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Montoya Through a Lens of Positivity

Sei Young Pyo, HLS ‘15

Professor Montoya’s piece speaks of the loneliness she felt as a single, unsupported voice in her law school classes, afraid to challenge her fellow students to see class, gender, and race as relevant, perhaps even primary, in the cases they read. Her desperate need to appreciate the totality of a case without desensitizing herself to the violence, the backstories and injustices rings terribly familiar to my own goals in my legal education.

Today, however, I see many of my section peers – friends who either identify proudly within the “classic Outsider categories” Professor Montoya mentions, or, shockingly, radically, defy them entirely – raise their hands and confidently call attention to social complications, encouraging our classmates to see more than the legal issues and the narrow answers. I see us coming together to discuss not just the doctrines we learn, but portrayals of the doctrines we learn – “it was so important that our professor mentioned this,” or “I wish our professor had been more sensitive about that.” So much has changed, and I like to think for the good.

As a 1L, I once very much fell into the trap of using the year as one of martyrdom: a year of complaints, about how much work we have and how stressed we are. However, I have met an incredible friend at Harvard Law School who pushes me to look at law school with a lens of positivity. Law school looks very different when I approach it free of judgment, thankful for what we do have instead of always critical and frustrated. And, in that vein, I want to suggest that, as valid as it would be to respond to Professor Montoya’s piece by pointing out how it maddeningly resonates 20 years later, I want, uncharacteristically, to respond differently.

Thank goodness for how far we’ve come. For all of those instances I have felt alone at this law school, and unsure of how I fit in, angry at the curriculum, truly upset about the status quo-affirming nature of the lawyering profession, I can point to a different instance where I, a queer theory-embracing, non-American, emotion-valuing, philosophy-crazy, public interest-minded, odds-and-ends woman, have never felt more supported and connected.

Another 20 years later, I hope, and expect, that those who self-identify in non-normative categories – the Outsiders – will look at how things appeared in 2013 and say, with the same level of gratitude I feel today: thank goodness for how far we’ve come.


  1. Still Un/Masking the Self: Legal Education and the Experience of the Other | Harvard Journal of Law and Gender - March 25, 2013

    [...] Sei Young Pyo, Montoya Through a Lens of Positivity Related Article Event panelist Professor Lani Guinier’s article Lessons and Challenges of Becoming Gentlemen closely relates to the theme of assimilation addressed in Máscaras.  [...]

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