For Emily Driscoll, 2020 has been the year of “Zoom law school.”
A second-year student at UNLV Boyd School of Law, she has juggled unemployment, rental assistance, raising a young child on her own and, of course, law school as the slow expansion of the pandemic from weeks into months has stacked new stress onto new stress.
“It's just stressful, you know,” Driscoll said. “It’s been nine months of this.”
“I didn't get unemployment until late October,” she said. “And so it was also like, on top of academic stress, I literally had no money. And I have a two year old, and I’m at home with my kid going to Zoom law school, and they expect me to focus — but I don’t have any resources.”
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Driscoll is no stranger to an online college experience. Traveling abroad through Switzerland and India through much of her undergraduate career, she worked as an au pair, or nanny, as she completed an online degree from Grand Canyon University.
When that degree was finished and she was back home last year, Driscoll said she was looking for a sense of stability when she decided to pursue a career in law. And though she entered law school without a clear sense of purpose or direction other than that desire for stability, she said she’s since found a calling in pursuing law as means toward achieving social justice and protecting civil rights.
Still, amid the crush of academic and financial pressure, Driscoll said she saw a pervasive sense of inequality as the semester played out, even after multiple town halls meant to address student concerns.
“It just didn't feel fair,” she said. “Why are the poor kids being held to the same standard as the rich kids, when we have our whole family — elderly people, and babies and disabled family members, and people we have to take care of — at home.”
Across the country, a number of schools have moved to implement some form of option pass/fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading as a means to remove at least some academic pressure from the strangest college semester in recent memory.
But while many undergraduate institutions, including in Nevada, have maintained these grading options into the fall, law schools — including Boyd — have generally shied away, opting instead to preserve the traditional grading scale.
Nationwide, what little data available on the subject shows a student body with split opinions on the issue. A limited survey of about 200 law school graduates in the class of 2020 by test-prep company Kaplan found that 48 percent supported pass/fail, while 41 opposed and 11 percent were unsure.
There have been other failings in Driscoll’s view, too, such as the lack of a cohesive policy on the use of cameras during Zoom classes. Driscoll said she started to find things so difficult that she “already felt defeated by the semester.”
“It was so stressful, I was so sad all semester, I just wanted to sleep,” she said. “I couldn't really get out of bed, I had no motivation for anything, I felt like I was really doing the bare minimum … I felt like there was no point in putting effort.”
Driscoll has since started therapy that she said has helped her cope with all the added stress that has come since the start of the fall semester. What has also helped: simply that the semester has finished.
Though in the year of the coronavirus and the year of Zoom law school, sometimes when it rains, it pours.
“I love to ride my bike, [but] my bike actually just got stolen, so I guess I don’t love to do that anymore,” Driscoll said. “I really like roller skating [too] — those haven't gotten stolen yet.”
But under the weight of the pandemic and law school and everything that’s come along with it, Driscoll said her support network has been crucial in ensuring she even has the opportunity to continue her education. Whether it’s the help of her mother or her friends or her access to daycare, student loans and what she described as "decent" financial resources, she said her own story of single-motherhood is just that: her own story.
“I think that people kind of use a ‘single mom who overcomes some kind of obstacle to become successful,’ as some kind of like, poverty porn,” she said. “Just some kind of weird thing where like, ‘Oh, if you just work hard enough, you can be not poor’ — and I don't think that's true. Of course, hard work and dedication are important. But there is no way that I could do law school without the support of my family and friends and a crippling amount of debt.”