Angela Onwuachi-Willig is a renowned legal scholar and expert in critical race theory, employment discrimination, and family law, and her office in the School of Law tower is, equally, inspiring and fun.
There is colorful art of civil rights icons such as Thurgood Marshall, Nelson Mandela, and Elizabeth Eckford (one of the Little Rock Nine) and a newly framed photo of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson (Hon.’23), who delivered LAW’s convocation address last spring. Onwuachi-Willig, LAW’s dean and Ryan Roth Gallo Professor of Law, also fills her space with Red Sox memorabilia, gifts from colleagues, and a big “No” button, a gag gift from a friend reminding her to be firm when necessary.
Onwuachi-Willig is the first Black woman dean of a top-20-ranked law school, a founding member of the Lutie workshop (which works to increase diversity and improve tenure rates among Black women in the legal academy), and the country’s first chaired professor of critical race theory. Earlier this month, she was honored by the Association of American Law Schools for her leadership in diversity and mentoring in the legal field.
Her latest research relates to the cultural trauma of African Americans related to the outcomes—meaning the repeated acquittals and dearth of indictments—in police killing cases involving African Americans. “These cases received meaningful attention during the early parts of my deanship—the murder of George Floyd took place during the pandemic, for example,” she says. “And it obviously played a really important role in shaping my leadership, and I think, shaping my voice in this role as well.”
In addition to her scholarship, the LAW dean is known for having a great sense of style. On the day we visited, she wore a scarlet suit jacket, red Nike Air Force Ones, and her signature red glasses, a testament to her BU pride. Another BU connection is on display in an old photograph showing the school’s faculty in 1968; Onwuachi-Willig points out that only one woman is present—Tamar Frankel, who went on to serve as a LAW professor for 50 years before retiring in 2018 at the age of 93. “I keep that as a reminder that women weren’t always present,” she says. “A lot of these things in my office are reminders to myself to be brave, to remember that there’s been some advancement.”
Onwuachi-Willig started her career at the University of California, Davis, School of Law. That school’s building is named for Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59), one of BU’s most illustrious alums. One of her first students created a stylized sketch of King, now framed on her wall. “Now that I’m at BU, which is the place where Dr. King received his doctorate, I always think about how it has come full circle,” Onwuachi-Willig says.
In our Office Artifacts series, BU Today highlights interesting artifacts professors and staff display in their offices. Have a suggestion about someone we should profile? Email email@example.com.