Blogging, Food, Law Schools, Student Loans

A Sit-Down with the Law School Transparency Hunger Striker, Zenovia Evans

Ed. note: When Zenovia Evans (a.k.a. Ethan Haines) outed herself as the law school graduate going on a hunger strike for the cause of law school transparency, she revealed that she lives in Denver. Also living in Denver: Caleb Newquist, lead editor of Going Concern, Above the Law’s sister site for the accounting profession. Zenovia ended her hunger strike today, but Caleb was able to sit down with her for a revealing interview over the weekend. His thoughts — and pictures — appear below.

I met with Zenovia Evans last Friday at a Starbucks in Denver on Colfax Boulevard. The 28-year old, barely-employed law school graduate has been making a stir in the mainstream press and the legal blogosphere ever since she started a hunger strike on August 5th. Admittedly, I was (and remain) skeptical as to her approach as a way of promoting law school transparency and career counseling reform.

When I met Evans, she had a glass of water and a nearly empty 32-ounce Gatorade sitting in front of her.

The purpose of Evans’s hunger strike is well-documented in the coverage here at ATL and in several other news outlets. The bottom line for her is that law school transparency and career counseling at law schools are overdue for change. Major change.

On the day we met, Evans had allegedly abstained from solid food for the last 23 days, so I was expecting someone who was knocking on death’s door. Having experimented with fasting (for health reasons) in the past, and knowing the mental and physical preparedness that is involved, I was surprised to find her lucid — although extremely weak, fatigued and slow-moving…

Hearing her elaborate on her position for more law school transparency and career counseling, I came away knowing that she cares deeply about these issues — but it also reinforced my feeling that her approach is ill-conceived, dangerous, and potentially fruitless. Despite all that, Evans told me that she is “in it until [the schools] respond or her body gives in, whichever comes first.”

(Unfortunately, it sounds like her body is leading the charge: she told me that by day 13 of her strike, her doctor told her that she was already having kidney problems. As of this writing, she was awaiting bloodwork results expected to show further deterioration.)

While many of her detractors share agree that her methods are futile, Evans’s harshest critics have focused not on the issues at hand — in fact, Kimber Russell has written that she agrees with Evans’s position on law school transparency — but rather focus on the legitimacy of her hunger strike, her “pro-law school” position, and the promotion of her self-published book, “J.D. Lifeline: A Law School Guide For The New Legal Economy.”

We wanted to give her the opportunity to address these criticisms and also to remind her of what she is (or is not) missing by giving up solid food.

Criticism #1: Fast is a hoax.

Evans showed me several pictures that document her weight loss, including full-body profiles and close-ups of her face. She takes photos every day documenting the changes to her body. She also claims to have medical records documenting everything, although she has not provided these to anyone to date.

The most recent photo I saw was from last Thursday, August 26th, showed her having lost approximately 18 pounds. The belt that she was wearing was extremely loose on her waist; I could see approximately two inches of space between the cinched belt and her waist.

As mentioned previously, it was clear from my personal observation that this young woman is physically weak. She was moving slowly due to a significant limp that she claims was a result of her increasingly weak joints. Similarly, it was clear that she was extremely fatigued. When I asked her how she was sleeping, she replied, “Fine, because I’m tired all the time.” The lack of calories has clearly had a physical toll on her, and if she is faking this hunger strike, she’s going to great lengths to demonstrate physical effects.

Critcism #2: She is “pro-law school.”

Various anti-law-school bloggers, the so-called “scambloggers,” have claimed that Zenovia Evans is a “pro-law school shill,” because she advocates the benefits of a law degree in her book (which will be addressed shortly). From Shilling Me Softly:

I am, I believe, completely justified in recoiling in horror from the utter hypocrisy of Evans demanding change from the legal education industry because its deceptive employment statistics are geared at luring in students who have little to no shot at making it as attorneys — like herself — all the while encouraging more people to mortgage their futures by taking on large amounts of debt — like herself — for a degree that is not as versatile or valuable as she claims in her self-published “book”.

Evans has never denied being “pro-law school,” telling me, “I believe in law school, but just think that some components of law school need reworking. I think it’s an amazing experience for anyone that wants to practice law or who want to use a law degree.”

Criticism #3: She is trying to promote her book.

Right, the book. Evans’s book, “J.D. Lifeline: A Law School Guide For The New Legal Economy,” is her magnum opus making the case for students interested in a law degree to navigate the uncharted waters of the legal job market.

Kimber Russell — author of the anti-law-school blog Shilling Me Softly, and supporter-turned-critic of Ethan Haines / Zenovia Evans — told ATL:

[M]y chief concern about Ms. Evans is that her own wish to drive traffic to her unabashedly pro-law school guide book is in direct conflict with her alleged hunger strike for greater law school transparency. It’s very difficult for me to trust that Ms. Evans is actually sincere when she stands to directly profit from this alleged hunger strike.

While Russell’s points are taken, let’s be real here – Zenovia Evans is not going to “profit” from this hunger strike. I haven’t read “J.D. Lifeline,” but I can safely say that this “pro-law school guide book” isn’t going to result in a windfall of J.K. Rowling-esque proportions.

Evans pointed out to us that “the book has been mentioned hundreds of times [by other blogs]. The number of times I have mentioned the book is zero.”

And as far as we can tell, that is true. While Shilling Me Softly and But I Did Everything Right! both make this a chief point for being anti-Evans, the reality is this book won’t make her enough to buy the first meal she eats to end her strike. Evans maintains that the hunger strike will get the attention of law school administrators and thus it is a more effective approach than the pushing of her book.

Ultimately, the points that Zenovia Evans raises are valid, and she certainly cares about improving the state of law school transparency and career counseling services. But putting her health (and perhaps her life) at risk for the sake of these issues can be interpreted as simply misguided — or, at its most complex, deep-seeded self-loathing. Either way, law schools are unlikely to change their ways. There have already been, literally, thousands of figurative casualties (and no doubt a few literal ones) — what’s one more?

Zenovia Evans emailed us this afternoon, announcing that she has ended her hunger strike, due to medical concerns.

UPDATE: Evans has posted a statement about ending the hunger striker on her blog.

Earlier: Hunger Striker Revealed: Scambloggers Unimpressed
Unemployed J.D. Goes on a Hunger Strike

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