Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Dean of Boston University School of Law, to be 2021 Centennial Visitor Lecture Speaker

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Angela Onwuachi-Willig will give Chicago-Kent College of Law’s 2021 Centennial Visitor Lecture. Onwuachi-Willig is dean of Boston University School of Law and is a renowned legal scholar and expert in critical race theory, employment discrimination, and family law.

The virtual event will take place at 3 p.m. CST on February 3, 2021. It is free and open to the public. Register for the event here

Angela Onwuachi-Willig
Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean of Boston University School of Law, will give the 2021 Centennial Visitor Lecture.

Onwuachi-Willig’s lecture, “The Trauma of Injustice,” will discuss cultural trauma experienced by Blacks as a group in response to legal outcomes in cases involving the killings of unarmed Blacks by police and quasi-police officers. In her earlier research, she examined responses from Black Americans to the acquittal of Emmett Till’s murderers. A longstanding history of discrimination and injustice left many Blacks to expect that outcome, and Onwuachi-Willig explains how the social meaning of that moment emerged into a cultural trauma narrative that helped spark the Civil Rights movement.

Building on this research, Onwuachi-Willig has investigated how cultural trauma for Black Americans “may have shifted, remained constant over time, or both from the pre-Civil Rights era, when Emmett Till was killed, to the current post-Civil Rights era, when Blacks such as Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Rekia Boyd were killed.”

“After all, unlike in the pre-Civil Rights era when Till was killed, one would not expect Blacks today to unquestionably presume that white men, even police officers, who killed an unarmed and/or non-threatening Black to escape judicial punishment,” Onwuachi-Willig says. “Now, as opposed to in 1955, many Black individuals have sincerely hoped, prior to a trial’s or grand jury trial’s end, that the police and quasi-police killers of unarmed and/or non-threatening Blacks would actually suffer legal punishment for their actions.”

Onwuachi-Willig argues that today’s cultural trauma for Blacks emerges as the trauma of the routine, where non-indictments and acquittals keeps repeating, and the trauma of injustice, which arises from the post-Civil Rights movement era promises of equality and justice being continuously shattered by the lack of accountability for killings.

“Chicago-Kent is honored to have Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig join us for the Centennial Lecture. Her research on the intersection of race, law, and sociology; race and family law; and employment law is timely and essential to conversations around building a more equitable and just society,” says Chicago-Kent Dean Anita K. Krug. “Additionally, Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig’s leadership in the promotion and advancement of women and diverse legal scholars is an inspiration.”

Onwuachi-Willig joined Boston University School of Law as dean and professor of law in 2018 after serving as Chancellor’s Professor of Law at the UC Berkeley School of Law. She is the author of According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family (2013).

Onwuachi-Willig has published articles in the Yale Law Journal, Virginia Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, California Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, Texas Law Review, UCLA Law Review, and Vanderbilt Law Review.

Her numerous professional awards include the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Clyde Ferguson Award (2015), the AALS Derrick Bell Award (2006), the Gertrude Rush Award (2016) from the Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys and the Iowa Chapter of the National Bar Association, and Law and Society Association’s John Hope Franklin Prize (2018). Along with her co-author, Mario Barnes, she is the first faculty member to win both the Ferguson and Bell Awards.

The American Bar Foundation named Onwuachi-Willig as the William H. Neukom Fellows Research Chair in Diversity and Law for the 2017–18 academic year. AALS recently announced that Onwuachi-Willig will be among the inaugural recipients of the AALS Impact Award that will be presented to the five deans who created the Law Deans Antiracist Clearinghouse Project, which contains resources and information related to addressing racism in law and legal education.

Onwuachi-Willig serves on the Grinnell College Board of Trustees, the AALS Membership Review Committee, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) Board.  She was also a member of the Warren-Markey Judicial Selection Committee, a bipartisan advisory committee that reviews and provides recommendations on federal District Court candidates across Massachusetts. She has served as chair of the AALS Minority Groups Section, the AALS Law and Humanities Section, and the AALS Employment Discrimination Section and was chair of the 2015 AALS Mid-Year Workshop. As chair for AALS Committee on the Recruitment and Retention of Minority Law Teachers and Students for two years, Onwuachi-Willig led the committee as it developed an official Statement of Good Practices on the Recruitment and Retention of Minority Law Teachers. She also is the founder of the Lutie A. Lytle Black Women Law Faculty Workshop, which has led to many books and hundreds of articles and essays by its participants and has assisted dozens of women on the path to tenure.

Onwuachi-Willig earned her undergraduate degree from Grinnell College before attending the University of Michigan for her juris doctor. At the University of Michigan, she was named a Clarence Darrow Scholar, Michigan Law Review note editor, and associate editor of the founding issue of the Michigan Journal of Race and Law.  Onwuachi-Willig clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver of the Northern District of Ohio and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, before going on to receive a Ph.D. in sociology and African American studies from Yale University.

After working as a labor and employment associate at Jones Day in Cleveland and Foley Hoag in Boston, she taught at the University of Iowa College of Law, where she was the Charles and Marion Kierscht Professor, and at the University of California, Davis, King Hall, where she was acting (assistant) professor of law.

The Centennial Visitor lecture series was inaugurated in fall 1987 as part of a yearlong celebration to mark the founding of Chicago College of Law, forerunner of Chicago-Kent, in 1888. Previous lecturers have included the Honorable Harry T. Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit, the Honorable Stephen M. Schwebel of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, economist Jagdish Bhagwati, and UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.