Celebrating Latino Leaders: Sara Lulo
"For many reasons I find New Haven to be civically engaged, very switched on in many ways, very accessible to become involved with, very smart and active on issues that I care about."
Assistant Dean, Yale Law School, Yale University
Hometown: Leawood, Kansas
Growing up in Kansas City, Sara Lulo’s family was the only Dominican family in her neighborhood or school. However, that did not stop her from getting a unique Latin experience within the city which she was raised.
Sara was fortunate to grow up surrounded by her immediate family, including her parents and two older brothers, but her extended family resided outside of the country, like many children with immigrant parents.
Sara recalls that circumstance brought the local Latino community closer together.
“My parents’ closest friends were from different Latin American countries, including Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru. None of us had our extended families nearby, so we were each other’s extended families in many ways. The kids of my parent’s friends were the closest thing I had to cousins locally. So we treated each other a bit like family, with that sort of acceptance, familiarity and sense of shared history and experience that comes only with family,” Sara says.
On Her Own
Although Sara had made connections in her Kansas City community, she had always been drawn to the East Coast which led her to apply to college in New York State.
“When I was looking for colleges I ended up going with Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I was still a little too timid to go to New York City. But when I went to visit Ithaca, it just felt perfect.”
At Cornell, she majored in Government with concentrations in International Relations and Women’s Studies. She also experienced a newfound freedom.
“Growing up with Latino parents, in the household we spoke only in Spanish. I was very much the daughter of protective Latino parents,” Sara says. “They were excellent parents and so supportive and had every confidence in me. They gave me every opportunity. But it was time for me to understand what being away from home and away from family was, and I was really thirsty for understanding what social independence meant.”
While the undergraduate experience was eye opening for Sara, after graduation she was for ready for New York City and the diversity it offered. She moved to New York and worked for two years at a Fortune 50 company. She then decided to pursue graduate studies at New York University, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Latin American and Caribbean Studies with a focus on Political Economy.
“Latin American Studies seemed like a great fit for me for graduate school,” Sara says. “I could finally formally study the histories, the literature, the economic systems and the politics of the region from which my family came.”
After NYC, Sara was off to law school, returning to Cornell. There she received her Juris Doctor and Master of Laws concurrently in a three-year period. Her focus was on international law, human rights and international organizations.
A World Traveler
After law school, Sara worked for the law firm of White & Case LLP, first in their New York office and then in their London office. Her career took her around the globe including England, Bosnia, Mexico, Kenya, Liberia and more.
“I worked with fantastic supervisors that were not only cool and interesting people, but also fun and smart mentors and friends,” Sara recalls. “They also had incredibly high standards which made me a better writer and a sharper thinker, and they were excellent examples of professionalism and integrity.”
Following her time at White & Case, Sara headed back to Ithaca to become the inaugural Director of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice, a center within the Cornell Law School focusing on global justice and women’s rights, in particular violence against women. She also taught as an adjunct professor of law.
“It was a pretty steep learning curve,” Sara says. “I was coming from private practice and all of a sudden I was in an academic environment and leading a small start-up center that was striving to make meaningful contributions in an area of law I knew a bit about from my pro bono work, but was by no means an established expert. In addition to the day-to-day work of launching the center, it was a time of intense reading, listening, and studying complex inequities and global challenges.”
New Haven Calls
Sara spent two and a half years at Cornell before Yale Law School came calling; they were looking for an inaugural director for The Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women's Rights. Sara has been at Yale for five years, first serving as the Director of the Gruber Program and International Law Programs, and now as Assistant Dean.
While Yale brought her here, New Haven is why Sara stayed.
“Shortly after I arrived, I realized that if I was going to make a longer term commitment to living here and becoming part of the community, I really wanted to get to know New Haven beyond the University,” Sara says. “As wonderful as being affiliated with the University is, it’s not all of New Haven, for sure. There is a vibrant community beyond the University too. For many reasons I find New Haven to be civically engaged, very ‘switched on’ in many ways, accessible and active on issues that I care about.”
Some of those issues are within the Latino community; thus Sara’s interest in the Progreso Latino Fund (PLF) was a natural one. Sara recently attended her first PLF Leadership Network meeting, where she says she was just there to learn…for now.
“PLF is of interest to me because it’s exciting and smart to bring people together who are of the Latinx community or allies working on behalf of the community,” Sara says. “It’s interesting that U.S. census data shows that ‘hispanics’ are about to become or have become the largest non-white group in this country, but the term ‘Hispanic’ is broad and vague; it encompasses a wide spectrum of backgrounds, race and experiences. Still, it’s both powerful and sort of astonishing to reflect on that type of statistic and dynamic at this political moment. As a culturally bound community within a diverse broader community, how do we leverage that which unites us without ignoring that which distinguishes? Can we organize constructively, in solidarity with other communities, to protect and advance the rights of all?”
Sara sure hopes so.