Harvard Law School appointed Monica E. Monroe as its new Assistant Dean of Community Engagement, Equity, and Belonging last month.
The Law School’s Office of Community Engagement, Equity, and Belonging aims to support historically underrepresented students and student organizations through mentorship and campus programming. Monroe took over the role on Feb. 22, following the departure of Mark C. Jefferson in April 2021.
An alumna of George Washington Law School, Monroe previously served as an assistant dean of students at her alma mater, where she also taught courses in legal writing. Prior to her appointment last month, she worked as the associate dean of equity and inclusion at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.
Monroe said that her career in law as a clerk and commercial lawyer prior to academia has shaped her pedagogical approach.
She recalled the first time as a young attorney she faced “some hostility” from an opposing counsel. Though she was initially flustered, Monroe said she learned to handle high-stress situations by taking a breath and approaching the challenge pragmatically — a skill she said she will take with her into her role as assistant dean.
“I think sometimes we underestimate the power of a pause because we're in such a fast-moving, fast-paced world,” Monroe said. “It permits you to collect yourself and move forward and perhaps not meet hostility with hostility but defuse it.”
Monroe said her primary goal as assistant dean is to elevate all student voices at the Law School.
“My goal really is to have everyone be seen, heard, and respected here and figure out how we can talk across difference,” Monroe said.
The hiring process for the assistant dean position included feedback from students, faculty, and staff.
“I was very glad, as someone who comes from a student services background, to see students incorporated right within the process,” Monroe said.
Arabi Hassan — co-executive director of First Class, an affinity group at the Law School for first-generation students — described the areas in need of improvement members of First Class hope Monroe can address.
“Overall, I think we're looking for a leader who is willing to work closely with first-generation, low-income students to get a sense of what we need and how we can move forward and actually achieve some of those goals,” Hassan said.
“I would love to communicate as much as we can the needs of our students and be able to communicate that to the school. I hope there's more direct communication between our members and administration,” she added.
Paulina Olaveres, co-executive director of First Class, said she feels that, especially at the law school, “there's almost like a rulebook that exists that wasn't given to all first-gen or low-income students.”
Monroe concluded that she intends to approach her work with students with empathy and compassion.
“I feel like if I lead with love and if we all try to lead with love, it is my hope that my tenure will serve this institution well and some good will come from that,” Monroe said.
–Staff Writer Anne M. Brandes can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @annebrandes1.