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Dean of Students Marcia Sells Departs Harvard Law School

Harvard Law School Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells will leave her role to become the first Chief Diversity Officer at the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Harvard Law School Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells will leave her role to become the first Chief Diversity Officer at the New York Metropolitan Opera. By Zadoc I. N. Gee
By Emmy M. Cho, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Law School Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells will leave her role on Feb. 15 to become the first Chief Diversity Officer at the New York Metropolitan Opera, the school announced Monday.

“While this will be a great...loss for the law school, it is an exciting professional opportunity for Dean Sells, who, in this newly created role, will help lead the Metropolitan Opera into its next chapter,” Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 wrote in an email.

The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said in a Monday press release that Sells will “create artistic and administrative pathways for people of color” at the opera.

“At a time when social justice rightly demands that we address the inequities of our art form, I’m pleased that we have chosen the ideal candidate in Marcia for implementing long overdue and necessary change,” Gelb said.

During her five years in the Dean of Students position, Sells served on Harvard’s Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, where, according to Manning, she had an “instrumental role” shaping the “framework for furthering the vital goals” of inclusion and belonging at Harvard.

Sells also served as co-chair of the HLS Student Well-Being Working Group and participated in both the University’s Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.

Sells “brought a wealth of experience” to the Law School in 2015, Manning wrote. In addition to a 13-year tenure as an administrator at Columbia University, Sells held executive positions at NBA and Reuters, and served as an Assistant District Attorney for the state of New York.

Having previously served in associate dean and associate vice president positions at Columbia, Sells — who was also a dancer at the Cincinnati Ballet Company and the Dance Theatre of Harlem before her administrative career — said in an interview that she was excited to return to New York City, where she had spent many years before moving to Harvard.

“The opportunity to return is compelling — more than I realized,” Sells said. “It was great that I pushed myself to live outside of New York City after moving there from my hometown, but it feels good, it feels right.”

Sells said that the students were both the most challenging and most rewarding part of her job at the Law School.

“They get you to think about so many things — it was fascinating to see generationally how things changed in the world of student affairs from when I was Dean of Students in the 90s, to coming in 2015,” she said. “Most rewarding is that you get to meet this amazing group of students and learn from them and work with them.”

Sells described the beginning of her time at HLS as “momentous.” She was just three months into her tenure when the portraits of several Black law professors were vandalized with black tape, an incident police investigated as a hate crime, but were not able to locate the perpetrators.

Manning praised Sells’ dedication to student leaders in his email.

“A dedicated leader and mentor, Dean Sells has also been a strong supporter of Student Government, our many student organizations, and student-managed journals,” he wrote. “She worked with her team to enhance the training for student leaders.”

Though Sells said she is excited to begin her career at the Metropolitan Opera, she also said she will miss the unique experience of interacting with students at “the very beginning of their career journey.”

“I know what’s possible, having been a lawyer, and I also know what’s possible with a law degree,” Sells said. “I wish for the students that they get to really experience this — the joy of their careers when they look back.”

—Staff writer Emmy M. Cho can be reached at emmy.cho@thecrimson.com.

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