Editor’s note: The following article written by Maria P. Vallejo was published as part of the Diversity Committee Newsletter Vol. 5, No. 3 which is available to all NJSBA members. To learn more about joining a committee, email us at [email protected]
At the beginning of this year, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, named Kimberly Mutcherson co-dean of the of Rutgers Law School in Camden, making her the first female, first African American and first LGBTQ+ law school dean at the university. Mutcherson, who is a renowned bioethics and health law professor, humbly stated that she never imagined herself as a law school dean. Yet, her background left her poised for success in the academic world.
Born the daughter of a physician and nurse educator, Mutcherson was raised in Silver Springs, Md. She was one of a small number of black students who attended private school in the suburbs of Washington D.C., where she forged her identity passing through two different worlds.1 In a recent interview, she explained that the nation’s capital was a “city of contrast.” It was a “black city,” split between the solid middle class, who were upwardly mobile and attended schools like Howard University, and the lower class, who suffered financial strife and grappled with crime and drug abuse, Mutcherson said. Her parents took care to remind her of “how easy it is to simply be born into different circumstances.” In other words, “for blacks, where we ended up is really a roll of the dice,” Mutcherson explained.
Living in this dichotomous world, Mutcherson was guided by her many role models, who consisted of her immediate and extended family, including one aunt who ran an art gallery in Harlem, NY, and another who was the youngest black woman appointed to the D.C. superior court. By age 10, she already knew that she wanted to be lawyer because “it is a profession that can change the world” and she could “live a useful life.”
Mutcherson fulfilled her childhood dream and became a public interest lawyer, after she graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and receiving her juris doctorate from Columbia Law School, where she was a Stone Scholar.2 Mutcherson lived in New York City, where she worked as a public interest fellow focusing on HIV/AIDs policies and as a consulting attorney at a law and policy center for reproductive rights.3 In what she couched as more of a fortuitous opportunity, she accepted an adjunct professor position at New York University School of Law. This “side gig” soon became her calling, as she realized “there are lots of ways to do good in this world.” Mutcherson accepted her new role as an educator and mentor. “I’m an example of how someone can build a career out of unexpected things,” she said recently. “Although I’m not now a public interest lawyer, I continue to care and am a champion of public interest causes.”
Mutcherson served as a senior fellow/sabbatical visitor at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, and a fellow at the Institute for Research on Women at Rutgers University.4 In 2002, she became an adjunct professor at Rutgers Law School in Camden and rose through the ranks as associate professor, professor of law, vice dean and finally co-dean on Jan. 1 of this year.5
At the university, students and, in particular, diverse students gravitated toward Mutcherson. She found comradery and fulfillment in helping students who felt alienated because of their minority status or because of their decision to pursue public interest when others focused on more traditional law firm careers. Now as the co-dean of Rutgers Law School in Camden, she continues to mentor and impact students to ensure their success in the profession of law and has the ability to implement programs to elevate the law school. Rutgers Law School, which has locations in Camden and Newark, is part of Rutgers University, which boasts a network of more than 500,000 graduates.6
“I’m excited to be the co-dean of a state school. Rutgers is incredibly important in that it is deeply affordable for people and a real service to the state of New Jersey,” she said.
Mutcherson has carved out three goals the Camden law school: 1) to improve diversity and inclusion; 2) to diversify the curriculum to include more online and international opportunities, and more skills-based classes to prepare students for the real-life practice of law; and 3) to increase the number of law students. Mutcherson explained, “We must recognize that we can always do better, and we owe it the students and the staff to be better.”
Maria P. Vallejo is a partner at the law firm of Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo, PC, in Secaucus, where she is a commercial litigation attorney, concentrating on contract dispute litigation.
. Kimberly Mutcherson, personal interview, Feb. 4, 2019.