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Women Leading Change: Leadership Profile of Dr. Meera Deo

Artika Tyner Posted by Artika Tyner, Author, Professor.

Public Policy Professor and Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the University of St. Thomas, Leadership Author, Civil Rights Attorney


Women Leading Change: Leadership Profile of Dr. Meera Deo

A leader is a planter—a planter of ideas, seeds of change, and a vision for justice.

A leader must have a clear vision for the future. This vision represents the aspirational goals of having a positive impact on the world and leading social change.  Realizing this vision requires a combination of fierce determination and unrelenting tenacity. Dr. Meera E. Deo’s vision is to promote equity in legal education. As a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and principal investigator with Diversity in Legal Academia Project, she is taking strategic steps to transform laws and policies.

During our interview, Dr. Deo shared about her commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion. She also provided key insights on how research can be leveraged to advance social change. Dr. Deo concluded with a stirring call to action by challenging each of us to embrace our shared humanity and common destiny.

Tyner: How do you define leadership?

Deo: I think of leadership as the ability to move things forward, to be a visionary and forge ahead and even when it may not be clear where you are headed or who is following.

Tyner:  What is your favorite leadership quote?

Deo: “My life is my message.” –Mahatma Gandhi

Tyner: What advice would you give young female lawyers for developing their leadership skills?

Deo: Mentors are great, but do not forget that they come in all shapes and sizes. Many people seek out mentors who share their race/ethnic and gender background and who are decades senior to you in work and life experience. These role models are certainly inspiring and can give you a glimpse into your future. But young women of color lawyers can benefit significantly from mentorship provided by senior white men too. And everyone can benefit from peer mentorship too –trading notes and sharing experiences with those going through the experiences with you.

Tyner: How have you used your law degree to promote justice and advance social change?

Deo: I was lucky to begin practicing law while I was still in law school by joining the landmark Michigan Law School case of Grutter v. Bollinger as a named Intervening-Defendant and member of the legal team supporting affirmative action. I got to learn about litigation in Civil Procedure and then write out deposition summaries of the named parties in Grutter.  That case –fighting to promote equality and integration in higher education—centered on justice and social change so I got to see first-hand how attorneys could be social change agents. In addition to legal advocacy, we also coordinated within the community to pack the courthouse with local Detroit high school students during trial –the very students who had the most to gain and stood to lose the most depending on the outcome of the case. I was there at trial because I took vacation from my first job as a practicing attorney, which was the William J. Brennan First Amendment Fellow at the ACLU’s National Legal Department in New York City. That was another dream opportunity to advance social justice. I worked primarily on cyberspace and privacy litigation (which was an emerging field at the time, in 2000) and helped file pleadings and briefs, coordinate plaintiffs, and moot other litigators for oral argument. After my Fellowship, I shifted my work to focus primarily on gender as a Staff Attorney and Director of the Breast Cancer Legal Project at the California Women’s Law Center in Los Angeles. There, my emphasis was on women of color and especially immigrant women with limited English proficiency. Most my time centered on community engagement, know your rights trainings, and translation of various documents into multiple languages so women throughout the state could take advantage of the legal opportunities already available to them. I realized then that I wanted more formal methodological training so began a PhD program in Sociology to learn how to conduct my own empirical methods. Since then, I have used my research as an advocacy tool. I have been invited to share my research findings at dozens of prestigious academic conferences, in universities across the country, and for law firms and bar associations, spreading knowledge on the importance of diversity, the meaning of intersectionality, and including solutions to recognized problems in legal education.

My scholarship has been published in leading law review journals, including both mainstream law reviews (such as the Fordham Law Review) and topic-specific publications (including the Harvard Journal on Racial & Ethnic Justice). A number of my published articles on law student diversity have been cited in amicus briefs filed before the U.S. Supreme Court in recent affirmative action cases, helping to promote diversity ideals before the high court. My current scholarship centers on law faculty diversity, examining how those at the intersection of devalued identity characteristics (specifically, women of color) navigate the challenges and opportunities of legal academia. Through presentations, publications, and community advocacy efforts, I hope to educate policy-makers and administrators who are in the best position to improve legal education for everyone.

Tyner: What is one small action that each of us can take to make a difference in the world?

Deo: Smile at a stranger –it shows our humanity and reinforces our connectedness.

Dr. Deo serves an exemplary model of “women leading change.” She is a practitioner-scholar, educator and visionary leader. Her leadership is advancing diversity and inclusion in legal education.  Generations to come will reap a harvest from her labor as the law school classroom becomes a place where students from diverse backgrounds engage in a robust exchange of ideas in order to address the social justice challenges of our time.

 

SOURCE: http://ms-jd.org/blog/article/women-leading-change-leadership-profile-of-dr.-meera-deo

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