,” said Darren Nealy, director of student services, “is to build and support a community of social justice leaders within the Law School and to help students explore leadership and conflict resolution. All of this is done with an emphasis on intercultural competence and understanding.”

MAP participants said the program achieved those goals. “When you are interested in issues of equality or representation, you’re used to fighting only from one perspective. MAP helped me understand that it didn’t have to be a fight, and it helped me to see my blind spots and assumptions,” said MAP participant Lakshmi Gopal. “It gave me a chance to think about who I want to be inside of the classroom, without having to do while I was managing a courseload. I can’t imagine starting law school in any other way.”

“I learned a great deal at MAP about the idea of privilege, and some interesting and conflicting viewpoints about it. We also did a lot of self-identity exploration, and I learned a lot about what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not—and how I can explore those ideas in a constructive way,” said MAP participant Samantha R. Jackson.

For Turner, one of the most productive sessions focused on conflict styles. The way he responds to conflict varied from the response of some of his peers in MAP, but the session helped him to understand how to find common ground.

“A way to be able to talk and interact with people you disagree with—this is going to be huge not just for those of us in MAP, but for all of the acquaintances we’ll make over the next three years, and then anytime we’re dealing with a client, a boss, or colleagues,” Turner said. “This is a skill I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.”

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