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.
“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.
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.