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Stetson Law student examines legal structure and history in Rome

Story by Valeria Obi

Every spring semester, the International Programs Office at Stetson University College of Law hosts a study abroad course that provides students with the opportunity to learn about the legal structure of a different country and then actually visit it in person.

This spring, the course was Rome-Select Topics/International Law, the country of interest was Italy, and I had a personal opportunity to participate. The topics covered in this course were the development of Republicanism, law and advocacy, the legal profession in ancient Rome, and its effect on modern civil law systems.

Stetson Law student Valeria Obi during a spring visit to Rome.

Stetson Law student Valeria Obi during a spring visit to Rome.

This course was spearheaded by Stetson Law professors Marco Jimenez and Candace Zierdt. Both professors are extremely knowledgeable about the ancient legal structure of Rome and served as great resources for learning about the area.

The first half of the course was spent in the classroom at Stetson Law in Gulfport, Fla., where I learned about the development of law and advocacy from ancient Rome through modern society.

The class was heavily focused on classroom discussion. This provided an opportunity for everyone to share their opinions on course topics. Students facilitated the majority of classroom discussions.

Through these discussions, I learned all about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the evolution of religion in Rome, the first legal code (The Twelve Tables), Roman architecture and influential leaders of Rome.

During spring break, March 17-24, I actually had the chance to visit Rome in person and visit the places I studied about in class.

One of the sites I visited while in Rome was the ancient Roman Forum, which is surrounded by the ruins of other ancient government buildings. These buildings were used for centuries and were the center of Roman life. The Forum served as the venue for elections, public speeches, criminal trials and other major events that took place. My visit to the Forum was enhanced by insights from the class discussions.

Along with the Forum, I also toured the Supreme Palace of Justice, which houses the Roman Supreme Court. This building is enormous and beautifully decorated with ancient paintings. While there, I also had an opportunity to attend a hearing to see how Roman legal proceedings differ from those in the U.S.

Stetson students spent Spring Break in Rome learning about the Roman legal system.

Stetson students spent Spring Break in Rome learning about the Roman legal system.

Another interesting site that I visited was the Catacombs, which served as the underground burial place for Christians in ancient Rome. The Catacombs extend for nearly 12 miles and are currently still being excavated. I got the opportunity to walk through the chilled tunnels and even saw remains in some of the plots.

I also visited Vatican City, which is the smallest independent state in the world. The Vatican is actually located in Rome where its territory consists of a walled enclave. Inside the Vatican are several museums that improved my understanding of ancient Roman art as well as the different Popes of Rome.

The Vatican is also where the Sistine Chapel is located. The Sistine Chapel served as the official residence of the Pope. I was absolutely amazed by the Renaissance architecture and paintings by very famous artists including Michelangelo.

My favorite places among those we visited were Pompeii and Herculaneum, both partially buried cities that are also still being excavated. These cities are the result of a volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius. What’s really fascinating about these cities is the fact that part of them is still buried under the ash and debris from the volcanic eruption. We were able to walk through these ancient cities and visualize what life used to be like for the inhabitants.

Overall, my experience in Rome was absolutely captivating and breathtaking. While I did see much of Rome, there is still so much more to see. I appreciate everything I’ve learned from the course because this once unfamiliar culture has inspired me to learn even more about it. Although next year the country selected for Stetson’s spring break abroad will be different, I would absolutely recommend this course to anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to travel internationally.

For more information about this course or any other study abroad programs, students should contact the Office of International Programs at international@law.stetson.edu.

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Friday: Atlanta

On the last day of our trip, we drove to Atlanta and visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Museum.  Everybody was thoroughly sick of everybody by now.  We have been through so much, and have seen such things, and we sang Freedom songs all day–except we didn’t know all the words, so it was usually the same verse over and over.

One of the things that first struck me about the Museum was the statue of Ghandi.  We’ve always mentioned Ghandi in our discussions of non-violence, but it was odd to see his monument in front of the Museum, and not Dr. King’s.

I spent a lot of time reading the anti-mysgenation laws exhibit.  How deep the fear of “mongerelizing” the white race must lie, if states had laws against black barbers cutting white women and children’s hair!  Not that I had a lot of faith in local governments before, but it was helpful to see the sheer amount of stupidity and legalized hate on an 8-foot-tall display.

Also, I thought the legislatures had an unhealthy obsession with Mongolians–surprising, considering the fact that the citizens of Louisiana have probably never seen a Mongolian in the late 1880s, or were even aware that Mongolia existed.  Prof. Arsenault explained that apparently, that was the term for all non-Indian Asians back in the day, which I found somewhat amusing.

The most remarkable parts of the Museum, at least to me, were the ones concerning Dr. King’s funeral.  First, there is the room in which the hearse that carried Dr. King’s body is displayed.

The walls are filled with newspapers, magazines, and pictures of his family.  It is an emotional place.  One of my fellow Riders, an undergrad, started sobbing, and my heart ached for her, too.  “He was a leader, but we forget that he was also a husband, a father,” she said in a broken voice.

Dr. and Mrs. King’s graves are marble monuments in the middle of a pool of turquoise water.  I remembered that a speaker at the Southern Poverty Law Center explained that they used water for their monuments, too, because “water is healing.”

We sat down by the pool, and, looking at the Eternal Flame that burns to the left of the monument, sang “This Little Light of Mine.”  I did not feel sad, my hand in the cool water.  All in my room, I’m gonna let it shine–two girls, daughters of Russian and German immigrants, singing an old “Negro” spiritual on Martin Luther King’s grave–let it shine let it shine let it shine.

So, that’s where the Freedom Ride took us.

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Thursday: Selma

It seemed hardly real that we would get to go home the next day, especially after Selma.

Selma, Alabama is a world apart from what most of my fellow students are used to. A sleepy Southern town is one thing, but Selma’s Deep South, and that’s a whole other animal.

There certainly is a lot of loveliness to it: historic homes, for example, or the gorgeous cemetery, where Confederate soldiers’ memorials hide under Spanish moss. Actually, the town is very proud of its Confederate heritage. No joke, I have heard people in the 21st century refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression, or, if they’re feeling politically correct, the War Between the States. My stepfather’s father would really get into it with his friend from Pennsylvania: damyankies this, rise again that.

So, it’s hard to miss all the Confederate flags flying around town. Almost immediately, that creates a threatening environment, what with the KKK adopting Confederate pride. I’ve never seen blatant signs of KKK activity in town, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it existed.

Most white people in Selma just want everyone to forget the violence that occurred in the Civil Rights Movement, because, frankly, it’s embarrassing. Many associate the phrase “Civil Rights” with Black Panthers (the group got started here, during the Selma-to-Montgomery march) and racial divisiveness, rather than Martin Luther King, holding hands, and singing “We Shall Overcome.”

My classmates, especially those who are black, expressed that it was the first place on this trip where they felt unwelcome, like they didn’t belong. We went to lunch at the Downtowner.

(“Why’d you go there?” my stepdad, a Selma native, asked, “That’s the place where the locals eat.”
“Where else would we eat?” I countered.
“Good point,” he replied.)

People were looking at us like we were from another planet. First, we were a large group of young people, which is something I’ve never seen in Selma. Second, our dress was starkly different from that of the local residents (some girls had pierced noses! How scandalous!). Third, we had a very racially mixed group, while the only local black person in the restaurant was the elderly gentleman who cleaned our table (I don’t have the heart to call him a “busboy”).

A table of locals actually asked what a white student what we were doing there, and she told them about the Civil Rights Bus Tour. A man leaned over and said, “They’re brainwashing you.”

An older lady wanted to make sure that we knew she didn’t have anything to do with “that mess on the bridge.” She means Bloody Sunday, when the Selma police teargassed and trampled Civil Rights activists on the Edmond Pettus Bridge.

The PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize presents that event beautifully: no music, no commentary, just an old black-and-white video. Marchers come up to a line of policemen in gas masks. There is a pause–dead quiet. Then the line breaks and the screams start.

We walked across the Bridge ourselves in complete silence, two-by-two. I kind of ruined the moment for myself by stopping to pick up discarded plastic bottles and other trash, because keeping the place sacrosanct was more important than preserving the solemnity of the moment.

At this point in the trip, I was hardly sentient. The heat, the fatigue, the sheer amount of information that has been crammed into my head–I no longer knew anything about anything but the Civil Rights Movement. I was a living container for the Civil Rights history. Rebekah, my classmate, told me she was totally sure she has seen tears in my eyes when we finished walking the Bridge, but I don’t remember crying.

P.S.  The first three pictures have been taken by Margie Brandwein-Gensler, a family friend and a great photographer, who was not on the trip, but has visited Selma with my mom.

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Stetson Law Student Blog

Stetson University College of Law is now seeking volunteers to serve on its Student Social Media Team! If you like to blog, tweet or answer forum questions about life at Stetson, please e-mail Davina Gould at gould (at) law (dot) stetson (dot) edu. Team members should have a strong understanding of the major social media platforms, excellent writing skills, be in good academic standing, and agree to adhere to our blogging guidelines.

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