VLS to name art gallery after civil rights champion Shirley Jefferson

By Forum Staff

You’ve heard of Debevoise and Oakes Halls, the Nina Thomas Classroom and the Chase Center. Soon, the Dean Shirley A. Jefferson Gallery will enter the Vermont Law School lexicon.

Brooke Herndon, vice president for the Office of Alumni Relations and Development, presented the lifelong civil rights with the 2021 class gift during the school’s annual awards ceremony Friday night.

“I am forever grateful for the kindness and appreciation shown to me today,” Jefferson said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m just overflowing with joy, and I thank God for my journey.”

Jefferson, J.D. ’86, was the second Black woman to graduate from the VLS after desegrating her high school in Selma, Alabama. Inspired by the Black Law Students Association’s annual Black History Month installation, the gallery will be the first facility on campus named after a woman of color.

“Dean J is the heart of Vermont Law School. As a champion of diversity and social justice, the naming of this gallery is only one way to say thank you for all that she continues to do for not only BIPOC students, but all of VLS,” wrote Mariana Muñoz, J.D. ’21, in a tribute featured on the class gift fundraiser page.

“I know for a fact that my VLS experience was shaped drastically by Dean J and her kind, generous soul. This gallery will provide past, current, and future VLS students with an opportunity to connect and reminisce about not only their time at VLS, but their shared hugs and conversation with the woman who makes VLS a home away from home.”

In February 2019, the Student Bar Association unanimously adopted a resolution recognizing the gallery space between the Cornell Library and the Chase Center as the Dean Shirley A. Jefferson Gallery. Penned by then SBA president Kyle Clauss, J.D. ’20, and presented by Prof. Mark Latham, the resolution also urged administration and the board of trustees to formally dedicate the space with a plaque.

“We all know Dean Jefferson as our dear friend and colleague. She has done so much at this institution for the administration, the faculty, the staff, and most importantly the students,” Latham told the SBA Senate. “She is a tireless worker and is always thinking about students.”

In March 2021, under the leadership of president Heather Francis, J.D. ’22, the SBA unanimously reaffirmed its commitment to the dedication effort.

“Dean J graciously advised the Student Bar Association each year while working at VLS. This is our way of thanking her for her service to the SBA and the school,” Francis told The Forum.

In addition to a plaque, the 2021 class gift—$4,546 in total—will “assist in making the area more suitable for art installations and information displays,” the fundraiser page says, which could include display cases to protect art from temperature and humidity changes caused by the nearby exterior doors, as well as other cosmetic updates.

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