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SBA Senate asks DC Bar to eliminate exam mental health questions

Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor
Student Bar Association place cards.

Updated: Feb. 25, 2024, at 11:27 a.m.

Student Bar Association senators unanimously voted Tuesday to pass a resolution urging the D.C. Bar to eliminate exam questions focused on law students’ mental health in an effort to reduce stigma related to mental health issues.

SBA Sen. Elan Reisner, who sponsored the Stop the Stigma Resolution, said the D.C. Bar — the District’s mandatory bar association for lawyers — includes a question on the exam that asks students if their current mental health condition could affect their ability to practice law in a competent, ethical and professional manner. Reisner said he is calling on the D.C. Bar to eliminate the question because a 2021 survey of 24,000 law students reported that 40 percent of students don’t seek mental health treatment because they fear how it would impact their admittance to the bar.

Reisner said mental health is a problem on GW’s campus and that many of his friends have shared stories with him about their mental health struggles. He said everyone on campus knows someone with a mental health condition and the SBA must work to support these students.

“We must change the conversation about mental health and we as a community must emphatically state that getting help is a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness,” Reisner said.

SBA Sen. Elya Nassaj, who also sponsored the resolution, said the bill requests the National Conference of Bar Examiners to no longer recommend that jurisdictions’ bar examinations include the question to align with states that have already made the step. He said the passage of the resolution will continue to assert the SBA’s commitment to equity and inclusivity in the practice of law.

“We as a student body we’re advocating here for progress in mental health awareness,” Nassaj said. “It is crucial that our legal education system evolves to reflect our values as we get through our education.”

SBA Executive Vice President Kaitlin Fontana said she received an update from SGA Sen. Simon Patmore-Zarcone (Law-G) about a bill senators passed during the SBA’s last meeting which requested students run for a SGA Senate seat in the SBA elections instead of the SGA elections. Fontana said Patmore-Zarcone said the bill’s approval is “in the works” and should be implemented by the SBA elections next month.

SBA President Shallum Atkinson said tickets for the upcoming Barrister’s Ball — an annual formal for GW Law students — sold out in “record time,” resulting in the need for an additional ticket drop Wednesday night. Atkinson said he and his team are doing everything they can to “cut corners and save costs” to provide an accessible experience for students and guests. Atkinson said when he was younger, he experienced being unable to afford school events like field trips so he wants to prioritize financial accessibility to the ball.

“That’s why I save money,” Atkinson said. “It’s why I’ve worked on creating the Professional Development Fund so people don’t have to pick and choose between money they have in pocket and being able to be successful in their career.”

SBA senators unanimously voted to register GW Law Bands as a student organization. Ben Winneg, a representative from GW Law Bands, said the organization was a part of the student organization Law Revue but is separating due to their financial self-sufficiency and desire to have fundraising autonomy.

“We want to continue playing music and hopefully entertaining the student body, number one,” Winneg said. “Number two, we want to continue partnering with the SBA on programming and bar review, things like that. And point three is we want to continue costing the SBA $0 a year.”

SBA senators also passed an ad hoc bill allocating $515.16 to the GW Legal History Society to cover expenses of a ghost tour fundraising event around the monuments. Vice president of the GW Legal History Society Katlyn Har said the society plans to host similar fundraising events in the future.

SBA senators passed two additional ad hoc bills covering a $17.58 reimbursement for pizza for GW For the People’s general body meeting and $190.97 for pizza for the weekly windup the organization recently hosted.

Senators will hold the next SBA meeting Tuesday, March 5 at 9:15 p.m. in LLC 009.

Hannah Marr contributed reporting.

This post was updated to correct the following:

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the bill urges the National Conference of Bar Examiners to evaluate applicants based on content, not condition. The bill urges the NCBE to no longer recommend that jurisdictions, like the D.C. Bar, ask applicants to complete a question about mental health. We regret this error.

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