Talk with nearly any student at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law and they are bound to discuss the pivotal role Danielle Boardley has played throughout their law school career. Boardley, who has been with Kline Law since 2007, has vastly enriched and supported the Kline Law community in a variety of ways. Her efforts were recently recognized when she was named Kline’s first Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Student Belonging in February 2020.
“Danielle has consistently shown leadership around diversity and inclusion issues at the law school,” said Dean Dan Filler. “She brings a strong understanding of strategy with deep humanity and interpersonal awareness.”
Boardley, who has worked at Drexel University since 2004, refined her understanding of strategy and interpersonal skills through years of experience in various roles. After working jobs in front-facing as well as back-of-the-house positions at Drexel and Kline Law, Boardley has perfected her ability to be a “sounding board and point of ease” to students, parents, staff and faculty alike. In part, her knack for being able to “get to the heart of a thing” led her to Kline’s admissions office, where she’s supported individuals through countless decisions and changes for the past 10 years.
“When Danielle was in admissions, her office was a revolving door of prospective students, parents and Kline community members looking to her for guidance, support and laughter,” said Audrey Woods, assistant dean of enrollment management.
Through her work in Kline Law’s admission office, Boardley began to see ways in which the school could expand diversity and inclusion initiatives. In 2017, when Filler became dean, Boardley and several other staff and faculty members suggested that he create initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion at Kline Law, which led to the creation of the DiveIn Committee. Boardley’s work on the Committee shone when she nearly single-handedly established the Stephen and Sandra Sheller Diversity Pipeline Program in 2019.
“Once we saw Danielle’s talents through her leadership with the DiveIn Committee, it didn’t take long to realize that we needed her as an official resource for all of our community members,” said Woods. “Now her role in admissions extends beyond recruiting for Kline and allows her to focus on access to legal education in general.”
Beginning her new role right before the pandemic hit the United States hasn’t stopped Boardley from continuing her work. She’s created virtual spaces for Kline community members to come together and has found inventive ways to increase student wellness and belonging during these challenging times.
You’ve been at Kline Law since the beginning, how have you seen the school change?
I started the year after the law school opened, and so many things have shifted over the years, and I’m really proud of where we are now. The focus on diversity and inclusion programming and initiatives has been distinct and impactful and that shift is what has energized me so much over the last few years. We still have growing to do and a lot of learning to do as a community, but I am grateful for this time and the voices that are coming forward and the empowerment that is coming from it, not only with students but also staff and faculty.
How did your experience at Drexel and Kline Law prepare you for your new role?
I started as an admin and I took notice of my personal experiences through recognition and workplace relationships, and how that reception changed at different levels as my responsibilities and roles were elevated. I recognize how I show up as an individual, and I also continue to learn about others and the many dimensions of diversity from which they operate.
What I gathered from my experiences is that it doesn’t matter if it’s the janitor I interact with when I walk into a building or if it’s the dean, I personally have to remain the same in those interactions because it’s important for both of those individuals to be seen. That is also how I interact with students. I try to recognize that a person, at whatever level they are and whatever title they hold, should receive the same respect.
I am committed to the efforts of diversity, inclusion and belonging within the law school and am consistently working towards becoming culturally competent and treating people in a way that they wish to be treated.
I’ve demonstrated that commitment by driving positive change through listening to community members and being responsive to the needs of the community. I think it’s important to be a spokesperson for diversity issues that are not necessarily my own and welcome ideas that are different from my own. I hope to facilitate and be a participant in the process.
How will you support students in your role?
“Diversity” is the first identifier in my title, and in my role it has been strongly associated with racial diversity. However, I know that race is just one dimension of our reality. We also differ in gender identity, culture, social roles, sexual orientation, skills, states of well-being and in countless other domains. Promoting a holistic view of diversity is the first step to not just “tolerance,” but true acceptance. My goal is to support students within their various dimensions of diversity by facilitating opportunities of connection with, exposure to, and communication between community members with unique ideas. They might find that they have more in common than they thought. Or, they might recognize that they are remarkably different, and that is okay, too! I aspire to increase awareness—which leads to an increase of relevance and value—of our differences which can alter perspectives, facilitate acceptance, and diminish the misconceptions and prejudices that fuel discrimination.
Another way that I plan to continue to understand the needs of our students, so that I can be impactful in my support, is to avail myself for one-on-one or one-on-few meetings. Sometimes support looks like a little encouragement, a little boosting or a little mom-ing. I am a mom and mom-ing is my thing. I mom almost everyone. It doesn’t matter if they are a student or not.
How are you adjusting your goals in light of the pandemic and ongoing social changes?
Responding to the pandemic and increased calls to end racial injustice produced town halls and events that sought to bring our community together. One thing that’s important to me is including the voices of the students in the things that are going on. They may not have a final say in a change or a shift or a decision, but their thoughts might influence the mindset of the people who do. Even in the unexpected things, it has provided an opportunity to empower our community of students to be able to have a voice in these times where we all feel a little like things are out of our control.
My goal is to be responsive and not reactive. Prior to the pandemic, I planned to gather information for the first few months fully immersed into my new role and develop goals based off of what I learned. When we realized that we were going to be operating the law school remotely, clearly my plans had to be put to the side. I have still been able to gather information and develop goals, but I also had to respond to the new and pressing needs of our students. My goals shifted to find ways to support students and their pressing needs of finding opportunities for support dealing with their financial, physical and mental wellness needs.
In your new role, what are you most excited about?
Everything. It excites me that it’s new and that our community members are coming together because they care about the issues that stem from diversity, inclusion and belonging. I am excited about learning more and applying what I learn to myself first. I am aware of and confront my biases, and I try to be mindful of my thoughts that they may manifest into words and then actions. I am excited to lead by example. I’m excited to apply my person-centered focus to responding to the needs of our community as those needs—and the understanding of those needs—shift.
It excites me that our community is not only talking about wanting change, but also taking action to make change happen. I feel like my role has also allowed me to empower other offices to respond in ways that weren’t as visible in the past. It started with the DiveIN Committee taking what we learn from conversations in community talks back to our respective offices that we can then implement or change in our own areas. So, we are transforming the community not only on a macro level, but on a micro level within our individual offices.
This interview has been edited and condensed.