Harvard Law Student Faints Mid-Argument and Carries On, Sparks University Stress Debate

The moment a Harvard Law student continued arguing a case after fainting has gone viral online, sparking fierce debate over the expectations of students at the Ivy League school and pressure put on them.

In 2019, third-year Harvard Law student Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie took to the podium during the annual Ames Moot Court Competition, which students often work and compete towards for two years prior. The important event sees students take part in a "moot court" where they argue a hypothetical case before a panel of judges, presided in 2019 by Merrick Garland, then-chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,

While answering a question, Gilbert-Lurie became visibly flustered, shortly before fainting and falling to the floor. Afterwards, the student was given a glass of water before continuing with her work. "Would you mind repeating the question, your honor?" she asked, met with cheers from other students.

Two years later, the video was shared by a motivational TikTok account, which dubbed Harvard students "troopers."

What wasn't shown in the clip was that, according to Harvard's report on the competition, Gilbert-Lurie was asked whether she wanted to resume with her argument and declined Garland's offer of a "brief recess."

Gilbert-Lurie told Newsweek that after consulting a doctor, the likely cause of her faint was a very simple one: "The prevailing theory is that I did what choir children are taught not to do, and no one ever told me, which is don't lock your legs. Apparently, when you lock your legs in a certain way, for too long, you just cut off blood flow to a certain part of your brain and just pass out,

"People's favorite theory seems to be that I was intensely sleep-deprived. Yeah, absolutely not true. No one I knew in law school slept more than I did," she said, adding that she's a "nine to 10 hours of sleep a night kind of person."

The video has gained over three million views and received compliments towards the student's determination and decision to carry on. "The fact that she continued is amazing," wrote one user.

@iletd

Kids that go to Harvard are not human. She’s a trooper

♬ original sound - Brandon from ILETD

However, dissenting users have suggested that continuing even after fainting should not be applauded, arguing that it's symbolic of a far larger problem of pressure on students at the university—an idea Gilbert-Lurie objects.

"I sort of object to the narrative that this video starts and exemplifies a conversation about the mental health crisis amongst law students, lawyers, people at elite institutions in general. And the reason I object to it is because I don't think that's what happened. I don't think I fainted because of the pressure of that moment," she said.

"The reason I stood up had nothing to do with proving anything to anyone. It wasn't because I felt like there was this immense sort of pressure to keep going or to prove that I could, it was really because I felt, I really felt fine."

Without clarification on the video, it sparked concern from even former students. "I don't think hyping someone fainting and still going is healthy for anyone, Harvard students included," commented one user.

Harvard Law graduate and former corporate attorney Julian Sarafian expressed his lack of surprise at the video in the comments, due to the "immense pressure" on students. "We should NOT be cheering this behavior on. Full stop," he wrote.

Sarafian, who champions mental health online and voices concerns over the mental health of Harvard students, said in a reaction video that, "there are so many things wrong with this that I'm not even surprised," pointing to the cheering from fellow students.

The former student described Gilbert-Lurie's continuation as "commendable," in a LinkedIn post but also referred to the apparent lack of mental health support from the university in reference to the pressure students face while studying. Sarafian added that he lost a university friend to mental health while studying at Harvard.

Others online however suggested that the video simply supported the student's dedication, rather than the events leading to it: "They're applauding her for being dedicated, not for pushing through literally fainting. Plus, whether they told her to sit down or not, she has to want to sit down and it did not seem like she did."

Although the clapping was a main point of focus for those critical of the video, Gilbert-Lurie confirmed that it was simply a moment of relief from the room, some of whom were her family and friends: "I think some of the applause, I think is relief. It was a very tense moment and then it was like everything was okay, so I think some of the applause is just really happy that everything is okay. I do think people thought in that moment that it was inspiring that I got up and finished the argument, which is, I think totally fine. Because in that moment, and in that room, the scene felt and looked a lot different than it does in that little clip."

Newsweek has contacted Harvard University for comment.

Harvard students graduating in 2008
Graduating Harvard University Law School students stand and wave gavels in celebration at commencement ceremonies June 5, 2008, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. J.K. Rowling, who wrote the popular Harry Potter books, was the commencement speaker. Getty Images

Update 10/15/21 at 11:56 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comments and new information from Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie.