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Widener Law Commonwealth community steps up, prepares for its future

Widener University Commonwealth Law School is moving towards re-opening in the fall, according to Dean Christian A. Johnson.

Last week, the law school made a series of recommendations about the school’s future, which include no summer classes or events on campus.

Johnson emphasized that any move to resume on-campus operations will be made only after state and local authorities lift restrictions on business and school openings, and once Widener Law Commonwealth concludes that safeguards can be put in place to minimize health risks from COVID-19 to the entire law school community. 

He recognized how difficult the school’s closure has been on students and praised them, saying they embraced the change, finding the courage to pivot quickly to a new normal.

“Our first years were still getting used to the pressures of being law students when this happened,” he said. He added that the third year students now face a two-month delay to take the bar exam and all students are grappling with a changed opportunity and employment landscape. 

“Our community remains strong,” he said, noting that the law school’s faculty and staff played a huge role in the successful completion of the spring semester that ended Friday. The law school’s online summer classes start up on May 26.

He said that in his mind, the daily web update posted by Assistant Dean of Students Randi Teplitz became almost a “lifeline” to the community after the school moved to online classes in March.

Teplitz began posting the updates on the eve of the law school’s shutdown of its Harrisburg campus on March 12, part of a concerted effort by the school to communicate to students, faculty, staff, and the community as clearly and quickly as possible.

Third-year law student Franqui Raffaele said she read Teplizt’s posts every day.

“They were the one constant of the law school for me now that I’m not on campus, besides our online classes,” she said.

“Our professors were also constantly checking in with us, reaffirming the fact that I chose the right law school for me – one built on a sense of family,” she added.

Raffaele is from Telford, PA but is riding out the quarantine in her apartment near the law school.

Teplitz said that in the face of such unprecedented interruption, the law school is committed to doing its best by students.

“We are making it up as we go along, trying to make lemonade out of lemons, so to speak,” Teplitz said.  

In addition to the daily online updates, the Widener community found other ways of staying close, according to Teplitz, including with activities like a “Yappy Hour” held before finals.  A group of students invited all members of the Widener Law Commonwealth community to bring their pets to a virtual party on Zoom, the online video conferencing platform that will also serve as the proxy classroom for Widener students until the end of the semester.

“it hasn’t been easy for any of us to pivot overnight from the traditional law school model to a purely virtual one,” Teplitz said, adding that in addition to its academic and professional resources, Widener Law Commonwealth has also extended to students a vital wellness tool, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, on a 24/7 basis.

Teplitz applauded Widener Law Commonwealth students for making such a seamless transition and pointed out that there may be a silver lining to this drastic disruption to their lives and educations.

“What I tell students is that as lawyers you have to learn to be flexible, think on your feet, manage crises,” she said. “They didn’t anticipate this life lesson – no one could have – but it’s actually providing them with a transferrable skill they can use in their careers.”

Gabriella A. Romeo, a second-year student from Dubois, PA, said that while transitioning to online classes has proved to be hard for her, she gives the faculty a lot of credit.

“The professors are all doing a good job,” she said. “My problem is that I get distracted during online classes, a little nosy when I see my classmates at home. I start focusing in on how nice their room is, and suddenly I’m lost.”

Romeo said that taking classes from her Susquehanna Township home has made her cat happy, though. “Mia wasn’t all that social before but now she insists on sitting on my lap during all my classes,” she said.

“This Widener Law Commonwealth community has been remarkable,” said Widener Law Commonwealth Dean Christian A. Johnson. “Working full tilt during this unprecedented public health crisis, we were able to convert a traditional law school into an online and interactive content delivery institution in short order.”


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