Published: Aug. 21, 2023
Verna Williams

Verna Williams, the CEO of Equal Justice Works and former dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, will join the Colorado Law community on Sept. 28, 2023 to deliver the 65th annual John R. Coen Lecture. The lecture, co-sponsored by Equal Justice Works, is titled, “Let’s Talk About Race”.

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In this talk, Williams will examine current attacks on and efforts to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion programs given the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC. While some State Attorney Generals and politicians would suggest this decision curtails diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs at law firms and companies, Williams suggests that DEI programs continue to be necessary and within the law as we ensure the legal profession represents all people.

Williams has an extensive background of experience teaching and practicing law, as well as researching civil and women’s rights. She previously served as the dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, where she was a professor prior to becoming dean, and taught courses on family law, gender discrimination, and constitutional law. Additionally, she founded and co-directed the Judge Nathaniel Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice at the University of Cincinnati. While at the University of Cincinnati, Williams was twice awarded the Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching, both in 2004 and 2011. This award is unique because students nominate and choose the recipients—their professors.

Before her work at the University of Cincinnati, Williams served as vice president and director of educational opportunities at the National Women’s Law Center, where she focused on gender equity in education. In that capacity, Williams was lead counsel and successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, which established that the federal Title IX law requires educational institutions to address known complaints of student-to-student sexual harassment.

Williams clerked for the Honorable David S. Nelson, U.S. District Judge for the District of Massachusetts. After the clerkship, she practiced law at Sidley Austin LLP and the U.S. Department of Justice. She also has a background in research, authoring and co-authoring many articles and essays on examining the intersection of race, gender, and class in law and policy. Williams has presented papers at the Latina/o Critical Race Theory Conference and meetings of the Association of Law, Culture, and the Humanities. She also served as a consultant for the Ford Foundation, where she chaired the convening of a national conference at UC entitled Women Coming Together: Claiming the Law for Social Change. WIlliams is a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and Georgetown University.

The Coen lectureship was established in 1955 in memory of John Coen, a distinguished member of the Colorado bar and an able public speaker. The lectureship seeks to bring a prominent and distinguished lawyer, jurist, or scholar of law to deliver an annual lecture to Colorado Law’s students, faculty, and alumni on a legal subject of interest and benefit to the profession, preferably with some public or political aspect.