Clinical professor of law Michelle Whelan has been appointed to the newly created position of Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI). In this role, she will serve as Cornell Law School’s chief diversity officer, working to grow and enhance its DEI initiatives. She will also serve as a member of dean’s senior leadership team, chair the school’s Diversity Committee, and act as chief liaison to the Alumni DEI Committee.
“Michelle has been a dedicated member of our Diversity Committee for a number of years, including serving as chair in 2018–2019 and 2021–2022, and I look forward to working with her more closely on our DEI goals,” says Jens Ohlin, Allan R. Tessler Dean and professor of law.
Whelan says that, as the Law School’s very first dean of DEI, she hopes to provide a structure for future deans in the position to build upon beyond her three-year term in the role. She also hopes to foster an atmosphere where students, faculty, and staff feel equipped to engage in thoughtful and respectful, though challenging, interactions.
“I myself am still learning about how to successfully navigate the myriad issues that come up when living and working among people with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints,” she says. “I almost certainly will make mistakes in this position, but when those mistakes happen, I intend to learn from them.”
She adds, “I am honored that the dean appointed me to this position, because I have long been interested in issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly in the ‘sense of belonging’ aspect. When people feel as if they belong and are accepted and welcomed in an environment, they blossom and make that environment even richer.”
Whelan is a graduate of the University of Florida School of Law and practiced commercial litigation at the Miami law firms of Greenberg Traurig and Steel Hector & Davis. During her seventeen-year career in private practice, she represented corporate clients in lawsuits involving shareholder disputes, defamation, and intellectual property and was active in summer associate recruiting and hiring. In addition to her deanship, she is also a clinical professor of law and has taught in the Lawyering Program since 2007.