Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS) has named longtime professor and administrator Shirley Jefferson JD’86 vice president for community engagement and government affairs. Jefferson is the school’s first ever vice president of color.
In the newly created position, Jefferson will report directly to the VLGS president while providing strategic insight and advice to the school’s senior leadership regarding community issues, local, state, and federal government matters, and efforts for the enrichment of society and intercultural understanding.
“One of the first things I learned at VLGS was that Shirley Jefferson is the school’s heart and soul,” said VLGS President Smolla, who began his tenure at the school on July 1. “As VLGS begins its new direction, a graduate institution with both a law school and a graduate school, building strong relationships with the community will be more important than ever and nobody is better suited to being the ‘ambassador’ of Vermont Law and Graduate School than Shirley Jefferson. Her passion for educating students who want to be catalysts for change is unmatched and infectious.”
Jefferson, who prior to the promotion was serving as the school’s associate dean for student affairs and diversity, is looking forward to sharing the school’s programs and initiatives – including its world-renowned environmental program and first-of-its-kind restorative justice program – with the community.
“It is a very exciting time at Vermont Law and Graduate School and our mission to use law, policy, and leadership to confront some of the world’s most complex challenges has never been needed more than right now,” said Jefferson. “Connecting our students, faculty members, and initiatives with community leaders, elected officials, and on-the-ground activists is essential to overcoming the many issues our society faces and I can’t wait to get started.”
A 1986 graduate of the school and associate professor since 2002, Jefferson joined VLGS in 1999, initially serving as a special assistant to the admissions department, and later as director of alumni affairs. In her role as associate dean she led the school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts – which will now be helmed by the newly hired associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Lisa Ryan – served as the school's senior student affairs officer, and advised and mentored the school's Student Bar Association chapter along with 35 other student organizations.
A nationally sought after speaker and adviser on matters relating to race and the law and equitable access to legal education, Jefferson is a member of the Vermont State College Board of Trustees and Vermont State Policy Advisory Commission. She is a multiple-time winner of the Women’s Law Group Phenomenal Woman Award, recipient of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) Edge Diversity Award, and National Black Pre-Law Conference and Law Fair Legal Education Access & Diversity Champion award winner, among many other honors.
Prior to joining VLGS, Jefferson served as general counsel for the United Black Fund, Inc., associate counsel in the law office of Wilhelmina J. Rolark, and a legislative assistant on the Committee on Judiciary to Council Member Wilhelmina J. Rolark.
While a student at Vermont Law School, Jefferson received the Alumni Association Award and was a Debevoise Family Scholarship recipient. She also founded the Minority Student Group at VLS and the school’s Distinguished Service Award is named in her honor. A native of Selma, Ala., she graduated summa cum laude from Southeastern University, where she was a dean's list student.