Louisville Law welcomes Crystal Rae Coel, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity

Crystal Rae Coel
Crystal Rae Coel

Crystal Rae Coel is the University of Louisville School of Law’s Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity.

Coel, who began her role in May 2020, is the first person to hold this new role at the School of Law. In addition to the traditional duties of an Assistant Dean for Student Affairs — such as academic advising, student events, wellness and counseling — Coel will also work with the School of Law community to develop and implement policies, training and programming to champion an inclusive and diverse law school.

Coel comes to UofL from Murray State University, where she has held a variety of leadership and faculty positions since 1995. Her most recent position there was as Head of Elizabeth College, which is similar to a Dean of Residential Life.

She is a graduate of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, with a B.A. in Mass Media Arts and Journalism. She has an M.A. in Speech Communication from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and a J.D. from Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Below, Coel shares more about her career journey, what brought her to Louisville and her goals for her new role.

What sparked your interest in this job and what was it about the University of Louisville School of Law that attracted you?

After speaking with a law colleague years ago, he said he thought my skills and personality would be assets for a law school. I started thinking about that. 

At my law school in the '80s, many students were either hyper-competitive or extremely nervous. Both led to some unhealthy behaviors and low self-esteem. I always believed that law school did not have be an environment where one felt compelled to conform to the high-pressure status quo to thrive. Therefore, what sparked my interest in this job was a love for humanity. I see this position as an opportunity to help promote an atmosphere of equity and inclusion. Bring me your tired, your poor, your 6-feet apart masses, and I will listen. Everyone is welcome to stop by this office. I can’t create miracles. But I will do what I can to help. Everyone should know they are valued.

This Office of Student Affairs and Diversity will promote healthy competition and a collaborative spirit. When I was in law school, there were some wonderful people and initiatives, but they were often overshadowed by unnecessary arrogance, unhealthy anxiety, or extreme jealousy. I want to help Brandeis to always focus on respect, commonalities and love.

Over the past 25 years as a resident of Kentucky, I have heard wonderful things about the Brandeis School of Law and the University of Louisville. When I saw the position description, I immediately applied. 

I am thankful. "To whom much is given, much is required." It is time to give back to law students. 

Why did you decide to attend law school?

As I grew up, it was obvious that my strengths were in public address, writing and arguing. So, law school was always in the back of my mind as a possible career. I also wanted to be a news anchor. However, in the hallway of my high school, my “friend” was excited that her brother was admitted to Villanova Law School. When I blurted, “Wow! I was thinking of law school too,” she turned her neck, scowled and said, “YOU? Law school?"

Nasty comments were the catalysts for a lot of my accomplishments. I am grateful and humbled.

How have you seen the challenges facing law students change throughout your career? 

I do not think the challenges have changed that much:

  1. Lack of money 
  2. Challenging course material 
  3. Struggles with professor personalities
  4. Exam anxiety
  5. Fear of public humiliation

The motivation to attend law school has not changed that much either. Although each student is different, I still often hear these three reasons for attending: 

  1. I want to help people; or 
  2. I want to argue; or 
  3. I want the money and prestige.

Most of the changes are with technology and family structures, which often mandate employment. During my 1980s orientation, we were told to never work during law school. (I did work at Waffle House the first semester. Ah, that was not a good idea.) Now, many students have to work, and that is challenging for physical and mental wellness. I am proud of students for navigating the difficult work/school/life balance.

What are some of the things you hope to accomplish during your first year at Louisville?

I believe in miracles. I expect miracles. However, I personally can’t create miracles. 

I will share what I know, do what I say I will do and avoid being selfish, passive aggressive, defensive and/or aloof. I will offer my style of leading and my understanding of student affairs and diversity.

To that end, I will acknowledge and support all students, while recognizing that those who feel isolated and/or ignored need a strong guarantee from this office that efforts to minimize those perceptions are already coming to fruition. 

I plan to be a team player and link with several Brandeis and UofL offices to create stronger pipelines to local, regional and national mentors and resources. I will create a student Board of Directors where all organizations have a voice, a “seat at the table,” and a platform for sharing ideas and initiatives that are embraced and supported through this office.

I hope to build upon my reputation for getting the job done and for being action-oriented, accessible and accountable. I try to be reasonable. I hold myself accountable. During this first year, I will listen, learn, and lead with a servant’s heart. Miracles? I expect them; but I do not “do” them. What I will do…is my best. Mediocrity is not an option. 

What is something people might be surprised to know about you?

I have won numerous talent shows for baton twirling (fire, swords, glow, etc.).

I grew up in the '60s and '70s, in a suburban Philadelphia neighborhood where everyone was Caucasian and Jewish. So, I abhor anti-Semitism as much as I abhor any statements of hate towards African-Americans or anyone…period. People have a right to believe and say hateful things. I have a right to abhor those things. I love kosher food and I still know most of the dreidel song that L. Starkman taught me when we were five years old. I sing it to her when we chat.

What is some of the best career advice you have received?

“Yes, it is hard; but don’t quit. You will be a great lawyer.”

“Faith is not fear. Step out on faith.”

“It’s okay to want to be the best; but don’t sell your soul to be what “they” think is successful. No money or pretentious status is worth selling your soul.”

“Just do you.”