Mercy and Justice. Who would have thought that two short words could spark so much debate?
My Thematic Option (TO) class last semester with Professor Herrup focused on defining mercy and determining when it is appropriate to administer it. Integrating a wide range of sources – ranging from original court documents to the Oxford dictionary to the bible to law review articles to YouTube videos – Professor Herrup truly gave us a comprehensive understanding.
I admire Professor Herrup’s deep understanding of the material and dedication to her students. Even when the reading was dense, the subject matter was always interesting. Professor Herrup definitely knew how to lighten the mood, sometimes using her quirky sense of humor and sometimes sharing with us her niece’s girl scout cookies. We discussed current events, analyzing famous pardons and the distribution of mercy in the American legal system, and there were probably about 85 different opinions for the 29 people in my class (and probably 8 of them my own!). But, there was never an instant where anyone was rude or belittled another student; everyone’s respectful manner – no matter how heated arguments got – really impressed me.
Professor Herrup and our TA Keith took us to a theater in Santa Monica to see Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice performed live after reading the play. The actors were all incredible! Because I feel that directors usually take too much freedom, I usually prefer to read Shakespeare rather than see it performed, but this play was unlike any I’ve seen before (though maybe it’s because we got box seats! Yes, USC got us the best seats in the house). The actors even stayed for a question and answer session with us afterward.
The field trip brought our class even closer together. The play was on the fourth day of Passover and as an observant Jew, I wasn’t able to eat the dinner or snacks at the theater. At first, I was a little shy about this, but my class made me feel special when they crowded around me asking me to try some Matzah, unleavened bread special for Passover. Instead of making fun of me or even ignoring this, my class went above and beyond to make me feel comfortable. For the first time, I understood what people meant by SC students’ sense of camaraderie – I truly felt it.
Professor Herrup’s relaxed yet respectful environment created an open forum for us to discuss issues that were important to us. This class taught me a lot: I can now read and understand legal documents, write a fact-based research paper, and wait to finish my comment before chowing down my favorite Thin Mints.