Anna Shavers follows in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. every day at the University of Nebraska College of Law.
In her 10th grade school year, around 1960, she was part of the third wave of students to desegregate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas at Hall High School. She grew up during a time when King was active, and although she didn’t attend his “I Have a Dream” speech, she said she heard and took his words to heart.
Shavers has dedicated 31 years of service to the university and translates King’s messages in her work as the Cline Williams Professor of Citizenship and associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the College of Law. She said she wants every student to feel like they can contribute in worthwhile ways to their education and not feel isolated or undervalued.
“You have to make sure that everyone is having a good experience here, not just a certain group of people,” Shavers said. “Everyone should be able to feel like they have value in the law school.”
Shavers gave value to many alumni from the college who benefited from her constant support, according to College of Law dean Richard Moberly.
“She has constantly been on the lookout to make sure that our college can be as inclusive as possible to help develop students, particularly from underrepresented backgrounds, to come into the college and thrive,” Moberly said.
Daniel Dawes, a 2006 College of Law graduate, said Shavers has fought her entire life and career for diversity and inclusion and is someone he could rely on, ultimately helping him decide that a legal education at the NU College of Law was the right choice.
“After speaking with her, it was very clear that I would receive the type of mentorship that I was seeking from faculty,” Dawes said. “I knew that based on her passions and her interest in law that they aligned with mine.”
Dawes said Shavers worked to diversify the college, attracting many different voices to the College of Law, including himself.
“She has been fighting for greater diversity and inclusion her entire career at that law school,” Dawes said. “Because of her, many of us, including myself, probably wouldn’t have been there but for her advocacy.”
No matter the situation, Dawes said Shavers would drop everything for her students, challenge them and push them to be the best versions of themselves, becoming almost like family in the process. Without her support, Dawes said he did not know if he or his colleagues would have been able to succeed around the world.
“She really pushed the boundaries of my knowledge and, in that respect, opened my eyes to things that I was not aware of,” he said. “For all those reasons, she will always be someone whom I admire, love and respect.”
Although conversations for diversity and inclusion occurred long before creating and naming Shavers to the associate dean for diversity and inclusion position in the spring of 2018, Moberly said it was important to have a consistent and positive voice in the college.
Moberly said the associate dean position was created to get her voice on the leadership team. The position provides a point person, someone focused on coordinating and mobilizing aspects of diversity and inclusion.
“My hope is that we may get things so established in the law school that there won’t be a need for a position like that,” Shavers said. “ ... But right now, we feel like we need it, and I’ll stay in it for a little while and then maybe it’ll either disappear or somebody else will take it off.”
Having a high value for teachers growing up, Shavers said her first priority was to finish high school. Now, as a law professor, she said she combined her dreams of teaching and law together as one.
“I say my dream came full circle,” Shavers said. “Teaching law, another profession I had always admired but didn’t really, at that time, think I would achieve that goal — But I achieved that as well as teaching, so I think I’m in the perfect spot for me.”
Catherine Wilson, an associate professor of law, nominated Shavers for the Chancellor’s Fulfilling the Dream award, which was awarded to her on Jan. 22 this year.
Shavers said the award is given to a member of the campus or community who follows King’s footsteps, which Wilson said is recognition of Shavers’ lifetime of work. According to Wilson, it was for Shavers’ active dialogue on issues of social justice, including race, gender and immigration.
“I’m just trying to follow and put my foot where her foot happened to be in the snow print,” Wilson said.
Shavers’ expertise with diversity and inclusion for students adds to each conversation, according to Wilson.
“She’s been so supportive of students for so very long and in just so many areas of a student’s life,” Wilson said.
In addition to providing support for students, Shavers also works with colleagues to ensure that everyone is valued.
“I look to her as the senior faculty member and appreciate the guidance and teaching and mentorship she provides,” Wilson said. “Everybody around here appreciates the viewpoint and the wisdom that she shares on a variety of issues.”
Shavers has also been involved with long-term planning for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including co-chairing the N150 Commission’s subcommittee on diversity and inclusion. Through her involvement, Wilson said Shavers has left an imprint on the future of UNL for years to come.
“She just brings excellence to the table in terms of the work that she does,” Wilson said.
Shavers stepped up at the College of Law as acting dean when Moberly filled the executive vice chancellor position in June 2019. Moberly said he recommended Shavers for the acting dean position for her experience, seniority and her support as one of his mentors.
“The law school’s a better place because of [her] —not just for the last 30 years, but every day,” Moberly said. “She’s a terrific leader and a better person.”
The College of Law is one part of UNL, but Shavers said she hopes her work translates to the rest of campus as her passion for diversity and inclusion will never go away.
“I’ll have that till the day I die,” she said.
In the future, Shavers said her efforts to ensure that every student, faculty, staff and individual around her feels included will continue.
“In my everyday life, I come in contact with some individual that I hope I can influence in some positive way,” Shavers said. “I think everybody has that opportunity and should take advantage of it.”
This article is part of a series on diversity. For the complete list, read the introduction.