21 Reasons for Optimism in 2021

21 ReasonsDespite the many challenges facing our country and world — a pandemic, racial injustice, economic woes, to name a few — members of the UW Law community have reason for hope, too. They found that when the world turned upside down, it also allowed new opportunities to see things dif­ferently and work differently. While the path forward isn’t straightfor­ward or simple, twenty-one members of the Law School community share their perspective on what they look forward to in the time ahead.

  1. An Appetite for Improving Public Health
    Public health is a pillar of an equitable, functioning society. Our horrendously inadequate response in 2020 has given us an appe­tite for improvement in our reliance on the best available data and models; our attention to supply chains; our commitment to reduc­ing health disparities; our support for creative industry-government partnerships; our collaboration with international partners; and our coordination of legal institutions at every level of government. But perhaps the best reason for optimism in 2021 is found in the most important thing we learned from 2020: we are all in this together. — Alta Charo, Emeritus Professor
  2. A More Globally Connected Community — Virtually
    I’ll be intrigued to see how we continue to meet for professional events virtually in 2021. We have learned that we can do it! Virtual events are not the same as in-person ones, but they offer some important advantages. When the time zones work out, virtual events enable people from around the world to attend in new ways. Virtual events are better for the environment. They are cheaper and more convenient to attend (for people who can’t afford the travel time or expense or who have family obligations). And for scholars from the Global South don’t have to deal with visa applications and denials. —Mitra Sharafi, Professor
  3. Student Resiliency
    Grading (124!) final exams .  for my first-year Contracts academic events,  the class made me optimistic about 2021. The students’ resiliency during such a difficult semester was so inspiring! Despite flip-flops back and forth between in-person and online classes, technological snafus, a sense of isolation and distance, Zoom fatigue, and the like, the students maintained a sense of positivity, flexibility, humor, and focus, and they hit the exam out of the park. I am very proud of their accomplishments, and I am looking forward to giving them a normal academic experience in the fall. — Jason Yackee, Professor
  4. Focus on Student Experience
    As the Law School’s IT team, the last year has been incredibly hectic but also gave us hope. We’ve been impressed by how students, faculty, and staff put their energy into connecting with one another and using new technologies to do so, even when there were hiccups. To better aid those connec­tions in this challenging environment, we’ve vastly improved sound recording and voice amplification, and invested heavily in improving remote learning. Everyone has picked up new skills, and this will give us ways to continue to improve in the year ahead. Most of all, from everyone in IT to all the faculty and staff we’ve worked with, the most encouraging aspect has been a focus on giving students the best experience we could in these unique times. — Eric Giefer, Director of IT
  5.  Expanding Access to Justice
    As librarians, we are optimistic that 2021 will bring im­proved access to justice. This year will see the continued development of the UW Law Digital Repository and our grant partnership with Open Law Library and Stock-bridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians to make tribal codes freely available to all. The Law Library will also continue to support alumni, pro se litigants, and attorneys remotely through our chat, email, and phone reference services. Access to legal information is essential for access to justice and is central to the Wisconsin Idea. We look forward to expanding that access in 2021. — Kris Turner and Bonnie Shucha, Law Librarians
  6. A Path toward Democracy
    In recent years, many countries have struggled with populist leaders who attack political institu­tions and curtail rights. When faced with mass protests over socioeconomic inequality, however, Chile did not go this route. Rather, Chileans have embarked on the creation of a new constitution through what is shaping up to be a deliberative, participative process. I am hopeful that Chile’s constitutional convention, which begins this year, will show us a new path to­ward leveling the playing field while respect­ing democratic traditions and human rights. —Alexandra Huneeus, Professor
  7. Hope for Humanitarian Relief
    After years of historically high deporta­tions, family separations, and detentions, I am hopeful that 2021 will be a year when the United States again becomes a leader and a role model by offering humanitarian relief to people around the world. The Unit­ed States will hopefully commit to offering refuge to as many as 125,000 people, initiate a comprehensive immigration form that will keep families together instead of promoting separation, provide a pathway to citizenship for people with DACA, and offer reparations to the families that our government forcibly separated on our southern border. There is finally a scintilla of hope. — Erin Barbato, Director of the Immigrant Justice Clinic
  8. Insights to Carry Us Forward
    Perhaps optimism in 2021 can come from what we’ve discov­ered about ourselves in these past months. We may have discovered that we’re more re­silient than we thought — even if that resilience feels hard-fought every day. We may have discov­ered that we’re more patient than we thought — even if patience often has to co-exist with deep frustration. We may have discovered that gratitude and kindness must inform our perspectives each day — espe­cially in light of others’ suffering. And surely we have rediscovered just how much we’re connected to each other — and all that means for our lives. Those insights can carry us forward well after the current crisis has passed. —Ursula Weigold, Associate Dean
  9. Addressing our Biggest Challenges
    These are challenging times, yet 2021 promises to open the door to a more hopeful future. Aside from the vac­cines, the new year promises greater attention to the use of law and the constitution to address issues of climate change, racial justice, and economic insecurity, prob­lems that are threatening the sustainability of the country and humanity itself. While political differences remain stark, the degree of political participation and the failure of the attempt to reverse a democratic election is a truly hopeful sign that democracy will be reinvigorated despite the recent trends toward authoritarianism at home and abroad. —Heinz Klug, Professor
  10. Hope from an Elder
    This very morning (in January) I heard an elder pray from Turtle Mountain, the Turtle’s Heart, the heart of Turtle Island. She said: “Ogema told us that the new people on Turtle Island will face a new world choice, a fork in the road, and they will be free to choose which path.” The elder added: “Ogema told us this will happen when [trans­lation: in 2024], but this fork in the road will present itself, and the choice will start to be made, in [translation: 2021].” So, personally, I can’t help but be hopeful, I think. — Richard Monette, Professor
  11. The Future of American Law Schools
    I’m incredibly optimistic for the future of American law schools and the legal profession in 2021 and beyond. It has been a busy applica­tion season for us in the Admissions & Financial Aid Office, and we’re seeing tremendously qualified applicants demonstrate strong interest in a law degree. We’ve been impressed by applications from all over the world and throughout our state, and so many of them have done extraordinary things prior to embarking upon their law school journeys. We’ve seen interest from  professional athletes, military veterans, former legislative aides  and policymakers, individuals with  experience in public service, and the first-generation students, applicants who have faced challenging socioeconomic circumstances,
    individuals with disabilities, people who are fluent in multiple languages, individuals coming from farming communities, and so many others with unique backgrounds and experiences. These diverse applicants are the future of our school and profession, and I’m optimistic that so many of them will travel through the doors at 975 Bascom Mall as part of their journeys. —Rebecca Scheller, Associate Dean, Admissions & Financial Aid
  12. Lessons for Climate Crisis
    The current pandemic highlighted many paradoxes — it brought out the best in people and worst in people.  It showed our resilience, our capacity to give, and to make adjustments and sacrifices in the face of a global challenge.  It highlighted how minority groups are affected disproportionately and that we need to address the underlying injustices that led to these disparities. The climate crisis is a similar global challenge requiring us to make big adjustments. Like COVID-19, climate change also impacts the poor and the marginalized disproportionately. Let us draw on our experience from COVID-19 and tackle climate change with human dignity and equal worth of all people as our guiding principle. Together, we can do it. — Sumudu Atapattu, Director of Research Centers
  13. The Strength of the UW Law Community
    I have the privilege of speaking with a broad cross-section of the UW Law community every day — including students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I’m consistently amazed by the resil­iency, idealism, and love for this Law School among everyone I meet.  We’ve made it this far together. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we will emerge from this pandemic even stronger than before.  — Daniel Tokaji, Dean
  14. Unbreakable Entrepreneurial Spirit
    Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, at the Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic we’ve witnessed a notable uptick in entrepreneurship: we had more clients from March through December 2020 than we did the year prior. The entrepreneurial and innovative accomplishments of people working together in 2020 give me optimism for 2021! In twelve short months, lifesaving treatments for a virus unknown to the world as the year began were deployed. At “warp speed,” vaccines to immunize all of us against that same virus were developed and are being distributed. New tools for all of us to work, learn, and connect were created and enhanced. Each of us adapted in our own way to a devilishly new and different world. Our combined accomplishments of 2020 give me optimism for 2021 and beyond! — Anne Smith, Director of the Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic
  15. Law Students Turned Obstacles into Opportunity
    My optimism comes from seeing how our law students turn obstacles into opportunity. The past few months have proven how resilient, kind, and determined these students are when presented with seemingly insurmountable challenges. In the Government and Legislative Clinic and in our Externship Program, our students worked with experts in the legal community on COVID-19 orders and relief, racial and legal reform, elections and security, and myriad other pressing issues, often at a moment’s notice. In virtual classrooms and remote externships, students gained so much more than a strong command of the substantive legal material. They became digital masters, master multitaskers, and strict time managers. They gained a deeper world view and thanks to their dedicated efforts, saw the instant impact of their work. The pandemic world has produced the most varied, purposive, and palpable learning environment we as faculty could never have scripted on our own. What these students do next with this opportunity, this unique gift of preparation and experience, is what excites me the most. — Erin McBride, Director of the Government and Legislative Clinic and Externship Program
  16. Renewed Focus on Domestic Abuse
    Domestic abuse is a public health concern, but one that is not often talked about. As the stay-at-home policies were implemented due to COVID-19, re­sources for victims of abuse were limited and access was much more difficult with everyone being home all the time. However, I’m optimistic as we move into 2021. Why? Because we are now talking about it! When the is­sue of violence in our homes is no longer taboo, we can make progress. Community organizations, particularly locally, haven’t always coordi­nated efforts so well in the past, but now there seems to be a renewal of a desire to reconnect and work. Schools are discussing new alterna­tives, political leaders and legislators have argued that funds need to be provided to resources that assist victims, and reporters have increased coverage of this issue.— Ryan Poe-Gavlinski, Director of the VOCA Restraining Order Clinic
  17. Addressing the Civil Legal Justice Crisis
    2020 shined a floodlight on economic and racial inequality — problems exacerbated by our civil legal justice crisis. We also witnessed accelerated efforts nationally to combat these inter­twined crises, including through technology innovations. LIFT Dane is bringing together community and academic partners to leverage the strengths of technology and the superpower of legal and social service helpers with a full launch expected this year. We are optimistic that 2021 will bring continued efforts to combat the civil legal justice gap and concrete outcomes from innovative solutions like our app. — The LIFT Dane team
  18. Imagining a Better Approach for Healthcare
    In 2021 we are free to imagine. Imagine the possibilities if the solutions to our most insidious health inequities are truly driven by partnerships between community members and healthcare and community leaders. Imagine if Black and Brown patients are given a meaningful place at the table and we truly confront the structural racism embedded in the healthcare system. In Dane County, with the largest disparities in infant and maternal mortality in the country, these stakeholders have joined together with urgency to craft real solutions. We are optimistic because change grounded in partnership, humility, and honesty is happening. — Jill Jacklitz and Sarah Davis, Co-Directors of the Center for Patient Partnerships
  19. Addressing the Shortcomings of Our Democracy
    In 2020, our democracy was tested, and some of its imperfections were laid bare. Yet even in the face of hyperpolarization, disinformation, and institutional dysfunction, we have reasons for hope as we look ahead. In spite of everything, record numbers of voters turned out in 2020, and tens of thousands of heroic local officials and volunteers stepped up to facilitate the casting and counting of ballots with remark ably few glitches. These are strong democratic fundamentals. Americans are engaged and resilient. They want our system to work, and they may be more eager than ever to address its shortcomings and advance its ideals. — Rob Yablon, Associate Professor
  20. Building on Momentum
    2020 kept us on our feet. It gave us our fair share of struggle, concern, and sorrow. But 2020 also helped distill some of the key issues that as a society we must face togeth­er — providing hope for a better tomorrow. As someone who studies corporate law, I’ve observed that 2020 has brought much needed attention to the important role of corpora­tions in our society, their social and environmental impact, and the need for greater diversity and inclusion in corporate leadership. That recognition has already begun translating into concrete action in academia and practice, and I am ex­cited to see how 2021 continues to build on that momentum.  — Yaron Nili, Assistant Professor
  21. An Engaged and Resilient Alumni Community
    Despite the many challenges of 2020, I am heartened by the resilient UW Law community, many of whom have engaged directly with us to see how they can help our students and new graduates succeed as they begin their legal careers. The generosity of our alumni — from donors to mentors to pan­elists — gives me optimism that despite the challenges we face, our community is engaged and willing to pitch in. — Jini Jasti, Associate Dean of Alumni Relations & External Affairs

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