Painting walls, refinishing furniture, building bookshelves: activities not commonly associated with earning a legal education. For Mizzou Law 2L Brandon Bethel however, working to improve his environment is something that comes second nature to him.
“It really serves as a creative outlet for me,” Bethel said. “Much of law school doesn’t tap that creative vein, so redesigning spaces to improve our learning and living environment helps serve that purpose for me.”
In his less than two years at Mizzou Law, Bethel has been a driving force in improving the physical environment throughout Hulston Hall. Reimagining the space in in the Student Bar Association (SBA) offices, beautifying and adding personal touches to the hallway display spaces and playing an integral part in the planning, creation and design of the Mizzou Law Wellness Room, Bethel hit the ground running from the first day he stepped on the Mizzou campus.
“People have certain ideas about what law school is like or should be like,” Bethel said. “While law school will always be stressful in one way or another, these preconceived notions inherently encourage unhealthy habits, apathy or an overly competitive environment. A level of healthy competition can exist, but especially during a pandemic, it seemed like there were ways to make wellness easier to access.”
Bethel believes that to overcome barriers to wellness, creating an environment that is comforting can help those experiencing the natural levels of stress that come with law school.
“I grew up in an environment where your surroundings are all you have, so finding ways to be comfortable and welcome in those surroundings can be grounding,” Bethel said.
Bethel grew up in the rural town of Danville, Missouri, located between Columbia and St. Louis. Raised by a single father, Bethel became a first-generation college student when he attended and graduated from Truman State University with a degree in accounting. After working professionally in the accounting field for a few years, Bethel decided to return to school to study law.
“I chose Mizzou because it was close to home and it felt like home,” Bethel said. “After many years of moving constantly, I wanted somewhere where I could feel settled. I was intrigued by the different clinics offered and I loved the college town vibe of Columbia.”
The SBA offices before the redesign.
The SBA offices during the redesign.
The SBA offices after the redesign.
The SBA offices after the redesign.
The student cafe before redesign.
The student cafe space during redesign.
The student cafe space after redesign.
Initially, Bethel says he wanted to study family law, but now his ultimate goal is to work in healthcare law.
“I’ve worked an internship in personal injury law over the summer and enjoyed it, and I think it will make for an easy transition into healthcare law once I’m ready,” Bethel said.
Similar to how he is always working to improve the learning environment for his peers at Mizzou Law, Bethel aspires to improve the way our healthcare environment works for everyone.
“The way our health care system works has to be improved,” Bethel said. “For those like myself who grew up in economically disadvantaged environments, we were afraid to go to the doctor or to get medical help because of the cost. There is no transparency of information throughout the system. No way to understand what you are paying for and why. There is no good argument for why your economic status should determine your access to health care. We can do so much better.”
Sometimes big aspirations can begin on a much smaller scale. Bethel’s latest project in Hulston Hall is a redesign of the student café space. By updating appliances, adding artwork and changing the layout, Bethel hopes to improve not only the usability of the space, but the feel of the environment as well.
“A comfortable environment allows us to have comfortable conversations,” Bethel said. “Comfort can help decrease stress and help reduce unhealthy competition. It’s important to show that these things are possible so that in the future they can be built upon to help everybody.”
A notion that Brandon Bethel is working toward one can of paint at a time.