Anthony E. Varona, dean of Seattle University School of Law, recently delivered the keynote address at the second annual Michael A. Olivas Writing Institute, a one-day international online event created to provide support and encouragement to junior and senior academic scholars of color in their writing projects. Legal faculty from across the nation, as well as Peru and Mexico, attended.
The event is the brainchild of Ediberto Roman, professor of law and director of Immigration and Citizenship Initiatives at Florida International University, developed as a tribute to Olivas, an acclaimed higher education and immigration law scholar and professor emeritus. For nearly 40 years, Olivas served as a faculty member at the University of Houston Law Center, culminating in being named the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Law and director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance. He died in April of 2022 at age 71.
“Professor Roman has done so much not only to keep the great Michael Olivas’s memory alive but also to continue his phenomenal legacy of mentoring and sponsoring so many scholars who followed in his footsteps,” Varona said. “Michael is considered to be the godfather of the Hispanic/Latino law school professoriat, so I am very honored to speak at an event that showcases and carries on his legacy.”
In addressing the attendees, Varona embraced the theme of mentorship by encouraging them to be thankful for working in positions that enable and encourage academic scholarship. “We also should acknowledge how important it is for scholars of color and other minoritized scholars to produce scholarship at all, especially at this moment in our history,” he said. “I urge us to be brave. I urge us to be bold. And I urge us to use our precious ability to write and to speak about very important topics.”
Varona also said that academics of color can become targets when they use their voices to spotlight inconvenient truths, but he counseled those in attendance to remain steadfast.
“Our voices, our opinions, our theories, our analyses, and sometimes even our presence in these roles, at these podia and keyboards, can generate anger and opposition,” he said. “When we write against the grain, people will take notice, and not always with kindness and encouragement. I urge us to regard the opposition against some of our work as a sign that the work itself is good. As a sign that the work is effective, and worthwhile. As a sign that we should carry on with the work. Adelante.”
“Dean Varona’s keynote address was met with great interest and appreciation. He reminded us of the importance of scholarship as well as the need to diversify our profession,” Roman said.
Steven W. Bender, professor of law and associate dean of strategic initiatives at Seattle U Law, attended the event and remarked, “Going forward, with law and legal academia as among the least diverse professions, pipelines of mentorship are crucial to ensure adequate representation. Both Professor Roman and Dean Varona are key national figures in developing mentor-mentee relationships and programs, which is hard but necessary work.”
Seattle U Law is scheduled to host the 2025 Olivas Writing Institute.