Law School Exercise Challenges Stereotypes, Assumptions

Brandon Peters brings more than two decades of experience as a highly-respected civil litigator to his mediation career, which began with a successful solo practice and continues with Upchurch Watson White & Max. He takes a data- and evidence-driven approach to resolving disputes without ignoring the all-important human factors. To schedule a mediation with Brandon, please call his case manager, Cathy McCleary, at (800) 863-1462, or visit our online calendar.

Florida Mediator Brandon S. Peters Florida Mediator Brandon S. Peters

During our third week of class, I created a new exercise to help my students identify stereotypes and learn to refrain from prejudging other people. I asked the students (at Florida A&M University College of Law) to characterize the homes in which they were raised and to share one important fact about their upbringings that their classmates might be surprised to learn. I went first, telling my class that my childhood was white, Southern, Protestant and privileged. I explained that someone who truly wanted to understand me would benefit from knowing that when I was younger, it was unusual for the adults in my life to come down to my level and play with me. I have carried that experience forward into adulthood inasmuch as I really enjoy it when another human being expresses a genuine interest in something I am doing and takes the time to find out why I like it.

I was fascinated by my students’ contributions to this exercise. For instance, one woman described how she grew up in a home with parents who adhere strictly to the teachings of Islam. Unlike her fellow classmates, this student has never had so much as a sip of alcohol. From that limited information, one could assume – like me – that this student’s father treated her differently than he treated her brothers. In fact, he did treat them differently, but not like one might have supposed. Contrary to my expectations, this student’s father elevated her to a social stature above that of her brothers. As it turns out, the role of women in Islam is neither homogeneous nor static. It is highly dependent on cultural, geographical and political context.

I love challenging other people’s assumptions about the way the world is and having my own assumptions challenged in the process. I consider myself a fairly well-educated, open-minded and inquisitive citizen of the world. And yet, I found myself humbled by my relative ignorance about the relationships of Muslim women to their families and other Muslims. Like the practice of law, the education profession can be, well, educational.

For the previous installment of Brandon’s adventures at FAMU, please click here.

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