Chelsea B. Robinson, Esq.’s personality is infectious. As the youngest serving board trustee, Robinson’s affinity for her alma mater and advocacy make her the ideal candidate to represent past and present Dillard students. A class of 2017 graduate, Robinson was heavily involved academically and socially. She served as Miss Freshman, Miss Sophomore, and Miss Junior before receiving the ultimate honor of being elected as the 81st Miss Dillard University. Robinson is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, and former president of the Sigma Tau Delta Honor Society. Throughout her undergraduate career, Robinson served the greater New Orleans community. She created the city’s “Reading for the Record” program that campaigned to increase the literacy rate for New Orleans students. After graduating from Dillard cum laude, Robinson attended Thurgood Marshall School of Law. As a law student, Robinson was a member of the Student Bar Association and the prestigious Thurgood Marshall Law Review. She worked as a law clerk in the 190th Civil District Court and Texas Southern University’s Office of General Counsel. As an intern in the General Counsel’s office, Chelsea advised the Texas Southern University Board of Regents regarding university policies and procedures. Robinson helped organize the 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate hosted by ABC News and graduated the same year with honors. In an interview with the Office of Communications and Marketing, Robinson talks about student advocacy, the pre-law program and how involved the Board of Trustees are when making decisions that will impact students.
Dillard University (DU): What has your experience been as the youngest Dillard University board member?
Chelsea B. Robinson (CBR): It is incredibly humbling to be the youngest person elected to the Dillard University Board of Trustees. Truthfully, it was always something I hold in high esteem because our board members are the cream of the crop. I think it is important for young alumni and students to know that this is possible. I am most grateful that this will open the door for more young scholars to have a voice and pathway on the board.
DU: Can you share insight on the Board of Trustees advocate for students?
CBR: Prior to joining the Board, I wasn’t certain of how involved the Board is in the everyday activities of students. Since joining the Board I have learned that the Board is involved in every detail of students’ everyday experience at Dillard. Everything from admissions to graduation; it is important that we have younger representation on the Board. Someone who can relate to walking the Oaks every day or what it is like to be in the classes. Members of the Board can relate to that [college experience] and they have such expertise, but I can say that I was a student just a few years ago. I know what it was like to be [living] on campus and I still have connections with students [who are attending Dillard currently]. I know the concerns of the students today and we know that can change through generations. My presence on the Board definitely helps and adds a value that students can benefit from.
DU: The age old question: Why DU?
CBR: For me, not going to an HBCU was not an option. It was a matter of choosing the right HBCU. My parents introduced me to former National Alumni Association President Pamela Francois. When I met her, she had so much pride about Dillard and spoke highly of its students, professors, and programs. She encouraged me to visit Dillard, and when I did, I knew that I would attend. The students welcomed my family and me on campus and gave me a real glimpse of what “life on the Oaks” was like. I felt very valued [when choosing Dillard]. [The faculty and staff] at Dillard want to get to know you and what your interests are. They want to know where you see yourself after Dillard. I didn’t get that at any other college that I previously toured.
DU: How did the pre-law program help you with career readiness? How did Dillard’s pre-law program help with navigating other races and cultures in the legal industry?
CBR: I first want to say that if it wasn’t for Dillard University I likely would have never become a lawyer. I know several lawyers from my community, but I truly didn’t know how [one] becomes a lawyer. Mrs. Adria Kimbrough was the pre-law advisor when I attended Dillard and from day one she [coached me] on how to become an attorney. She told me “you want to be a lawyer? This is what we are going to do to get you there!” She truly, from step A to Z walked me through it. She encouraged me by reminding me that “there is life after Dillard, and you have to be prepared for that too.” Mrs. Kimbrough and many other professors at Dillard are genuinely invested in student success.
Dillard also helped me to cope with and integrate myself into cultures that are not mine. I am able to do that because I am not trying to imitate different cultures. Dillard taught me to be myself and be unapologetic about that. Have tact, couth and be emotionally intelligent. Be thoughtful before you make a response but know that the right way is not always the “white way.” I am very comfortable in my skin because of Dillard. Dillard has taught me to be multidimensional; you don’t have to be in one category or fit in a little cage. You can be a multitude of things and you can be great at all of these things. Professors like Dr. Nchor Okorn, Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy, Dr. Nancy Dixon, and others certainly helped me grow as a scholar and as an individual!
DU: What advice would you give students who want to explore different programs or student organizations? What work-life balance tips would you give them, especially those who are working while attending school?
CBR: My best advice is to stay involved. From my experience, I hit the ground running my freshman year. I wanted to be involved in everything; the benefit of having your eggs in different baskets is that you can maximize your experiences because you don’t have the time to be lazy or slack off because you have so many people who are holding you accountable. That’s what Dillard prepares you for; you cannot join a club and do nothing. Programs like pre-law help you get out of your comfort zone. Try something that frightens you a bit (in a good way). [Laughs]. Keep a planner or you can use your iPhone; you’re an adult now so it’s important to be ahead of the game. It’s important to be proactive instead of reactive. The more involved you are, the more you enhance those organizing skills.
DU: What are some good study habits pre-law students should have?
CBR: If you are choosing the pre-law program or law school, students [no matter their background] should know law school is a different beast. The skills you’re learning in undergrad are foundational. In law school, you’re learning a new set of skills so be prepared to think in a completely different way. Now, I am trained to always look for the problem and how to solve it- a skill set gained in my law school career. Dillard gave me fundamental skills such as strong written and verbal advocacy. You must have a great ability to write; 85 percent of law school is writing. Do not run from essays or research. It is also important to have good speaking capabilities in a way that people can understand. Those are skills that law schools value and Dillard provides that. I was an English major at Dillard but I have also seen while in law school a growing number of Math, Physics, and Engineering majors. There is no one way to enter law school. For students who don’t have the support system to be a lawyer, know that you are more than capable.
DU: What would you like to share with students who are feeling lukewarm about their college experience?
CBR: When I was at Dillard, I had friends who were on the fence about Dillard. I would say that the friends who had an open mind found that Dillard was the way to go. From the very beginning, establish the end goal for what you want to accomplish while here at Dillard (e.g. to become a nurse, engineer, journalist, etc.). Then, take advantage of every opportunity given, even those opportunities that can often be taken for granted. Being able to work closely with professors and having accessibility to our university President, other administrators, and even trustee members are very unique to the Dillard experience. It’s quite normal to feel some apprehension about making one of the first big decisions of your early adult life, but the truth is that building bonds with your peers and your professors also builds pride in the school you’ve chosen. Dillard will certainly become family if you allow yourself to be engulfed in all that Dillard can provide you. Also, take in the city! You’re in New Orleans; who doesn’t love New Orleans? When you think about it, it’s a win-win.
DU: Favorite Dillard memory and why?
CBR: There are so many but here are a few of my favorite Dillard memories:
- Winning Ebony Magazine’s HBCU Queens [in 2017]. We campaigned so hard and I was able to blaze a trail that I had never done before! The community banded together and made it happen. My hometown was ecstatic and the New Orleans community supported me heavily! We had radio professionals and even [fellow Board member] MC Lyte [championing] for me. People were voting three times a day. To be in that top ten meant alot to me and especially the university. Since then, Dillard has been in the top ten a number of times!
- My second favorite memory would be being elected to the trustee board. It means alot to me because this will also benefit students. My number one mission in life is to mentor and I have been trying to do that every year and this opportunity serves as a pillar for that. I want to be able to tell people the good and bad and how I have navigated that. I experienced ebbs and flows at Dillard too! I want to be transparent about my experience so that it can help people and encourage them to help someone else.
- Lastly but certainly not least, I met my husband at Dillard! On my very first day of SOAR and his first day as a transfer student, we instantly connected. We both share a deep passion for student leadership, mentoring, and HBCU Culture. Dillard helped to cultivate an unbreakable bond between us, and I am so grateful for that.
The Dillard University Pre-Law Program is attuned to the needs of students of color and aware of the obstacles they face. According to the American Bar Association’s National Lawyer Population Survey, only 5% of United States attorneys are African American. To be a pre-law program oriented toward African American students and students of color is as unprecedented as it is necessary, and Dillard University is proud to take up this mantle.
The legal profession and justice system should both represent and reflect the people of our country in order to best serve them. The demand for diversity is increasing everywhere, but it cannot be met without an established pipeline of students who are prepared for the work ahead. The pre-law program is not a major, but a co-curricular program in which students interested in the law can receive support outside the classroom to achieve their goals and enter the legal profession. Any student with an interest in the law can benefit from our program, and any student can join, regardless of major. For more information, please email De’Jonique Carter (firstname.lastname@example.org), pre-law advisor.