Students at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Lawpose outside The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeleswith Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bruce R.Cohen, his wife, Loren, and daughter, Lindsay. Theyare (from left), students Alison Atwater, Natalie Graves,and Amy Coughenour, Lindsay, Bruce and Loren Cohen,Meghan McCauley, Paul Singleton and Scott Seymann.Photo by Janie Magruder
At the dedication of The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles 15 years ago, Federico Mayor, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, hit the nail on the head: “A peaceful future depends on our everyday acts and gestures. Let us educate for tolerance in our schools and communities, in our homes and workplaces and, most of all, in our hearts and minds.” It’s a message that was reinforced time and time again for a delegation from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law who recently took a moving guided tour of the museum’s exceptional, multimedia exhibits. The interactive displays, dioramas, recreations and reenactments, featuring archival video, audio, photographs and documents, trace the world’s shameful and violent history of intolerance, from the plight of the suffragettes and the horrors of the Holocaust to America’s civil rights struggles and human-rights violations that plague Bosnia, Rwanda and other places today. The visit, on June 6, was a reward from Loren Cohen and Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bruce R. Cohen, an alumnus of the College of Law, who sponsor the Cohen Professionalism Scholars competition at the College of Law. Each year, all first-year students submit essays about integrity for the writing contest, and the Cohens select the best entries, award scholarship money to the winners and organize the Museum trip. “Our goal is to plant the seed of consciousness about individual responsibility,” Judge Cohen said. “We don’t impose our values on the students, but we do hope that they will take responsibility for whatever their moral compass tells them. “And that’s a difficult thing because we have 20/20 vision when we’re viewing the behavior of others, but we have a real blind spot when it comes to viewing our own,” he continued. “How quickly we grasp the magnifying glass, but how slow we are to pull out a mirror.” The scholars were chosen by the Cohens without their knowledge of the authors’ gender, ethnicity or backgrounds. As it happened, the students are a diverse group of freethinkers. Meghan McCauley, Amy Coughenour, Alison Atwater and Natalie Greaves, all members of the Class of 2010, and Paul Singleton and Scott Seymann, of the Class of 2009, accompanied the Cohens and their daughter, Lindsay, on the trip. In addition to experiencing the somber exhibits, the group was captivated by the brave Morris Price, a Polish Jew who, unlike more than 15 million others, survived the Holocaust. They also were surprised and heartened by the unlikely friendship of Matthew Boger, a gay man, and Tim Zaal, a former neo-Nazi skinhead. “The question is, `What do we do with these feelings now, these feelings of fear, discomfort, anger, hopelessness?’” asked Diane Flynn, program facilitator for the museum‘s Tools for Tolerance program, during one of the group’s discussion periods. “We have to try to find the part in ourselves that is more like those in the past who have said, `I’m not going to stand for this.’” The students returned to Phoenix wrung out from the emotional experience, yet reflective and hopeful about their future role as lawyers who can contribute greatly to furthering tolerance. “Watching Matthew and Tim speak about how they have learned from past mistakes so as to avoid repeating them was inspirational because it showed that the power to change a shameful course of history is within us,” Seymann said. The museum experience gave Seymann something to recall when he finds himself in adverse situations, as a new lawyer, and he believes it will help him view adversity more objectively and focus on a more just result. “Having said that, I realize that, if we could strip away adversity that easily all the time, well, we could just let it wither and blow away,” Seymann said. “I believe we all have the power to do so. It’s just a matter of having the control. Or, in a more enlightened word, the `tolerance.’” Singleton said he won’t soon forget two display cases facing each other in the Holocaust exhibit; one contained a Nazi uniform, decorated with the swastika, Nazi flag, and a German officer’s pistol and rifle, while the other, more-plain display featured a letter detailing Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews and other papers. Upon closer examination, the students learned that the letter had been written by an attorney. “As future attorneys, this trip was a good reminder that, as lawyers, we have a tremendous amount of power: the power to do good and the power to do evil,” Singleton said. “When someone is being oppressed, we have three choices: assist those who persecute others, stand by and do nothing, or fight for those who need our help.” McCauley, a future officer in the U.S. Air Force, said the museum provided her with a new sense of duty. In addition to upholding justice as an attorney and protecting the principles of her country as a military official, she is now duty-bound to uphold her beliefs. “I believe the most profound message of our visit was that, what has occurred in every major discriminatory event in our world’s history was done at the compliance of ordinary people,” she said. “This experience has taught me to always remember to maintain a duty within myself in order to make sure I never comply with intolerance directed at any person.” The sense of duty also resounded with Atwater, who called the museum both educational and inspiring. “It is important to remember that, just as we owe the tolerance we enjoy today to those who came before us and worked to expand our rights, people who live decades in the future will depend on us to work just as hard to expand those rights to include an even larger spectrum of diversity,” she said.
Scott Seymann's EssayPaul Singleton's EssayMegan McCauley's EssayAlison Atwater's EssayNatalie Greaves' Essay