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Advice from Chief Justice Margaret Marshall

Hard work can overcome stereotyping

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Margaret Marshall, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, talks with Kenneth Elmore, dean of students. Photos by Tom Vellner (COM’13)

“The steps are slow, but are we moving forward? Absolutely” Margaret Marshall, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, told a gathering of Latino students and lawyers on March 22 at the School of Law Barristers Hall. Latinos still face obstacles and bias, she said, but there are more possibilities than ever to advance a career through hard work.

Marshall was on campus to speak about Latinos and the Law in Massachusetts, sponsored by the Puerto Rican Student Association, LAW’s Women’s Law Association, Latin American Law Students Association, and Student Government Association, and the BU Latino Alumni Network.

The South African native is the first woman to become Massachusetts chief justice. She has gained a national reputation as a champion of equal rights, and often stresses the importance of Latinos and other minorities entering professions where they are underrepresented, particularly the law. “Having diversity in every respect on the bench is fundamental to having a successful rule of law,” she said.

Marshall encouraged minorities to work hard and not let stereotyping discourage them. She urged young people to seize opportunities to prove they are up to the challenges. “I certainly felt that as a woman I had an advantage,” she said. “But, by the way, I was as good as, if not better than, my male colleagues.”

Margaret Marshall, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, was interviewed by Marilu Ramirez (COM’78) (left) at an event sponsored by several BU Latino groups.

Veronica Ocasio (SMG’10), president of the Puerto Rican Student Association, presented Marshall, mentioning her work in the National Union of South African Students and more recently her landmark 2003 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which declared that the Massachusetts Constitution does not permit the state to deny citizens the right to same-sex marriage.

Marshall’s colleague Associate Justice Jose Albino Sanchez praised her as “una persona que siempre nos ayuda (a person who always helps us out).” Both Sanchez and Boston attorney Carlos Estrada, who called Marshall “an inspiration,” attended the event.

Asked about the racial and ethnic profiling experienced by minorities and its negative influence on careers, Marshall said, “I don’t see it as a barrier. I would hope that as a society we come to relish and enjoy and celebrate the diversity of this country.”

“We don’t have enough candid conversations around these kinds of issues,” said Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore at the talk’s conclusion. “These are really big conversation points.”

Nicole Rojas can be reached at nrojas@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @nrojas0131.

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