You’ll know the new president of the Law Students’ Association when you see him — Tunahan Uygun usually sports a big friendly smile and headphones that feed him the hip hop music that inspires his positive outlook.
In fact, hip hop (along with the inspiration of another explosive cultural movement, Barack Obama becoming the first visible minority to be elected president of the United States) helped direct him to law school.
“It’s informed my identity in so many ways; it helped me when I learned English, it helped me fall in love with language,” said Uygun, whose family immigrated to Canada from Turkey when he was five.
“A lot of my views, politically and socially are informed by hip hop.”
Listening to Kanye, Tupac, Kendrick Lamar and other message-driven, non-compromising hip hop artists as a young teenager prompted him to engage with social issues and develop firm views about how to live his life.
Among those views are a passionate belief that “the measure of a society is how we treat the most marginalized and the most marginalized are often caught up in the criminal justice system. If we can’t give them their day in court, and basic dignity and respect, I don’t think we measure up to much.”
Now that he’s in his third year of law school, Uygun also sees parallels between rappers vocalizing age-old ideas in a new format to produce powerful messages, and lawyers using old case law to give their contemporary arguments new power that persuades judges.
The road to law school took Uygun through an honours major in political science from MacEwan University, and included a spell immersed in philosophy and Plato’s concept of purpose.
While at MacEwan, he participated in three National Model United Nations conferences, two in New York City and one in Japan. His school’s team won outstanding delegation all three years, and through the experience of conducting negotiations and giving speeches, Uygun picked up more skills that pointed to his lifelong interest in helping people being best fulfilled as a lawyer.
“Formal public speaking and taking positions that I don’t necessarily agree with — that is something I had not done before and it helped me conceptualize the role of legal advocates.”
Now, as president of the Law Students’ Association for 2019-2020, he is in a prime position to advocate for others.
The LSA carries out numerous roles for the students it represents. It produces all social events, including golf and curling tournaments, and it runs intramural sports. For the mentorship program It also recruits and matches two mentors to each first-year student (one faculty member and one upper-year student).
On the academic side, it solicits and updates each year’s Condensed Annotated Notes (CANS) which are student-written and donated notes for every course in the Faculty. And it organizes PASS sessions just before exams, in which upper-year students help quell nerves by describing what to expect during exams and sharing how they’ve dealt with the stress.
For Uygun,, the LSA’s is most valuable assistance is for 1Ls (first-year students), beginning with the informal pre-orientation evening it hosts before the Faculty’s formal welcome (this year, the LSA event is on Monday, September 2). It’s there, over a beer or a snack, that 1Ls can ask their peers such questions as which professors offer expertise in areas of law they are most interested in, or which activities and extracurricular clubs might appeal to them.
During his term, Uygun plans to improve the way the LSA assists 1Ls, by encouraging mentors to check in more often, and by letting those who are not drawn to social events know that it exists to help them successfully navigate law school, too.
“There are people you can talk to whatever the issue, big or small. We’re not an arm of the Faculty, we’re an arm of the students. If you don’t feel comfortable going to the Faculty, come to us, we all know what resources are available and we’ll go from there.”