Asian Representation in Entertainment

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Throughout history, Asian representation in the entertainment industry has been disturbingly small and stained by offensive caricatures.[1] Specifically, as of 2017, only 1% of all leading roles in Hollywood were played by Asian Americans,[2] and even those actors were subjected to unfair stereotyping that portrays Asians as “intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious” all of which typically assemble in a doctor-type character.[3] The above characteristics may not traditionally be seen as “offensive,” however, the underrepresentation and stereotyping of Asians in Hollywood dehumanize and deems Asians as “passive foreigners without dimension.”[4] Furthermore, the media’s perception of Asians influences the viewer’s real-world opinions of Asians, thus leading to harmful cultural and social consequences.[5]

In recent years, Hollywood has made a serious effort to further diversify its leading actors and storylines. The film Crazy Rich Asians marked an irrefutable turning point for modern Asian American film representation in 2018 as the film made $238 million at the box office and reinforced the idea that “diversity could also mean good business.”[6] But Hollywood didn’t stop there, as Netflix and movie theaters also released To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, starring Lana Condor, Searching, starring John Cho as the first Asian American actor to lead a major thriller, and Always Be My Maybe, featuring Ali Wong, Randall Park, and Keanu Reeves.[7] These films and others like them show promise for more Asian representation in Hollywood and entertainment in general, however, it is merely a necessary first step toward actual Asian representation. Ultimately, current Asian representation in Hollywood films falls short because “the stories and the people in them skew mostly East Asian.”[8] Spotlighting the “East Asian narrative” in terms of Asian America as a whole forces South and Southeast Asians out of the conversation.[9] Thus, even in Hollywood’s attempt to depict the Asian American story, the ideas of South and Southeast Asians being not the “right kind of Asian,” or not being “Asian enough” remain.[10]

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Still, the entertainment industry presses on in its endeavor to deliver true diversity and Asian representation that goes beyond Asian stereotypes. Thanks to the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC), ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC have all committed to working to increase diversity on-screen and behind the camera.[11] In 2019 ABC scored the highest among the four major broadcast networks, even though the ratio of Asian Americans to the networks of other members was less than the previous years.[12] There is a real concern that films like Crazy Rich Asians did not actually broaden Asian representation in entertainment overall, and current stigmas surrounding the Coronavirus only amplify these concerns.[13]  Nevertheless, Asian-American power players– studio executives, lead agents, and producers– have taken it upon themselves to ensure that Hollywood shifts toward a more authentic and lasting form of Asian representation in both film and television.[14]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/06/t-magazine/asian-american-actors-representation.html

[2] Id.

[3] https://scholar.dominican.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=honors-theses

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] https://time.com/5622913/asian-american-representation-hollywood/

[7] https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/7xggba/hollywood-doesnt-fully-represent-asian-americans-yet

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] https://apamediacoalition.wordpress.com/about/

[12] https://variety.com/2020/tv/news/abc-big-four-networks-asian-american-representation-1234598044/

[13] Id.

[14] https://time.com/5622913/asian-american-representation-hollywood/

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Megan Kern is a second-year law student at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio.

 

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Julie Takash, JD candidate at Southwestern Law School class of 2021 and Employment Law Society treasurer.

Unpacking Systemic Racism: Using Racial Wedging As A Tool

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shutterstock_1133218232When unpacking systemic racism and oppression, you will not only realize that it is embedded in American institutions on a global scale, in microaggressions and prejudice on an individual scale, but it is also a tool that is used to pit different races and ethnicities against each other to once again prioritize the majority, in America’s case “Whiteness” over others.In efforts to downplay systemic racism and prejudice, Black people are often compared to their Asian or Asian-American counterparts through the use of the mythical tope of the “Model Minority” and are told that the American Dream is possible for all people if you assimilate and pick yourself up by your “bootstraps”.[1]

Firstly, Asians and Asian Americans are people of color.

Secondly, when told to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” not only is this concept ignoring how systemic racism works but also when Black Americans did try to generate wealth for themselves (i.e. Black Wallstreet in the 1920s) it was burned to the ground.[2] Black Wallstreet was one of the first times Black Americans created a Black economy that could have prospered into generational wealth for their families.[3] But rather than celebrating Black people’s pursuit of the “American Dream”, their labor and the fruits of it, were burned to the ground and Black citizens were run out of town by white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan.[4]

Lastly, by comparing two ethnicities and highlighting one specific ethnicity as a “model” or “ideal”, not only serves as an erasure of each distinct ethnic experience but also ignores the racially charged experience Asian Americans have had confronted in America as well.

For example, the Transcontinental Railroad was officially completed on May 10, 1869, but many forget that the railroad was built due to the exploitation of Chinese immigrant labor.[5] From the influx of Chinese immigrants, then began a rising false, but the persuasive sentiment that Chinese immigrants were taking “American” employment opportunities which then led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the fear of the “Yellow Peril”.[6] Harsh depictions of Chinese immigrants were released during this time as propaganda to ensure the justification of the Chinese Exclusion Act.[7] (It seems that fear has historically been a great motivator to undermine people’s humanity and to divide people into “us” versus “the other”).

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From there, in the 1940s during World War II and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, anti-Chinese propaganda and sentiment were replaced by anti-Japanese propaganda.[8] With this, “The Citizens Committee to Repeal Chinese Exclusion recognized that it would have to neutralize deep-seated fear of “yellow peril”. So, it strategically recast Chinese in its promotional materials as law-abiding, peace-loving, courteous people living quietly among us.”[9] Congress ultimately repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943. [10] However, the damage of stereotyping Asian Americans could not be erased and misrepresentation of their culture had (and continue to) proliferate the media. Take, for example, stereotypical representations of an Asian character, ‘Mr. Yunioshi’ in 1961’s American favorite, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or 2012’s commercial image of Ashton Kutcher as a Bollywood producer.[11]

By 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed and in 1965 the Immigration and Naturalization Act was passed, giving legal protection to immigrants and attracting a highly selective group of Asian professionals and skilled workers.[12] Thus, the death of “Yellow Peril” and the rise of the “Model Minority” with media at the forefront of portraying Asian Americans and Asian immigrants as a perfect example of how to make it in America. This served as a way to downplay the 200-year history of demonization and enslavement of Black Americans.

Janelle Wong, the director of Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park notes that the “Model Minority” myth not only ignores, “the role that selective recruitment of highly educated Asian immigrants has played in Asian American success”, but this myth is perpetuated by making “a flawed comparison between Asian Americans and other groups, particularly Black Americans, to argue that racism, including more than two centuries of black enslavement, can be overcome by hard work and strong family values.”[13]

Furthermore, Claire Jean Kim, a professor at the University of California, Irvine notes that the “racism that Asian Americans have experienced is not what Black people have experienced.”[14] Moreover, “Asians have faced various forms of discrimination, but never the systematic dehumanization that Black people have faced during slavery and continue to face today.”[15]

Thus, when analyzing systemic racism and confronting thoughts of “if I can do it, so can you”, it is important to not compare one ethnic group to another. It is about recognizing the different experiences. Some may be shared, both good and bad, but unfortunately, there are distinct and unique problematic histories of minority groups trying to attain the “American Dream”. Recognize those differences, appreciate them, and use them to inform your own perspective.

Use them to challenge the “norm” and understand socio-economic inequalities and racism in America.

 

[1] Nicholas Kristof, Pull Yourself Up by Bootstraps? Go Ahead, Try It, New York Times (Feb. 19, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/19/opinion/economic-mobility.html.

[2] Antoine Gara, The Bezos of Black Wall Street, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/antoinegara/2020/06/18/the-bezos-of-black-wall-street-tulsa-race-riots-1921/#420f92b4f321 (last visited July 2, 2020).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Kate Chesley, First Transcontinental Railroad, and Stanford forever linked Stanford News (May 8, 2020), https://news.stanford.edu/2019/05/08/first-transcontinental-railroad-stanford-forever-linked/.

[6] Adrian De Leon, The long history of U.S. racism against Asian Americans, from ‘yellow peril’ to ‘model minority’ to the ‘Chinese virus’, USC Dornsife (Apr. 8, 2020), https://dornsife.usc.edu/news/stories/3192/coronavirus-covid-19-racism-asian-americans-model-minority/.

[7] Steven Heller, The Artistic History of American Anti-Asian Racism, The Atlantic (Feb. 20, 2020), https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/02/the-artistic-history-of-american-anti-asian-racism/283962/.

[8] Kat Chow, ‘Model Minority’ Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians and Blacks, National Public Radio (Apr. 19, 2017), https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/04/19/524571669/model-minority-myth-again-used-as-a-racial-wedge-between-asians-and-blacks.

[9] Ellen D. Wu, Asian Americans, and the ‘model minority’ myth, Los Angeles Times (Jan. 23, 2014), https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0123-wu-chua-model-minority-chinese-20140123-story.html.

[10] Id.

[11] Thessaly La Force, Why Do Asian-Americans Remain Largely Unseen In Film and Television?, The New York Times (Nov.6, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/06/t-magazine/asian-american-actors-representation.html.

[12] Kat Chow, ‘Model Minority’ Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians and Blacks, National Public Radio (Apr. 19, 2017), https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/04/19/524571669/model-minority-myth-again-used-as-a-racial-wedge-between-asians-and-blacks.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

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Eryn L. Pollard, is a second-year law student at Notre Dame Law School and is the secretary of the Black Law Students Association

Exposing People on Social Media

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As stay at home orders begin to tighten once again, American’s best option for experiencing the outside world and staying connected to one another is through social media. A study showed that engagement over 30 different social media platforms has increased by 60%. 1 Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp use has increased by 50% in countries that have been hit the hardest by the virus. 1 Twitter use has gone up 23%. With this increase in social media use, our consumption of negative media has increased as well. 2 We have been subjected to the virus, and through social media have been able to see the direct devastation that it has caused. Absorbing all this information with its focus on death, for many of us, it has triggered a psychological concept called Terror Management Theory. 2 This theory suggests that in order to alleviate ourselves from the fear and stress of looming death we cope by attempting to connect ourselves to a broader social entity by pursuing something with meaning. 2

George Floyd’s death was not the first at the hands of systemic racism and police brutality, but his death occurred at a time when our society was desperate to belong to a collective that provided them with meaning and purpose. It was this need that propelled this civil rights movement forward, giving rise to protests and gathering people together who may not have joined in a pre-COVID world. Social Media users present need for morality, values, and purpose in society has led many to reject any perspective that opposes their own and shout out anyone who is not in pursuit of this collective.2 This has led to an eruption of posts exposing individuals for their racist and anti-COVID behaviors. Most popular are the “Karen” videos exposing middle-aged women who are perceived to be “entitled or demanding in a way that beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate for the situation.”3 We see these Karen’s in grocery stores throwing tantrums because they have been asked to wear a mask or pointing a gun at peaceful protestors. This type of exposure also applies to public figures, known as to cancel culture, which is the practice of withdrawing support when a public figure has said something that is deemed offensive or objectionable. Most recently this has applied to Justin Bieber who has been accused of sexual assault. His response to the allegations was to file a 20-million-dollar defamation lawsuit against the women who made this accusation.

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The uproar in exposing has its benefits but can also lead to an excess of harassment and bullying. Many people seen in these videos have lost their jobs and been shunned by their communities. People want to believe that they contribute purpose; that they can bring about change in the world and do more than being controlled by a pandemic. Exposing is their way of doing so. For as long as we remain in a social distancing world, Americans will spend the majority of their time on social media and will continue to find ways to satisfy their need for purpose.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanholmes/2020/04/24/is-covid-19-social-medias-levelling-up-moment/#499c06d06c60

[2] https://theconversation.com/how-the-pandemic-changed-social-media-and-george-floyds-death-created-a-collective-conscience-140104

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/05/coronavirus-karen-memes-reddit-twitter-carolyn-goodman/611104/

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Julie Takash, JD candidate at Southwestern Law School class of 2021 and Employment Law Society treasurer.

 

 

 

Be an Active Agent of Change: Opportunity and Representation Matters

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The Black Lives Matter movement and recent protests have demanded American citizens to grapple with the sad truth about our history, America was developed by, but not for, Black Americans and people of color. The process of learning about the gruesome truth of American history can be overwhelming for some, but we ask you to do the work. Some people take to social media, like Twitter and Instagram, to engage in short and concise bits of information. Some people follow up with what they have learned by reading books or listening to podcasts, others prefer to watch documentaries and/or films that draw on the Black experience, both past, and present. With the recent death of many Black men, women, and non-binary people, members of the entertainment industry have recognized and asserted how film and cinema are vehicles for change and that opportunities to view and share Black stories and narratives are imperative in the fight of justice and equality.

In light of this, Warner Brothers created an opportunity for viewers to watch the film, Just Mercy,[1] for free on streaming services like Amazon.[2] Released on Christmas day of 2019, Just Mercy starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx gives an account of Civil Rights champion Bryan Stevenson (played by Mr. Jordan) who graduated from Harvard Law in 1989. Upon graduation, Stevenson moves to Alabama where he, alongside Eva Ansley, found the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).[3] EJI is a human rights organization that provides legal representation to people who were wrongfully incarcerated, people who do not have effective legal counsel, people who were denied a fair trial, and EJI provides re-entry assistance to formerly incarcerated people.[4] The film provides an account of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (played by Mr. Foxx) who was falsely accused of the murder of Ronda Morrison by racist law enforcement and put on death row. This film sheds light on systemic racism and the hyper-criminalization of Black people. Moreover, the film highlights the various racial injustices and inequalities Black people face, not only in the deep south but around the country.

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When asked about his experience starring in and co-producing this film, Michael B. Jordan replied that he “felt a sense of responsibility” in telling this history.[5] This feeling of ‘responsibility’ is what drives social change and is what those in the entertainment industry need to harness and use in order to have a meaningful impact. For example, Mr. Jordan’s efforts do not end at starring in this film and sharing it with the world. As of June 22, 2020, Mr. Jordan has partnered with Endeavor Impact and an HBCU in Los Angeles to create the Summer Series Fellowship Program to give “impact-minded individuals from all backgrounds the opportunity to learn about working and succeeding in the sports, entertainment and fashion industries [specifically through] education, personal development, social impact, and activism.”[6] As such, Mr. Jordan is using his celebrity to diversify the makeup of the entertainment industry. Not only that, but he is providing opportunities for those who are impact-minded with a network, to ensure that Black stories, people of color’s stories, and socially impactful stories will be represented in the entertainment industry.

We call on you, members of the entertainment industry and community, to share Black stories.

We call on you, members of the entertainment industry and community, to provide socially impactful opportunities.

We call on you, members of the entertainment industry and community, to be active agents of change.

[1] Just Mercy (Warner Brothers 2019).

[2] Claire Shaffer, Warner Bros. Makes ‘Just Mercy’ Free to Stream to Educate Viewers on Systemic Racism, Rolling Stone (Jun. 2, 2020), https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/warner-bros-just-mercy-george-floyd-protests-1009103/.

[3] Equal Justice Initiative, https://eji.org/ (last visited Jun. 22, 2020).

[4] Id.

[5] Brent Lang, Could Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx’s ‘Just Mercy’ Set a New Standard for Inclusion?, Variety(Oct. 22,2019), https://variety.com/video/michael-b-jordan-just-mercy-sense-of-responsibility/.

[6] Endeavor Impact Summer Series, Endeavor Impact, https://endeavorimpact.com/summerseries/ (last visited Jun. 22, 2020).

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Eryn L. Pollard, is a second-year law student at Notre Dame Law School and is the secretary of the Black Law Students Association

 

Disney and Gender Stereotypical Influence

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Disney Princess films have provided great fun and entertainment to children everywhere since the early 1900s. Many gender studies show, however, that the classic films we all know and love have continually played a major role in reinforcing “long-standing gender stereotypes”– for both females and males.[1] Researchers seem to agree that Disney’s portrayal of women can be separated into distinct phases.[2] The first phase is comprised of Princesses like Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora.[3] These princesses are all white, tall, thin, beautiful, and are portrayed as homemakers who are waiting to be rescued by a man.[4] The second phase consists of Princesses like Ariel, Jasmine, and Belle. These women, though still thin and beautiful, are slightly more empowered than their predecessors as they are determined to find a man for themselves.[5] Although they show a little more gusto, Ariel, Jasmine, and Belle are still willing to sacrifice major parts of who they are and where they come from in order to be with the man that they love.[6] Finally, we are in the age of stronger Disney Princesses who embody courage, strength, and independence like Mulan, Pocahontas, Rapunzel. Even these princesses, however, fail to completely rid themselves of past “female” characteristics. For instance, it is well understood that Mulan would not have been as successful if she had not disguised herself as a man, Rapunzel still ends up falling in love with Flynn Rider who is a major part of her “happily ever after,” and Pocahontas serves as a reminder that women can’t be politically powerful and still end up with a man.[7]

Disney’s incessant portrayal of small, beautiful, submissive, and nurturing women is also reflected and emphasized in its portrayal of men. Male character traits include strength, assertiveness, athleticism, heroism, and a strong desire to explore.[8] Overall, male characters are depicted as more outgoing and in control, and studies have found that in all of the Disney Princess films produced between 1989 and 1999, “male characters have three times as much dialogue as female characters.”[9]  Moreover, gender stereotypes are not only depicted in character attributes but also their attire. While females are always featured in dresses, with long hair, make-up, and jewelry, male characters are featured with short hair, in boots, pants, and hats.[10]

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Some may ask, “what is the harm?”, but studies suggest that Disney Princesses and the messages they promote may influence gender-stereotypical behavior for children.[11] What’s more, previous research has shown that children (girls and boys) incorporate movies they watch into “scripts for play,” that eventually turns into an “agent of socialization.”[12] This means that the more children interact with and experience Disney Princesses, the more likely said children will display gender–normative behavior.[13] Academics from Brigham Young University in Utah found that the more girls identified with “princess culture”, the more they exhibited “patterns of behavior that corresponded to female stereotypes suggesting that beauty, sweetness, and obedience are women’s most valuable assets.”[14] Moreover, such exposure also negatively impacts body image and lowers girls’ interest in education.[15] In contrast, for boys, Disney’s portrayal of women and men actually increased their body image and self-esteem and made them more helpful to others.[16]

Recognizing that Disney’s films portray certain gender–normative traits in their characters does not mean that children should not be exposed to cultural products. Disney has shown improvement in its portrayal of males and females since the early days of Snow White and Cinderella.[17] Since 1998, Disney princesses have seen an increase in “male characteristics” like bravery, independence, and strength.[18] While there is plenty of room for improvement, not only for representation of more “masculine” women, but also more “feminine” men, it is still acceptable for a girl to play dress up as a princess as long as she knows she can also play doctor, play in the mud, or play baseball. Likewise, a boy should be able to dress like his favorite superhero just as he is able to play house, pick flowers, or sing songs.[19]Ultimately, all children need fun, imagination, and good role models, and Disney films can still be a source for all three.

[1] https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190724-did-disney-shape-how-you-see-the-world

[2] Id.

[3] https://disneyanalysis.weebly.com/female-stereotypes.html

[4] https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190724-did-disney-shape-how-you-see-the-world

[5] https://disneyanalysis.weebly.com/female-stereotypes.html

[6] https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190724-did-disney-shape-how-you-see-the-world

[7] https://disneyanalysis.weebly.com/female-stereotypes.html

[8] https://www.kon.org/urc/v13/ewert.html

[9] https://theconversation.com/teaching-little-girls-to-lead-77146

[10] https://www.kon.org/urc/v13/ewert.html

[11] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/disney-princesses-gender-study_n_576a8db1e4b0c0252e77c257?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGV8uSTuNVPIE7sZ0lYyos0XF6wNChhu2DBLweub5D4MAUbbYUnRMB8Xl7dFgzzn7LyTpeDaU8Cwz9SHBzkjU5FrcKGgOgaeglDjI1WqC6G-rCdKh5IurX4nxqzNstQ5wzd1SnIxQt6hCmvXa8I7H7JuyK6xldyA9lt6nwYyvR1l

[12] https://www.kon.org/urc/v13/ewert.html

[13] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/disney-princesses-gender-study_n_576a8db1e4b0c0252e77c257?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGV8uSTuNVPIE7sZ0lYyos0XF6wNChhu2DBLweub5D4MAUbbYUnRMB8Xl7dFgzzn7LyTpeDaU8Cwz9SHBzkjU5FrcKGgOgaeglDjI1WqC6G-rCdKh5IurX4nxqzNstQ5wzd1SnIxQt6hCmvXa8I7H7JuyK6xldyA9lt6nwYyvR1l

[14] https://theconversation.com/teaching-little-girls-to-lead-77146

[15] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/disney-princesses-gender-study_n_576a8db1e4b0c0252e77c257?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGV8uSTuNVPIE7sZ0lYyos0XF6wNChhu2DBLweub5D4MAUbbYUnRMB8Xl7dFgzzn7LyTpeDaU8Cwz9SHBzkjU5FrcKGgOgaeglDjI1WqC6G-rCdKh5IurX4nxqzNstQ5wzd1SnIxQt6hCmvXa8I7H7JuyK6xldyA9lt6nwYyvR1l

[16] Id.

[17] https://theconversation.com/teaching-little-girls-to-lead-77146

[18] https://www.kon.org/urc/v13/ewert.html

[19] https://theconversation.com/teaching-little-girls-to-lead-77146

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Megan Kern is a second-year law student at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio