Vincent Rougeau, dean of the Boston College Law School, aims to engage his background and life in his leadership, he said Thursday in his talk, “Fighting Racism by Modeling Inclusion: Reflections of an African-American Dean.” The event was sponsored by the Center for Human Rights and International Justice.
He said his cultural background was influential in developing his sense of identity and understanding his place in society.
Only one of few prominent African-American faculty members at the University, Rougeau said that he is fully aware that he does not fit the typical image of a law school dean, but nevertheless refuses to live a life of inauthenticity by giving up his personal background to satisfy others’ social expectations. Previously, Rougeau was one of five faculty members who spoke at a panel regarding race in America.
“It’s the reality of my life,” he said. “If I weren’t able to speak to that, I wouldn’t be a very effective leader.”
Pulling from his studies of global movements and their effects on the development of modern societies, Rougeau concluded that the biggest challenge facing the 21st century is uniting a diverse community by overcoming a racially polarizing past, and engaging in dialogue to understand cultural differences.
“The inability to incorporate difference is very dangerous. The inability to see change is a deathwish.”
With modern patterns of immigration come the opportunities for new members of a community who have come from vastly different backgrounds to offer new perspectives and innovation. Rougeau stressed that communities should therefore acknowledge these differences and understand that social change can make them re-evaluate their own views.
Rougeau continued by saying that companies must be able to understand the issues of its clients and reflect the diverse community around them in order to succeed.
“The inability to incorporate difference is very dangerous,” he said. “The inability to see change is a deathwish.”
Rougeau believes that as dean, it is his responsibility to create a diverse community at BC Law School by making students more culturally aware in preparation for their professional careers.
“If we are to have strong, culturally vibrant community, we have to reflect on what it means to be a member of the community,” he said.
One of Rougeau’s first initiatives as dean was establishing the position of Associate Dean for External Relations, Diversity, and Inclusion, which effectively gave the issue of diversity a greater sense of immediacy and presence at the Law School. The associate dean’s office provides outreach programs to educate students on the issue of cultural diversity in the context of the law.
“We’re going to be putting lawyers out into practice who are going to face these issues that affect their clients’ lives,” he said. “Without these resources, I cannot create a community with people who can be the leaders in the legal profession in the 21st century.”
The university setting offers the opportunity to practice and hone the skills of conversing about differences and exercising inclusion and respect, but must first provide a welcoming environment for students to be open and honest about their experiences, he said.
Global awareness is equally important in creating a diverse society, because the makeup of society is changing, he said. In the United States especially, Rougeau urged that societies reject the racial prejudices that have ruled their cultures and tainted their histories.
“We need diversity–it’s not a luxury,” Rougeau said. “If we are going to deal with issues in an authentic way, we need a variety of all these different voices working to craft a solution, people who can offer different perspectives and experiences, so that when we come up with solutions we know we’ve [thoroughly] thought about them.”
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor