By: Prof. Abigail Perdue
I LOVE Halloween. Every evening in October, I watch and rewatch Halloween cult classics like Ghostbusters and Hotel Transylvania. I create an eerie graveyard in my front lawn that features a skeleton bursting through the ground and shattering his tombstone into pieces. Pumpkins and gourds of various shapes and sizes line the steps to my home where a giant, black spider waits ready to pounce on unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. So, of course, I also relish any opportunity to “spookify” my law school classes. Here are three fun ways:
Wear a Costume: Halloween often falls during the time of year when my students and I are exploring the legal implications of appearance policies. With that in mind, I occasionally wear a “costume” to class that day; it generally involves black lipstick, a t-shirt with rock band lyrics, multiple facial piercings, tattoo sleeves, and tattered black jeans. (Rest assured this is quite the departure from my everyday look.) For the first fifteen minutes or so, I conduct class just as normal, never acknowledging that my appearance is quite different from other days. Then I break character and ask students what assumptions they might have made about me as a professor had I appeared this way during their first class of the semester. We discuss #thisiswhataprofessorlookslike, and I sometimes share a few personal anecdotes about experiences I’ve endured because I do not satisfy common stereotypes of how a typical law professor should look or behave. This usually fuels a robust and enriching discussion about how humans, for better or worse, often make snap judgments based on appearance. This, in turn, helps students understand why many employers seek to regulate employee appearance and why many employees challenge such policies as discriminatory. The exercise helps us parse out what employers can legally do from what they should morally do, which is a complex question.
Host a “Haunted Hunt” for Halloween-themed Case Law: Give students a clue that will lead them to discover a Halloween-themed case. I often use the following prompt: “Use your unmatched mental powers to find this hauntingly good case from the Empire State that involved a home buyer getting a real fright shortly after a home purchase. Instead of calling the Ghostbusters, this petrified plaintiff went into state court to try to rescind the deal.” Then I send students on a whirlwind research race! The first person to find the correct case receives a bag of chocolate eyeballs — quite the coveted prize. Harvard Law School and the New York State Bar Association also offer a hauntingly good collection of “case law from the crypt” to fuel fun Halloween-themed in-class exercises on various topics.
Lead Students down a Haunted Trail of Torts: Tell a scary story, which involves a Halloween-themed issue that intersects with your class topic. Then ask students to use the remainder of the class to analyze the legal question(s) arising from the case. Opportunities abound. I sometimes share an anecdote rooted in my personal experience at a haunted trail where an actor wearing a hockey mask and wielding a noisy chainsaw chased me all the way to the parking lot! It usually goes something like this:
Last year, Lanie and her friends visited a haunted trail that was only operational at night. The final attraction of the trail was a creepy, haunted shack. As Lanie was exiting the darkened shack, a person dressed as the maniacal killer from Texas Chainsaw Massacre leapt down from a platform and started chasing Lanie through the shack while loudly blasting a chainsaw. Lanie was absolutely terrified. As Lanie raced screaming toward the exit, she tripped on her shoelaces, which had come untied, and fell, breaking her wrist. Can she sue the trail operator and/or the actor for intentional infliction of emotional distress or another tort? Why or why not? What if she had slipped on a step in the shack?
A very different scenario also arises from another real case.
Judith is very upset because her neighbor just put out Halloween decorations in his yard that she finds highly offensive and distressing. Specifically, the decorations include an Insane Asylum directional sign that points towards her house. They also feature a homemade tombstone, which reads: “She had no mate at 48 because she already looked 88. She met her fate, so we celebrate.” Judith is a divorced, forty-eight-year old woman who believes the remarks are targeted at her. Does Judith have any legal recourse in tort law?
How do you incorporate Halloween into your law school classroom? What is your favorite Halloween-themed case to teach? Share your good ideas at teachlawbetter.com, and we might just post them.