Luis E. Chiesa.

Professor Luis E. Chiesa at the School of Law's 2015 Commencement Ceremony.

New leadership for diversity initiatives

Building on an intensive focus, especially in the last two years, the School of Law’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is moving forward with new leadership and growing resources.

Tolulope Odunsi standing outside with her arms folded.

Professor Tolulope Odunsi

Tolulope Odunsi, who has served as assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion since the spring of 2019, has spearheaded numerous DEI initiatives during that time.  Her work will be carried forward by Professor Luis Chiesa, recently named vice dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, so that Odunsi can continue to teach in the Legal Analysis, Writing and Research (LAWR) program and devote more time to her academic scholarship.  Professor Chiesa will have support from Program Coordinator Amber Melvin ’13, as the DEI office continues to evolve and expand.

“I am grateful to Tolu for her leadership and her tireless dedication and tenacity,” says Dean Aviva Abramovsky. “She stepped forward to lead our DEI initiatives and has steadily built the foundation for our expanded, strategic approach to cultivating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive law school environment.”

With both hands-on programming and strategic planning, Odunsi has shaped the law school’s response to inequities in our society. Among her achievements:

  • Drafting the school’s strategic plan for DEI issues, which lists specific goals for increasing diversity among students, faculty and staff, promoting cultural awareness, and developing resources for the law school community. The plan is being finalized but elements are already being implemented, including a planned training for faculty and staff this semester.
  • Conducting DEI training for alumni boards and other groups in the Western New York legal community.
  • Providing group and one-on-one support to minority students and staying in touch with students to keep them emotionally healthy in a charged environment nationally.
  • Creating safe spaces for students to share their experiences, through listening sessions, mental health counseling and other programs. When the pandemic took hold, a doctor and a therapist met with students to talk about how to survive and even thrive despite COVID-19.
  • Reworking the Discover Law program for underrepresented undergraduate students considering law school, ensuring the continuity of this program in an all-virtual format.
  • Helping to establish the law school’s Social Justice and Racial Equity Fund, which supports diversity scholarships and fellowships, bar exam resources, Discover Law, and training and programming on racial justice topics. Seeded with a major gift from Margaret W. Wong ’76, several other donor gifts, and a matching grant from UB, the fund and related endowments have grown by more than $1 million in this fiscal year.
  • Launching the law school’s DEI website, a source of resources for the school and legal community. Those resources will soon be augmented with a Racial Justice Toolkit providing links to books, articles, videos, podcasts, documents and reading lists related to racial justice. “It’s a starting point for people who want to learn more about the history of racism in the United States and ways they can assist in combating it in their personal and professional lives,” Odunsi says.
  • Responding to incidents of violence nationally, working with other administrators to acknowledge the acts and their impact and to offer specific support to students who might feel at risk.

Register for our panel presentation
Pathways to Equity in Legal Education and the Profession
Friday, April 16, 2021
12:00 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Do you know a promising undergraduate student who would benefit from our Discover Law program?

Applications are being accepted through Wednesday, March 31. [Apply Here]

Odunsi will continue to be involved as a member of the law school’s faculty-led Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. She also continues to mentor high school students she has met while speaking at Buffalo Public Schools about the path to law school.

She’s most proud, she says, of the student support she was able to provide, as well as the relationships she helped build with the legal community and Western New York as a whole. But she’s looking forward to continuing to teach—LAWR instructors shepherd a cohort of close to 30 first-year students through two semesters of intensive research and writing—and to pursue her own scholarship. Odunsi has published on employment discrimination issues and is looking to write more extensively on anti-discrimination efforts in higher education and in the workplace. Currently, she’s working on an article on the CROWN Act, which would prohibit race-based discrimination because of hair texture or style.