Contemporary Debates in American Law and Society

II - July 20–August 6, 2021
Modality, Day & Time:
Monday–Friday, 9:10 a.m.–11:00 p.m. and 1:10–3:00 p.m.

Geoffrey Upton, Paula Russo

This class is intended for current 8th and 9th graders. Older students might be interested in Constitutional Law (campus) or The Supreme Court and the US Constitution (online).

“This course is good for providing a strong, basic understanding of current events, American law, and policy.”  – Carlo G. | London, England

Course Description

In this course, students gain essential skills in critical thinking and written and oral argument by studying several prominent controversies in American law and society. In recent summers these have included free speech and hate speech, immigration and open borders, religious freedom and anti-discrimination law, and abolishing/defunding the police. In considering each issue, we study texts including legal cases and works in political theory so as to evaluate the meaning and relevance of key concepts such as freedom, equality, justice, autonomy, and individuality. Course materials also include book excerpts, newspaper and magazine articles, and film clips. Guest speakers from the fields of law, government, and non-profit advocacy join us to provide insights from the “front lines” of the issues under consideration. Students are encouraged to engage in serious dialogue with and pose challenging questions to these guests. Numerous public speaking exercises also help students to become more confident, trained, and effective speakers.

The morning session is generally devoted to helping students achieve a firm grasp of the theoretical and factual arguments found in the readings, through a combination of presentations by the instructor and class discussion. The afternoon session allows participants to put these theories and facts to work in written and oral form, working both individually and in teams to construct powerful and nuanced arguments. At the end of each unit, students make arguments on various sides of each issue in structured in-class debates and other activities, marshaling ideas from the various sources so as to justify and defend their positions.

By the end of the three weeks, participants are equipped with not only deeper knowledge of the legal and political debates surrounding various key issues but also with the tools to make, understand, critically evaluate, and communicate claims of all kinds—tools which should serve them well both in their studies and as future citizens and leaders. They come away with more developed reasoning and analytical abilities, and with improved public speaking skills.

Note: While the class focuses on issues within the United States, students from other countries should feel free to apply, as most of the arguments under consideration will also be relevant to contemporary debates in other nations.


Geoffrey Upton

Geoffrey Upton received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley, where he specialized in political theory and public law; he also holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is currently an assistant professor of political science at Seton Hall University, where he is also the pre-law advisor for the College of Arts and Sciences. Geoffrey has taught political theory, law, and American politics at Berkeley as a lecturer and teaching assistant, and legal studies at Mills College in Oakland as an assistant adjunct professor in political science. He has also been an instructor for the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies program at Stanford University, teaching summer courses to high school and middle school students on democracy, legal studies, philosophy, and expository writing. Before pursuing his Ph.D., Geoffrey was a lawyer in New York for two major international law firms, an attorney and political aide for the New York City Council, and a professional journalist and editor. He also lived and worked in Berlin for one year on a Robert Bosch Foundation fellowship.

Paula Russo

Paula Russo holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, a Master’s in History and Middle East Studies from Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies, and an undergraduate degree from Princeton University. For the past fourteen years, she has been teaching Constitutional Law, Middle Eastern History, and Interdisciplinary Humanities at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. Past positions include Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at the University of Baltimore School of Law and Middle East North Africa Coordinator at Catholic Relief Services in Cairo, Egypt. She received support from the Foreign Language Area Studies fund at the State Department and the Social Science Research Council for graduate studies and dissertation research. Ms. Russo’s particular academic interests include the First Amendment, medieval and modern Egypt, and new pedagogy.

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Specific course detail such as hours and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.