Diversity in academia has been an issue for decades across most of the country’s elite universities. While diversity among the student body is rising, academia is still lagging behind. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017, 76% of postsecondary faculty members at accredited institutions were white whereas only 24% identified as nonwhite. It is critical for minority students to have faculty members that look like that they do and one professor is making history at Harvard University, challenging people on their perceptions of what an Ivy League school professor looks like.
In 2015, Dehlia Umunna made history as Harvard’s first Nigerian law professor and currently serves as the deputy director and clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute (CJI). She received a master’s degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Public Administration, and holds a B.A. in communications from California State University, San Bernardino, in addition to a law degree from George Washington University Law Center.
Before she started at the country’s most elite university, Umunna served on the District of Columbia Law Students in Court Clinic board and worked as an Adjunct Professor of Law and Practitioner in Residence at American University and Washington College of Law. In addition to her work in academics, she also spent several years as a public defender and worked as a trial attorney. Umunna served as faculty training attorneys under the District of Columbia Criminal Justice Act.
“I relish this extraordinary opportunity to continue work that I am truly passionate about, and I am grateful for the deep interest and commitment of the school to issues of criminal justice, mass incarceration, indigent defense, and social justice,” Umunna told Harvard Law Today when she first took the role.
Her duties include governing third-year law students as they represent clients in criminal and juvenile proceedings before Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals court.