Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber

Making Black History

Verna Williams

Title:

Dean and Nippert Professor of Law, University of Cincinnati College of Law 

Current / Past Place of Employment:

18 years at UC: faculty member from 2001 – 2017.  Interim dean from 2017 -2019.  Provost Nelson appointed me dean in April 2019.  

Years in the Region:

18 Years

Her Story:

I joined Cincinnati Law’s faculty in 2001 after practicing many years in the areas of civil and women’s rights.  Prior to being appointed dean, I taught in the areas of family law, gender discrimination, and constitutional law.  With my colleagues Emily Houh and Kristin Kalsem, I co-founded and co-directed the Nathaniel Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. My research examines the intersection of race, gender, and class in law and policy. 

Prior to joining Cincinnati Law, I was Vice President and Director of Educational Opportunities at the National Women’s Law Center, where I focused on issues of gender equity in education.  During my time at the Center, I was lead counsel and successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, which established that educational institutions have a duty under federal law to respond to and address complaints of student-to student sexual harassment.

What makes you uniquely YOU?

I’m a native to the East Coast, a mom, wife, and scholar.  I am committed to access to higher education and justice.  And, I love the arts.  

What made you decide to make Cincinnati home?

UC offered me an opportunity to teach at the College of Law, which was the first institution to have a joint degree in law and Women’s Studies. Given my background in women’s rights, I was attracted to the possibility of growing that program and building a cadre of attorneys that would focus on gender issues.  

What do you love most about the Cincinnati Region?

The Cincinnati Region is very family friendly. The cost of living is manageable. It’s easy to get around – shuffling kids from one activity to the next. Our daughter had excellent educational experiences at Fairview and Walnut. She was extremely well prepared academically for Brown University.    

After a long week of work, what energizes you?

Getting into my cave—staying home and recharging by binge watching something on Netflix or Amazon Prime.  Lately, I’m into British murder mysteries.   

Looking at your professional career, outside of family and friends, where have you garnered your support?

I’ve had the great privilege of terrific co-workers. As a faculty member, other professors were essential to assisting me with research, teaching, or providing moral support.  Now, as dean, I benefit from the highly skilled and talented staff who have such a breadth of knowledge of higher ed and administration.   

What is your most proud moment in recent history?

In November, we launched the Nathaniel R. Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. Naming this existing Center for Judge Jones was a proud moment because Jones was on the front lines of civil right litigation in the 50s, 60, and 70s.  He’s an inspirational, towering figure in the legal field.  With this Center, Cincinnati Law pays tribute to an outstanding jurist, a tireless advocate for justice, and signals its commitment to the principles of service to which the judge has dedicated his life.   

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

I hope the Jones Center and other programs at Cincinnati Law that I shepherd are models to the nation about the role law schools can and should play in creating access to justice.  The young woman my husband and I raise also is a legacy – her commitment to social justice makes us extremely proud. I look forward to seeing the impact she makes in the future.  

How do you define success?

Success is doing a job one loves, living a life filled with love from family and friends, having good health to enjoy this life.  I feel very successful.

What is your advice for emerging African American leaders?

Trust yourself and your capacity to succeed.  Don’t worry about how others perceive you.  As Black people, we are well aware of the racial stereotypes too many harbor; but the beliefs of outsiders don’t define us.  Define yourself.  

What does Cincinnati as a “future city” mean to you?

I’d like to see Cincinnati as a model city that demonstrates how redevelopment can benefit  people of all walks of life. In too many cities, gentrification and urban development has meant inaccessible housing and displacement of communities.  In Cincinnati, we are blessed with a highly entrepreneurial and creative group of business people and we’re home to one of the preeminent planning programs in the nation.  Our creativity should generate models for redevelopment that ensures that cities remain diverse.  

What piece of advice have you received along the way in your career or life journey that has stuck with you?

Don’t focus on the perceptions other people may have of you.  

Tell us about something that most people do not know about you.

I enjoy taking classes at Improv Cincinnati.  I got involved with a friend after our daughters flew the nest to attend college.  Improv is so much fun, a great creative outlet and very instructive.  

In what ways are you involved in the Cincinnati community outside of your professional endeavors?

My professional endeavors are so community involved that there’s not much room for other things.  
 

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