After 19 years practicing law in business and with firms around the Denver area, Chuck Henson moved to Missouri in 2009 and worked as an assistant attorney general for the state. He transitioned to academia full time in 2015 and promptly began leaving a mark, serving as the University of Missouri’s interim Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity for most of the 2015-16 academic year.
It wasn’t a simple task, either: Henson designed and staffed the division and implemented programs for students as well as diversity training for hiring supervisors. He serves as the Senior Fellow for the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution at the law school and on the state Supreme Court Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Law.
What motivates you most in your work as an advocate for Diversity & Inclusion?
I am motivated most in my work by the goal of service, particularly the articulation of the goal in the first sentence of the preamble to our Rules of Professional Conduct: A lawyer is a citizen with a special responsibility for the quality of justice. To me, the quality of justice is intimately and primarily concerned with diversity and inclusion. And to accept the special responsibility to which our profession aspires necessarily requires me to make diversity and inclusion the centerpiece of my efforts.
Who has most inspired you in your work for Diversity & Inclusion, and why?
My inspiration to improve the quality of justice comes from people: my current and former students (D’Juan Neal, Henry Tanner, Melesa Johnson, Julius King, Kayla Jackson Williams, David Rogers, Lacy Cansler, Joel Ritchie, Ben Marble, Landon Miller, Don Quinn, Jacqueline Ledezma-Ruelas, Tamar Hodges, Arsenio Mims, Trevor Woodland, Brionna Pratt and Phelan Simpkins to name just a few); my wife, Renee E. Henson, Esq., Mizzou ’18; and all those who I consider to be part of my family, some of whom are — the Hon. Mary Russell, the Hon. Willie Epps Jr., the Hon. Kenny Garrett, Peggy Whipple, Esq., Joel Poole, Esq., Faye and Masood Hedari, my colleagues at Douglass High School, Jonette Ford, Denise Parker and Dr. Eryca Neville, and particularly the civil rights hero Percy Green. These people inspire me by their uniform and heroic efforts to encourage our society to meet its aspirations. Their existence, their successes, their challenges and their essential goodness is the reason I do what I can.
What goal remains unfulfilled for you as an advocate for Diversity & Inclusion?
It seems to me that our profession pays too little attention to its aspirations. If we claim the special responsibility for the quality of justice, how do we manage that responsibility? My goal is to elevate that aspiration from obscurity to the clear beacon it ought to be in the daily life of all lawyers.
What must Missouri’s legal community do to promote meaningful and long-term diversity within its legal/justice system?
Missouri must follow through on the excellent start the Missouri Supreme Court has given our legal community through the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness chartered by then-Chief Justice [Patricia] Breckenridge, and through making cultural competency an annual requirement for members of our Bar. I see both events as signposts marking a new focus on the quality of justice. . . . Finally, take concerted action to eliminate from the legal system any opportunity for implicit bias to play a role. We should not only acknowledge the existence of implicit bias but the impact of implicit bias.