Law School Holds Inaugural Summit on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

On April 14 in New York City, Cornell Law School hosted its inaugural summit on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Hosted by Debevoise and Plimpton and made possible by the Law School’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Alumni Leadership Council, the event convened thought leaders among and beyond the school’s alumni, administrators, and current students to discuss DEI efforts at Cornell Law—ranked one of the most diverse law schools in the country—as well as the DEI landscape of the legal profession at large.

The event kicked off with a lunch program, introduced by Deborah Enix-Ross, senior advisor to the International Dispute Resolution Group of Debevoise & Plimpton and current president of the American Bar Association. Enix-Ross was followed at the podium by Natalya Johnson A.B. ’07, J.D. ’10, senior counsel of Johnson & Johnson and a member of Cornell’s DEI Alumni Leadership Council, who then introduced Jens David Ohlin, Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law.

“I can’t imagine a stronger, more active, more engaged group of alumni,” said Ohlin, who appointed the Law School’s first associate dean for DEI and founded its DEI Alumni Leadership Council. “I’m really excited about all of the work that everyone is doing with our alumni, with our students, with our faculty. I’m especially excited about the bridges between those various groups at the Law School.”

After lunch, attendees heard from Marihug Cedeño, B.S. ’07, J.D. ’13, a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, who introduced a short video featuring leaders from the Alumni Association’s affinity based networks.

Appearing were Cornell Black Lawyers Alumni Network President Victoria Clark ’14, and former president and co-founder Ernest Eric Elmore, A.B. ’86, J.D. ’89; Latino Lawyers of Cornell co-leaders Sasha Belinkie ’15 and Maria Fernandez ’92; Cornell Alumni Network of Asian Lawyers President Andrew Thomas Hahn Sr, A.B. ’83, J.D. ’86, general counsel at Hawkins Delafield & Wood; Native American Lawyers Alumni Network President Leslie Wheelock, J.D./ M.B.A. ’84; Mary Kennedy Brown Society President Jacquie Duval ’92; and DEI Alumni Leadership Council member Maithili Pradhan ’10.

This presentation was followed by the panel “Investing in DEI: Shaping the Legal Landscape through Sustain affinityable Strategies,” with panelists Paulette Brown, past president of the American and National Bar Associations; Diego Carvejal, a consultant at VallotKarp Consulting; Andrew Thomas Hahn Sr; and Geoff Young ’06, a partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman. The panel was moderated by Michelle M. Duguid, M.S. ’06, Ph.D. ’08, associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and belonging and associate professor of management and organizations at Cornell ’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Sidne Norman ‘24, Jacinda Rivas ‘23, and Arisa Herman ‘23 describe efforts to promote DEI at Cornell Law. Jens David Ohlin and Marihug Cedeño, B.S. ‘07, J.D. ‘13.

Next was a fireside chat with Michelle Whelan, clinical professor and the Law School’s first associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, a role she took on in the fall of 2022. She was joined by DEI Alumni Leadership Council Co-Chair Leslie Richards Yellen ’84, director of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Debevoise & Plimpton.

Whelan described this first year in her new role as a “listening tour” that will lead to a collaboration with Ohlin on creating a structure for the deanship, a three-year rotating position. She invited members of the Cornell Law community to reach out to her with their input. “What I’m really hoping for,” she said, “is a deepening and strengthening of the trust between students, faculty, and administration.”

“DEI is a journey and something that always evolves and always needs to be pushed,” said Richards-Yellen, “and we’re glad you’re going to do some of the pushing at Cornell.”