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What Learning Outside the Classroom Looks Like: A Government Major’s Reflection

My parents told me that learning in college would happen fifty percent inside the classroom and fifty percent outside of it. My senior seminar’s trip to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals somehow fit both categories and easily was one of the most rewarding learning experiences I’ve had at the College. In classes, it’s easy to forget that what you learn directly affects the world we live in. Watching Juniper’s argument in person changed the class from feeling theoretical to feeling concrete and human; the issues and Supreme Court precedents we learned would facilitate Anthony Juniper’s life or death. It was sobering and moving.

Professor Sasser arranged an opportunity for us to talk separately with the petitioner and respondent after the arguments. This was especially cool considering we “mooted” the case – meaning we practiced its oral argument – only four days before. We learned why they argued either for or against, how they prepared for the argument, what questions they expected, and even cooler – they asked us what we would have done differently. And, cooler than that: we were able to answer thoughtfully and knowledgably, because we had each done over a hundred pages of reading in preparation.

One of my favorite parts about the trip was that I experienced it with my classmates. Two forty-five minute road trips with Professor Sasser at the wheel invited games, stories, and laughter (and maybe a little innocuous Government Department gossip). These periods of transition – the car rides, the walk from the Courthouse to the Attorney General’s Office – allowed for unstructured time where my peers and I could just hang out and get to know one another outside of the classroom. Elaborating on or challenging a viewpoint is easier when you know that person, and we all felt the better classroom environment when we were back in Tyler Hall.

Most of our class was convinced that something went wrong in Anthony Juniper’s trial, so we eagerly await the opinion of the Fourth Circuit’s panel.