Growing up in segregated Little Rock, Arkansas, Anna Shavers found lifelong inspiration in the marches and rallies of Martin Luther King Jr.
It was the last speech that King gave before he died, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” that left the deepest impression on her — one that would later motivate her to pursue a career in higher education and dedicate herself to the success of others.
“I’ve been reflecting on that ever since — about what it means to reach the mountaintop and see the promised land,” said Shavers, acting dean of the University of Nebraska College of Law. “Martin Luther King Jr. has been a big influence in my life. He led me to believe that first of all, I can accomplish certain things — but then I can also help other people accomplish their dreams, as well.”
In honor of her decades-long commitment to diversity and inclusion at Nebraska, Shavers was presented with the 2020 Chancellor’s Fulfilling the Dream Award on Jan. 22. The annual award celebrates an individual who has contributed to the university or Lincoln community by promoting King’s goals and vision.
“I was very excited to be nominated and selected for an award that really values working with students and helping them reach their goals,” Shavers said. “To think that somebody thought I was deserving of this award, and to join the list of people that have received it in the past, is just thrilling.”
Since joining the law faculty in 1989, Shavers has brought a host of civil-rights focused classes to the college. Her course subjects include immigration law, refugee and asylum law, human trafficking, international gender issues and the intersection of gender, race and class.
Shavers was also named the College of Law’s associate dean for diversity and inclusion in 2018, putting an official title on the work she’s done over many years. She describes her role as creating an environment where each law student can succeed, regardless of their background.
“Part of what I concentrate on is trying to help the law college, and also the university in general, have a diverse and inclusive student body,” Shavers said. “That means I get involved as much as I can in recruitment efforts for the law school, trying to make sure when students arrive here they have a good experience.”
Creating opportunities for students, Shavers said, is by far the most rewarding part of her job.
“My hope is that individual students look back and think that I’ve touched their lives in some positive or meaningful way,” Shavers said. “When it was announced that I was going to be acting dean, I heard from former students that I hadn’t heard from in a long time, extending their congratulations. Some of them said how helpful I’d been to them when they were here, helping them manage getting through law school. I’ve run into other alums who focus more on a particular class that I taught. Those kinds of interactions are what make me feel great, and they convince me that I’ve had a role in fulfilling the dream for others as well as myself.”
In her 30-plus years at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Shavers has seen campus transform. Still, she looks forward to the work that’s being done to make even more future Huskers feel welcome and accepted.
“I think we need to continually ensure that we have a diverse faculty and staff, as well as student population, here at the university,” Shavers said. “That can be in a number of different areas, including gender, race and class. We’ve seen those numbers increase, and now that we have vice chancellor Marco Barker, I think he’s going to help us in a great respect to achieve those goals.”