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Rougeau Recognized As Influential Black Lawyer by OBABL

Dean Rougeau was named one of the 100 most influential black attorneys.

Heights Staff

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 01:02

Despite his own intentions, Dean Vincent Rougeau is an anomaly. When appointed to head the Boston College Law School in July of 2011, he became the law school’s first African American dean. This year, he was named for the second consecutive time to On Being a Black Lawyer’s (OBABL) annual list of the country’s 100 most influential black attorneys.

Representing various career paths ranging from government to academia, the list honors black lawyers who have achieved great success in a nation where less than 5 percent of attorneys are African American.

When queried about this number, Rougeau said, “Obviously I’m sorry that it’s so low. I hope that we can increase it, at least to a number reflective of the distribution of African Americans, but for various reasons it’s been a very slow process to bring more African Americans into the profession.”

Rougeau remains optimistic, however. “I think it’s getting better,” he said, “And I hope that BC can be one of the places to make it happen.”

His actions have certainly been true to his words, despite limited funds. Though Rougeau has not been at BC long enough to meet the entire faculty of the law school, he has already gone to numerous job fairs and other events around the country on its behalf.

“We know we have to do the work. When I travel, I’m trying to reach out as much as I can to the broadest range of communities, and also by going to parts of the country where there are more minority students, and let them know what a great place BC is.”

Drawing his optimism from admissions figures, Rougeau said, “Although applications to law schools have been declining, applications from AHANA students have been stable, so I’m hoping that means we can soon get them to increase again.” One strategy includes identifying those students and understanding why they chose BC, in order to garner interest from other similar students.

“We’ve done a lot of work with traditionally black colleges and universities, but that’s just part of it, because many students of color are elsewhere—state schools, different regional schools,” Rougeau said. The admissions office is able to draw common conclusions about what motivates them to apply and enroll, but it also recognizes the diversity of their educational backgrounds.

Speaking highly of the education at these various institutions despite their sometimes lesser renown, Rougeau said, “Sometimes people forget just how diverse the country is, often in places people don’t think about.”

Having used the word “AHANA,” Rougeau said that “traditionally underrepresented groups would be more precise, but it’s a mouthful,” while “AHANA” was “a creative, positive way that the community has come up with” when identifying difficult issues. “It’s not just about black and whites, or Asians—it’s much more complex.”

His praise of the term is in line with the macro trends he believes have been shaping recent history. “The biggest change I’ve seen in my own life is the recognition of the complexity of people of color. Initially, it was just important to break down barriers, the basic ‘How can we get more blacks,’ ‘How can we get more Asians.’ That’s a good step to begin with, but most of us don’t view ourselves in quite that simplistic way, and it’s taken a while for our diversity of voices as people of color to really come out.

“Now, people are able to talk about their life experiences as people of color not simply in these baskets: black, Asian, Latino, because that’s really not enough,” Rougeau said. “It was a sign of good progress that other aspects of their stories no longer took a back seat to just basic racial justice issues.

 “Also, I think there is a strength in the interactions of people of color. My membership in a particular group informed me in so many ways, but one of the things I benefited from is that we’re in a much better dialogue with all of our fellow students and faculty. As a community, we speak much more authentically across boundaries,” Rougeau said.

Still, not everything has been positive. “I still encounter struggles, although less so, that many people don’t have to deal with to the same degree, and it’s hard to explain how you’re walking into a situation, knowing that people see you, but with something else external about you that immediately starts the wheels turning, and as soon as you open your mouth, they’re like, ‘Wait a minute!’

“I crave the opportunity, one day, to walk into a room and just be you, where my engagement with people is based on broad human minds, not stereotypes and assumptions,” Rougeau said, “but I guess that’s just the way life works—we’re always trying to make assumptions about people.”

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