– Leticia Diaz, Ph.D., J.D. –
Dean and Professor of Law
Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law
Leticia Diaz was destined to become a champion of diversity and inclusion. She moved to the United States from Cuba with her parents when she was 3. They left behind everything they owned and bolted to Miami without a dollar in their pockets for a chance to live in freedom. Growing up as a Cuban American, she felt the searing rejection of not being included time and time again. Those painful experiences at a young age helped shape how Diaz thinks and leads today.
Diaz is the dean and a professor of law at the Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law, where she has held the top spot since 2007. She is the first Cuban American woman to serve as dean at an American Bar Association-accredited law school.
Diaz makes a point to take a stand for diversity and inclusion in all she does. She says shaping a diverse student body and faculty are two of her top priorities.
“They are extremely important. You can only have true inclusivity if you are surrounded by real-world diversity,” Diaz says. “We have to embrace each other’s backgrounds and cultures. It is only through diversity that we can learn so much about each other, and then we can make a positive impact on society. We have to continue our quest to diversify the legal field. You cannot have true representation without diversity and inclusion.” – Leticia Diaz
Diaz understands the obstacles and challenges many of her students face and the sacrifices their families make. She watched her parents leave behind a comfortable life in Cuba to start a new life in the United States. Her father was in his last semester at the University of Havana School of Law, but he gave up his career goals so he could work double shifts to take care of his family. Her grandfather was a judge in Cuba. At Barry Law School, there is a small courtroom Diaz donated, dedicating it to her father and grandfather. It reminds her every day of the sacrifices her family made to give her the opportunity to have a better life.
As Diaz strives for diversity and inclusion at the law school, the numbers tell part of the story. Of 670 students enrolled as of October 2020, 191 were Hispanic, 102 were African American and 33 were Asian. Enrollment is about 60% female and 40% male.
“When I became dean, our student population was less than 30% diverse,” Diaz says. “Today, I am super proud to say we are about 50% diverse.”
Several national publications have recognized Barry Law School for its efforts. U.S. News & World Report magazine ranked it eighth in the nation for diversity among law schools. PreLaw magazine gave Barry University an A+ ranking for its diversity in 2020 and ranked it sixth for diversity among law schools.
Diaz says the campus experience teaches students why inclusion matters.
“Our students don’t just learn about the concepts of inclusivity in a textbook. Social justice and truth are part of our mission. They are involved with this while they are in school. When they graduate, they become judges and politicians or they run private practices. They make a positive difference because of the values they learned at Barry Law School. They give back to the community, and much of it starts at Barry Law School. They learn to serve in law school, and they carry it with them.” – Leticia Diaz
Some of the students learn to give back by working with Barry’s immigration clinic, helping noncitizens who cannot afford an attorney navigate a complex immigration legal system. Other law students represent young defendants in the juvenile justice system. And others volunteer to prepare income taxes for free to help Orlando families who cannot afford an accountant.
Professors also educate Barry University law students about inclusion and social justice. “We have a cultural competency graduation requirement,” Diaz says. “You have to take a module on that before you can graduate. These programs include social justice and community service.”
Diaz praises the university’s faculty and students for making inclusion a priority on campus. She says students have advocated and worked hard to bring about diversity through workshops and forums that led to difficult but necessary conversations about racism after the death of George Floyd by police last summer.
Diaz says her work is challenging but satisfying. “Inclusion defines who I am. I believe we will achieve harmony only when everyone truly embraces and not merely tolerates people who are not like them. When we only tolerate each other, we are not being inclusive, and to me that’s totally unacceptable.”