APIL Places Stigmas On Trial During All Hallows’ Eve At Levin

"Salem Witch Trials" event raises awareness, provides outlet

by Kéran Billaud

Trick-or-treaters, scary movies, and costumes collectively make a typical All Hallows’ Eve, but this year, the Association of Public Interest Law hosted a reenactment of the Salem Witch Trials at the Levin College of Law.

Only this time, stigmas were identified by students, tied and placed on one of three stakes placed in the Marcia Whitney School Courtyard.

Students place the first bundles by the stakes.
Photo by Julian Pinilla.
Labarga and Nowak call the courtyard's attention to learn about the Salem Witch Trials and stigmas that exist today.
Photo by Julian Pinilla.
Caroline Labarga and Cate Nowak present speeches at noon.
Photo by Julian Pinilla.
Labarga and Nowak discuss some of the challenges professionals face in the legal profession.
Photo by Julian Pinilla.
Students participated by buying a bundle of sticks for one dollar, raising awareness, and contributing to the APIL fundraiser.
Photo by Julian Pinilla.
Many organizations co-sponsored the event and aided in the preparation process.
Photo by Julian Pinilla.
Students buy their bundles and write down stigmas that come to mind.
Photo by Julian Pinilla.
In between classes, the courtyard is full of students, providing the perfect opportunity for APIL to reach out.
Photo by Julian Pinilla.
The bundles grew over the afternoon, ending with 213 bundles.
Photo by Julian Pinilla.

“This event brings awareness to various stigmas so we can abolish them,” said Cate Nowak, vice president of APIL.

Students bought bundles of sticks, each with a leaf attached. On the leaf, a students could write a stigma that affected them. Then, each bundle would be placed by a stake in the courtyard for passersby to observe.

In a matter of hours, 213 bundles were sold and placed for display, raising $223 dollars for the cause.

“We have a diverse campus, and all of the students face challenges,” Nowak explained, pointing to challenges graduates face based on their background, appearance or beliefs.

Caroline Labarga, president of APIL, prepares stick bundles for Monday's event. The event drew in curious students over the course of the afternoon, raising awareness on the effects of stigmas in the legal profession and society. Photo by Julian Pinilla.
Caroline Labarga, president of APIL, prepares stick bundles for Monday’s event. Photo by Julian Pinilla.

The Real Trials

Caroline Labarga is APIL’s president. She explained during the event how the original Salem Witch Trials live on today in stigmas that plague society.

In Salem, 1692, more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft, and more than 20 were killed during the trials.  Back then, scapegoating and stigmas meant possible death for “afflicted girls” and those under influence of the devil. Today, people still face the heavy pressure of labels and sometimes face equally dire, unjust consequences, according to Labarga.


APIL’s former treasurer passed away this summer. He had schizaffective disorder and had a psychotic episode, ultimately causing his death.

The stigmatization of individuals with mental illness in the legal community is  alarming to Labarga. The Florida Bar requires one to report one’s mental illness, treatment one’s received and for how long. Doing so deters law students from seeking out treatment during such crises, she explained.

“Our event today reflected how students have been oppressed throughout their lives. I think it’s necessary to address what is wrong in our society, things that have affected us negatively, in order to keep them from happening again,” Labarga stated.

Today’s legal system is far more advanced that Salem’s.  There is still much room for improvement, Labarga explained, from increased awareness of the damaging results of these stigmas, and from the work done by public interest attorneys, pro bono work from private firms, and law students.

“History tends to repeat itself; we need to stop the witch hunts,” she concluded.


About Kéran Billaud 14 Articles
Kéran Billaud is a J.D. student at the University of Florida Levin College of Law (2L). He has taught labs at the CJC and is a past sole instructor of Mass Media & You. From 2010 to 2015, he worked in print, radio, TV and online multimedia news for organizations such as NPR/PBS/NBC/CBS affiliates, and foreign media in Zambia, Africa. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications with a double minor in English lit/creative writing and French from Emory & Henry College and a professional master’s degree in telecommunications from the University of Florida. On the side, he has enjoyed 14 years of serious competition in endurance races up through the marathon and in martial arts tournaments, water sports and mountain climbing.