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I Was Cyberbullied – Part 1 of 4

Cyberbullying sucks. I know because I’ve been through it.

I’m sharing my story to show that it can happen to anyone, at any age, and that there are things you can do to combat it.

My story begins in February 2010, the spring semester of my second year of law school at Arizona State University. I had a full load of classes and an internship at a large Phoenix law firm. I was also an executive officer on multiple student clubs at the law school. It was because of the connections I made in a leadership position that lead to me receiving an invitation to attend the HRC gala. The invite was written and sent to me in an email that was to my personal email account, not the club’s email address.

One of the other execs, another law student, did not receive such an invitation. She became my bully.

For the following three months, I dreaded seeing the notification that I had new email in my inbox.  Every email from her was filled with anger and disrespect. She called me dishonest, unethical, phony, dumb, seedy, a poor leader, and made discriminatory statements about my sexual orientation.

From the beginning, I sensed this could be a heated situation and may not end well. I elicited the help of four of my friends:

  • Michael: former assistant dean of the law school who has a wealth of knowledge regarding law students and the ASU system,
  • Jeff: my friend who has experience with handling public criticism,
  • Andrea: was the president of an LGBT student group at Oregon State University when I was a student there, and
  • Julia: my classmate who is a former national speech champion. She is the most articulate person I know, and she’s brilliant at handling difficult people.

Project 365: Day 57 by Cara Photography

Every time I got an email from my bully, I forwarded it to these four. After her first email, I never sent a response without giving myself several hours to let my emotional response subside and to formulate the best response based on the goal of getting the harassment to end.

My bully’s impulsiveness scared me. She reacted to every email with such anger. She responded without taking any time to think through her response. I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t shift from being verbally impulsive to physically impulsive, but I wasn’t completely convinced.

After one particularly cruel email that I forwarded to my support team, I got a one line email response from Michael: “Ruth, you need to stay away from this person.” Michael has counseled thousands of law students in his career. A warning like that from him carried significant weight for me.

I reached out to Gavin de Becker and Associates, a firm that assesses threats in personal relationships and the workplace. De Becker is the author of the bestselling book, The Gift of Fear, a book I recommend everyone read to identify and respond to people who threaten your safety. I explained the situation to an associate, and he responded that I likely had cause for concern.

I was 30 years old, and for the first time in my life, I was afraid to go to school.

Read more about my experience with cyberbullying and how I fought back in Part 2 of I Was Cyberbullied.

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Twitter – The Untapped Resource for Law Students

I joined Twitter about 16 months ago.  I originally joined to keep in touch with my friends while I was in Missouri with the U.S. Army JAG last summer.  Since then, it has become one of my primary networking tools.  It is the easiest way I know to start a conversation with someone.  I’m surprised by how few students at my law school are using it.

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A few months ago, Twitter helped me break the ice with Sam Glover when he spoke at my school.  Recently, it helped me create a connection with Tim Eigo and Arizona Attorney Magazine.  I don’t know how he found me, but he started following me in August and said that he liked this blog.  I went on LinkedIn and the Arizona Bar Association website to confirm his identity and then started a conversation with him.  That led to a lunch and hopefully this is the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship.

Twitter has given me the ability to connect with a vast number of people, entities, and information that I otherwise would not have the time to seek out on my own.  It is the main way that I keep up with developments in the legal profession.  It also helps me stay informed about what my friends, local businesses, and celebrities are doing.

Online Best and Rasmussen College published their lists for the Top 100 Legal Twitter Feeds.  These are all wonderful people to follow.  Like them, I also want to acknowledge some of my favorite legal people and entities on Twitter who consistently post informative and entertaining content.

I also want to give props to Erin Biencourt, a 2L at Arizona State University, who is new to Twitter.  She claims that she needs me to give her Twitter lessons because she’s still figuring out how retweets and replies work.  She’s doing better than she realizes because she’s already overcome the biggest hurdle just by becoming part of the conversation.

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Poolside Studying

I live in Arizona.  It gets obnoxiously hot here.  Since this semester started, the coolest day was still in the high 90s.  It’s not uncommon for the high temperature for the day to be around 108 degrees.  In the past, I joked about laminating my flash cards and studying in my pool.  I decided to put that idea into action this week in regards to reading.

A few days ago, I was frustrated from being cooped up in my house all day, reading my casebooks.  The sun was starting to set, and it was beautiful outside.  It was too much for me to keep looking at my pool through the living room window.  I put on my swimsuit and grabbed a casebook, my highlighters, a bottle of water, and a towel, and headed outside.

I folded my towel into fourths and laid it at the edge of the pool.  I needed something soft underneath my elbows.  I put  my book in the middle of the towel and my water and highlighters on the side and got back to work.  I’m pretty short, so I had to stand on the bottom step leading into the pool or else I couldn’t see my whole book.  This system worked out remarkably well.  Without the distractions of my cell phone, computer, and household chores, I got through my reading faster than ever.  This system worked equally well at night with the help of the outdoor lighting.

Yesterday, I couldn’t focus in the house, so I headed out to the pool in the middle of the day.  It was about 103 degrees outside and the sun was glaring down on me.  It was so hot that my highlighters were almost too hot to hold.  Previously, I purposely kept my hands out of the water to avoid getting my book wet, but the sun was too hot to stay focused.  I periodically took a 2-minute break to fully submerge myself in the water and cool off.  It was so refreshing.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a big fan of swimming or pools but this is where I’ll be studying for the next few weeks.   My plan is to be back in the pool sometime in April and to use this as a primary study location until I take the Bar in July.

Maintaining Perspective in Law School

I’m taking six classes this semester.  In two classes, the professors like to assign 70-150 pages of reading per class.  I’m also working on two papers and doing research for a professor.  Needless to say, I’m pretty busy.  I feel like I’m constantly running between classes, work, and other commitments.   When I have “free time,” I’m struggling to get through my immense reading assignments and hoping that I’ll remember half the information.  I had to quickly accept that the majority of my weekends this semester would be taken up with reading.

By four o’clock this past Saturday afternoon, I was tired of reading cases.  There was no end in sight, and, if anything, I was becoming a little panicked by the amount of work I had left to do.  I decided if my Saturday night was going to be spent alone with my books, then I deserved to study with cake.

I don’t keep junk food in my house.  My rule is I can eat any junk food I want if I’m willing to leave the house and get it.  One of my guilty pleasures is the “single serving” of white sheet cake with frosting from Safeway.   I usually make myself walk or ride my bike to get my junk food, but the sky was turning dark with storm clouds and I didn’t want to get caught in the rain.  I also didn’t feel like I had the time to spare, so I opted to drive.

Tybee Island
Image by Rebecca_M. via Flickr

As I pulled out of my driveway, the reality of my life hit me like a ton of bricks.  I thought, “Wow, I can read.”  I spent  my drive to the store thinking about how many people in the world don’t know how to read, especially women.  I am surrounded by piles of books and more information than I know what to do with.  How many people don’t have the opportunity to go to school?  Who am I to bitch about all the opportunities I have, when the majority of people on the planet never have the chance to go to law school or even get close to it?  My life is awesome, even when it’s hard.

This experience doesn’t change the fact that I miss seeing my friends, getting a full night of sleep, or having enough time to shower every day.  It has, however, made the long lonely hours more bearable.

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Summer School 2010: Improv Acting Class

I spent a significant amount of time this past semester applying for summer positions.  With the economy still on the rebound, they were hard to come by.  I made a promise to myself that no matter what I did during the summer before my last year of law school, I got to take improv acting classes.  I had a few experiences in the last year that inspired me to take a formal class:

  1. Captain Eric Mayer, U.S. Army JAG:  I had the pleasure of spending last summer with the Army JAG in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  Captain Mayer was the defense attorney in the office, and he was phenomenal in the courtroom.  Whenever there was a court martial, I sat in the audience and watched him in complete awe.  He never seemed uncomfortable or at a loss for words.  I don’t think he ever wrote a script for anything he did, not even his opening statement.  When he questioned a witness, he didn’t have a list of questions.  He put a list of the information he needed to get out of the witness to build his case and would check off each one once he got the answer he needed.  I was intimidated by his skills just from sitting in the audience.
  2. Professor Dallyn’s Applied Evidence Class:  This course taught us how to apply the rules of evidence to a courtroom situation.  Every day we did role plays where we took turns playing the parts of the questioning attorney, the opposing counsel, and the witness who on the stand.   The final for the class was a fake trial.  I tried to use Captain Mayer’s approach to questioning a witness, but found myself needing a script of questions and feeling flustered while the opposing counsel and I were making objections.
  3. Improv AZ’s Coroner Prank #2:  I’m a founding member of Improv AZ, a local performance troupe in the Phoenix area.  After our success with the Coroner Prank on the light rail in October 2009, we decided to repeat it at a local mall.  Things did not go according to plan, and we were confronted by the mall cops who called the real cops.  My fellow coroners were former professional improv actors.  When things turned sour, they slipped back into improv mode.  I turned seven shades of white and tried not to pass out while reserving my right to remain silent.  Thankfully the cops let us go after questioning us and the mall cops banned us from the mall for three months.  Check out my legal analysis of the event and the video.

My class started a little over two weeks ago with Jester’Z Improv and it has been amazing.  It’s a 12-week course that ends with a showcase for our friends and family.  I hope that taking this class will help improve my ability to think on my feet.

Having been a gymnast and a singer for most of my life, you might think that taking improv acting would be easy. However, in both of these activities, the performance is completely scripted.  With improv, you don’t know what’s going to happen until you’re up on the stage.  It’s a bit unsettling when you don’t know what your partner is going to say or what scenario you might be playing out.

I went to the Jester’Z Improv show featuring the regular cast and nearly peed my pants from laughing.  Part of me simply enjoyed the show and part of me was a student trying to absorb ideas from the actors and thinking, “Oh geez, these are the games I might be in during my showcase!  How am I going to pull this off?”  It’s going to be awesome.

Photo courtesy of Jester’Z Improv Comedy Troupe.