Remembering Anna Shavers

A Joint Remembrance by the Journey Co-Leaders

January 24, 2022

Great leaders and great people touch so many people in different ways through their life and work. Yet, what is consistent about such individuals, is that while few have a broad sense of the full scope of their influence and impact, each small group of people in their contact with them, can have a full and rich experience of that person. Brought together, we may start to appreciate just how impactful their life has been. We humbly want to add our small part to this large picture of this great woman, Anna Shavers. We, the Journey Co-Leaders, were privileged to fall under a small part of Anna Shaver’s vast sphere of influence, and so what we offer here, in memory and honor of her, derives from that rich and moving experience. We mourn her passing, then, in our own small way. We offer our deepest condolences to her family, and we want to thank them for what part they played in allowing us to enjoy the gift of herself over the past two years. We pray for strength for them in their loss, even as we join them in celebrating her life and work.

It was entirely our honor to have been able to spend so many hours with Professor Shavers over the past two years. These were the years of the pandemic, and our gatherings quickly became shelters of active solidarity, deep intimacy and growing friendship and trust. We knew that we had in her the wisdom, compassion, ethical clarity, experience, and brilliance of a woman of unquestionable leadership and grace. Her sense of genuine delight in the small and large developments in all our lives was consistent and affirming.

The UNL Co-Leaders of the Journey Towards Anti-racism emerged at the cusp of Covid. We came together as a group of individuals selected by the Chancellor of the university. We have constantly credited him with the wisdom of his selection of this group and have also acknowledged that no one could have foreseen the manner in which we would complement each other. Our concerted efforts intertwined together as professional and scholars, and most importantly as human beings growing together in struggle during a time of crisis. Anna Shavers fortified this journey and was critical to the shaping of this community.

We have never met face to face as a team. And yet, in some miraculous and beautiful way, we found uncompromising support in those tiny windows. Anna Shavers was the truth speaker, exemplified a remarkable capacity to listen, process and then present the fundamental and core heart of all our talking and discussing. We were enveloped with her the genuine care of her compassion and her sincerity coupled with her profound brilliance, experience and humor that allowed us to find collective strength and focus even when faced with truly difficult challenges.

Above everything, Anna Shavers was a teacher, and the kind of teacher who believed in the value of what she was teaching to the shaping of minds to act rightly and sensibly in the wider world. She spoke with deep affection about her past students, and with the authority of someone who considered that the training she gave was training that was to be made manifest in the practice that followed in her students. Once, she observed with affection and wry humor, “He knows better, I trained him,” when one of her famous past students seemed to be acting in a way that was inconsistent with the intellectual ethics and rigor that she considered central to his training.

Anna Shavers embraced her eldership. She was explicit about using her rank, her experience, and the respect she had earned through her years of leadership and service, to protect the vulnerable, to change power and demand that power act in the right way. She understood so well the hierarchies of university communities that could either function in supportive and generative ways through the exercise of compassionate democracy and willful and consistent mentorship built on an inclusive vision for the future or could be oppressive, punitive, and built upon privilege and the policy of blocking. She always chose the former.

We will miss her. When one of ours says, “she’s our ancestor now”, she means many things built around the ways in which many of our cultures value eldership and the role of the ancestors. But we can all understand one key element of ancestorship—it defies Mark Antony’s pessimism in his speech over Caesar—“the good [that men do] is oft interred in with their bones.” We believe otherwise. The good that Anna Shavers has done lives on after her through our commitment to the causes that were important to her, the scrupulous study and exercising of the law, the values that she cherished, her humor and tenderness, her toughness and intellect, and her own valuing of her ancestors.

A few weeks ago, Anna Shavers confided in us her plans to retire. She was characteristically unwilling to make a fuss about her struggles. But she did speak of how much our little band of people meant to her, and she did express a hope that she could have a part in ensuring that the vision that came out of our coming together would become manifest in a tangible and lasting institutional symbol and marker, the consortium. I am confident that various arms of this institution that she touched will find ways to honor her. We are committed to letting our efforts to form this consortium carry own fiercely and intensely to honor her.

Anna Shavers remains our compass. She deposited in us both the outrage against racism, discrimination and injustice, and a commitment to do all she can to fight these forces. She is our friend, our sister, our anchor. Anna Shavers is now our ancestor.

UNL Journey Co-Leaders

Lory J. Dance
Associate Professor
Sociology and Ethnic Studies

Kwame Dawes
Chancellor’s Professor of English
Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner

Kara Mitchell Viesca
Associate Professor
Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education

Sergio C. Wals
Associate Professor
Political Science and Ethnic Studies

Colette Yellow Robe
Member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe
Academic Retention Specialist for TRIO Programs

Marco Barker
Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion

Land Ho

I cannot speak the languages
spoken in that vessel,
cannot read the beads
promising salvation.

I know this only,
that when the green of land
appeared like light
after the horror of this crossing,
we straightened our backs
and faced the simplicity
of new days with flame.

I know I have the blood of survivors
coursing through my veins;
I know the lament of our loss
must warm us again and again
down in the belly of the whale,

here in the belly of the whale
where we are still searching for homes.
We sing laments so old, so true,
then straighten our backs again.

Kwame Dawes

Some Personal Reflections

Words cannot express the level of respect and admiration I had for Anna Shavers. I remember our first meeting, which took place in her office. We instantly connected and discovered that while we had never met before, we had a familiarity—she soon let me know she too was from Arkansas. Although from different eras, we shared a love of the South and recognized our knowledge and understanding of the South’s history also compelled us to be champions of equity, inclusion, and doing what was right for all people. We understood our roles as diversity officers as difficult and exhausting work but important, critical work. I admired her tenacity to find a path ahead despite the roadblocks; to find the right words when people may not want to listen; and to find the silver lining when the future seemed bleak. She had an uncanny ability to offer insight and wisdom that was perfectly and graciously analytical, practical, and sensible. She also married these approaches with humor. Maybe her style was a reflection of being an attorney and professor, but I think it was core to Anna—caring, smart, genuine, funny, and intuitive. I will never forget the words she uttered to me before I left that first meeting, “I’m here to support you.” Unwavering and without complaint, she kept her promise to this point in her life, always being available and through her work as a Co-Leader. I know she will always be supporting me and all of us engaged in the work of justice and equity. Marco Barker

I say this as best I can. It was always Anna Shavers that I wanted to hear me when I was wading into difficult and emotionally draining spaces. Anna Shavers was my “bcc.” She did not have to say anything. Having her overhearing and knowing that she was there hearing was a decided protection, an anchor, and a source of strength. Kwame Dawes

As I reflect on Professor Anna Shavers, I return to a word over and over: golden. Her unwavering leadership provided each of us with inspiration and countless experiences to witness what determination looked like in action. She cast a powerful gaze that was gilded with strength to lead us on this journey. Her stately philosophy and wisdom offered such a light to us when the journey became full of those ole knowns and the unknowns. Her words of truth guided us from a place of incredible compassion and courage. The depths of her golden soul and strong heart will continue to lead us. Nea’ese (thank you) for walking with me, Professor Anna. Colette Yellow Robe

Anna was beyond brilliant, kind, generous, and was always eager to offer genuine and unwavering support to the people who were blessed enough to have her in our lives. Throughout these two years, I got to experience her guidance and support firsthand (even if never in person) plenty of times. Out of those many moments, there was a reflection Anna shared with me in front of the rest of the co-leaders that came back to strike me with the force of lightning when I learned the news of Anna’s passing. Anna often said to me that family was more important than any work we were doing. A value that I deeply share. But one day hearing me worried about not being able to keep up the pace of our work due to family reasons, Anna said, just remember that when people approach the end of their lives, they do not say they regret not having worked hard enough… They regret not having spent enough time with the people they love. Dear sister, I will do my best to honor you by giving my all to my family every single day, but I can already tell you that I wish I had spent more time with you as well. Sergio Wals

Anna’s passing has caused such incredible grief, words feel insufficient to describe, celebrate and honor her impact on me and the world. So, I’ll use the words of another great woman, Toni Morrison, from her 1979 commencement speech at Barnard College when she said, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.” Our beloved colleague, sister, and friend, Anna Shavers, embodied this in every way possible. I’m struggling to imagine our work without her, but I have the deepest resolve to honor all she taught me and who she was by continuing to strive for collective freedom. Kara Viesca

What many university faculty from dominant or well-represented backgrounds can take for granted is an abundance of Full ProfessorS (plural!) available to them for constructive critique, compliment, crucial support, inspiration. As a Black American faculty member, I lack what many of my White colleagues can take for granted. At UNL, I have few Black Full Professor role-models. I have had the honor of interacting with only one (of two) Black female, Full Professors as ally, mentor, coach, sister-colleague: I had Dr. Anna Shavers (singular!). She has been the only one yet the quality of her impact is immeasurable! I feel blessed beyond what words can express! Dr. Anna Shavers was my priceless, wise, colleague and elder. There should not be only two Black, Female Full Professors! And I wish I had not had access to only one. But since there has been only one Anna Shavers, I borrow and rewrite the words of “Who Wants to Live Forever” by the British rock band, Queen:

You made time for us
You made space for us
You have not allowed our empowering dreams to slip away from us
Your legacy will live forever!
Your legacy will live forever!
Oh ooo oh
There's a chance for us
You've paved the future for us
You had numerous majestic moments set aside just for us
Your legacy will live forever!
Your legacy will live forever!
Your love will last forever!
Oh oo woh, Your love will not die!

Dearest Anna, I and so many others are honored to pay forward, your crucial support, inspiring dreams, and everlasting legacies of love! Thanks to you, "Yes! We can have forever!" Lory Dance

Professor Anna Shavers

Anna served as the Cline Williams Professor of Citizenship Law and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion in the University of Nebraska College of Law. She joined the College of Law faculty in 1989 and held several titles over her career in the College, which included an endowed chair and interim and acting dean in 2008 and 2019, respectively. Her scholarship reflected her commitment to justice, having covered immigration law, force migration and human trafficking, international gender issues, and the interstices of gender, race, and class. Prior to joining Nebraska Law, she established the University of Minnesota Law School’s first immigration law clinic, where she also earned JD with a cum laude distinction. She was admitted to the Minnesota Bar and the Nebraska Bar.

While at UNL, Professor Shavers was a fully engaged and fierce leader of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As associate dean and the College’s diversity officer, she led the College’s inclusive excellence and diversity strategy, served on the University’s Council on Inclusive Excellence and Diversity, and successfully earned the College the University of Nebraska System 2020 President’s Inclusive Excellence Collaboration Award for the College’s Rural Law Opportunities Program and Underserved Law Opportunities Program, which is a partnership with the University of Nebraska Kearney and Omaha campuses. In addition to serving as a Co-Leader, Anna’s other service to the University included serving as co-chair of the N150 Commission Diversity & Inclusion Subcommittee and many other workgroups. In 2020, Anna was a recipient of the Chancellor's MLK Fulfilling the Dream Award for her actions toward addressing unjust and racist practices, polices, and behaviors. No number of awards or recognition could fully reflect the impact of her teaching, research, and service.

Service Details

Tuesday, Jan. 25: Visitation: Roper & Sons (4300 O Street), 5-7 PM
Thursday, Jan. 27: Memorial Service: College of Law, 5 PM