Ceci Lopez, ’08, an assistant professor in Western’s Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies and the director of the college’s Center for Law, Diversity and Justice, was recently honored with the Washington State Bar Association’s 2022 Local Hero Award.
“Ceci is an amazing human, who came to this country as an immigrant, learned English as an additional language, earned an advanced (degree) in tax law and could have spent her career accumulating wealth,” says Rajeev Mujumdar, president of the Whatcom County Bar Association. “Instead, she committed her life path to helping others, especially the poor and those under-represented people who don’t traditionally have access to the justice system or a pathway to a legal education.”
Fairhaven’s Center for Law, Diversity and Justice is an interdisciplinary program that gives students a glimpse of law school while examining how race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and disability intersect with the legal system.
We recently chatted with Lopez to find out more about her work in growing the LDJ program.
How do you explain your work in the Center for Law, Diversity and Justice, and why it is so important to you?
This is where real magic happens, I think.
The goal of the program is to create a low-stakes access for students to investigate their interest in the law. This is a very important part of the process because it creates a more inclusive entry for students who traditionally have perceived the exclusionary nature of the law as a barrier to entry. Because this affects mostly racially and socioeconomically underrepresented students, this program is a vehicle to empower students to see their potential in a holistic way—to help them see the high social value of their diverse lived experiences, and how these can be leveraged to create a more equitable and just society.
What brought you to work in higher education?
When I was practicing law, I was one of the few bilingual and bicultural tax lawyers in the state. I quickly realized that the need and demand for tax representation in immigrant communities was beyond my capacity.
After assessing my most effective ways to serve the community, I realized that I was in a unique position to inspire and help prepare the next generation of attorneys. I believe that by sharing with my students some of my own ways of understanding the world, all students can have a broader understanding of diversity and take that knowledge anywhere they go.
Can you tell us a bit about your own journey through higher education yourself?
Well, my journey in higher education began at Whatcom Community College. When my son graduated from Sehome High School and left home for college, I decided the time was right for me to pursue my own college education.
As a single mom, an immigrant to this country, and with English as an additional language, I never considered being a lawyer—never crossed my mind. However, once I entered Fairhaven College, I realized that, while difficult, everything I was learning sparked my interest—at times out of anger for the injustices I read about, others out of fascination about the simplicity of systems yet their powerful impact.
By the time I graduated from Fairhaven I was fascinated by the power of law to change culture but also inspired by the power of culture to change law.
Ana Cecilia “Ceci” Lopez has a B.A. in Law, Diversity and Public Policy from Western, and J.D. and LLM degrees from the University of Washington School of Law. She has taught at Western since 2016.