Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson General Counsel Carolina Avellaneda reflects on new position as a culmination of a lifetime of work

Naia Driscoll
Attorney Carolina Avellaneda is appointed in February 2024 as Emerson’s vice president and general counsel. (Naia Driscoll/Beacon Correspondent)

Attorney Carolina Avellaneda was appointed Emerson’s vice president and general counsel late last month and began serving her position on March 1.

Of her first two weeks, Avellaneda said the thing that stood out the most was how “rejuvenating … [it is] to be around all the college students again,” praising the closeness and vibrancy of Emerson’s campus. Avellaneda said students can likely find her in the Dining Hall most days and shouldn’t be afraid to come say hello.

In an interview with the Beacon, Carolina outlined her previous career and aspirations for her work at Emerson, revealing her landing on Boylston to be the fulfillment of a longtime career goal and the culmination of a lifetime of legal advocacy.

Avellaneda said the seeds of her future career were planted when she emigrated from Argentina at age 10 in 1979.

“[We left a] very dire political situation in Argentina, so we came here with no money, and we didn’t really know anyone,” Avellaneda said. “I became a de facto advocate for my family because when you’re traumatized and you enter a new country that you don’t know the language, whoever speaks English first kind of gets that role, and so I spoke English first.”

This advocacy role is something Avellaneda said has followed her ever since.

“I was always in that advocate role, and my parents always said I was going to be a lawyer…,” Avellaneda said. “I was very focused on getting educated because my parents thought it was really important.”

Avellaneda said she initially went to law school to become a criminal defense lawyer but found her way to litigation and business law during that process. Avellaneda then worked for the private law firm Gatsby Hannah, which later became McCarter & English in Boston for the next 16 years. In the latter portion of her career, she shifted to working in higher education, first as vice president and general counsel of Fisher College, then to a similar role as chief strategy officer and strategic counsel at the University of Massachusetts before coming to Emerson.

“Eventually [I] just realized that I wanted to be able to remain in control of the work that I did so that it could be always mission-focused,” she said.

Avellaneda has represented or been involved with various nonprofit organizations, most notably MassHousing, an independent quasi-public agency that provides financing for affordable housing in Massachusetts, where she serves as an independent director.

She explained that meaningfulness from a social justice and advocacy perspective has always been important to her, and in picking her next higher-ed destination, she wanted a school that “understood who they were and what their niche was.”

“At some point, I (decided) I want to move to a place where … I’m going to be able to do all of my work for an institution that has a mission that I really believe in,” Avellaneda said.

Emerson was that place for Avellaneda, and she said working for the college had been a goal she had had ever since she became aware of Emerson during her days at Fisher, which is located close by in Beacon Hill.

“For me, Emerson was just always like, kind of [a] dream. [I would think] wouldn’t it be great if that general counsel position opened up?” Avellaneda said.

Avellaneda said her role at Emerson will mostly be legal advisory. Her VP role is a nod to senior status and allows her to be part of the President’s Council, Emerson’s executive-level leadership, but her main focus will be on serving as legal counsel.

“I think people underestimate how heavily regulated higher education is because of the amount you participate in obtaining federal funds,” Avellaneda said. 

This includes Title IV funding and financial aid allocations, which Avellaneda said come with a whole “myriad of federal regulations that are constantly changing,” which legal counsel ensures the college complies with.

“I do think that lawyers in general tend to be chosen because of their ethics and maybe their view of the world aligns with the leadership,” Avellaneda went on to explain. “I probably wouldn’t be here if I was a different person [and] social justice wasn’t as important as it is to me and a bunch of other things.”

She also said that this worked conversely. 

“The mission and the core of who Emerson is is very much part of the reason I’m here,” Avellaneda said.

When asked if she thought her work at Emerson could be seen as mission work in itself, similar to her other nonprofit efforts, Avellaneda replied, “Every piece on some level is a system mission [in support of Emerson’s larger goals], right? But some of them, you have to think a little bit longer to remind yourself, oh yeah, this is going to be really important.” 

In terms of the role Avellaneda will play in shaping and reinforcing Emerson’s mission, President Jay Bernhardt praised the general counsel in an interview with the Beacon last week, saying she “has [already] been involved in lots of really important discussions about our strategy.” 

“I am thrilled to be included in conversations, but every conversation I’ve been in has been at the very initial stages,” Avellaneda said in response to Bernhardt’s comments. “I love the transparency that I see him bring into the table … It’s really exciting to have been able to join this institution at a time when you’re about to inaugurate a new president; that pomp and circumstance doesn’t happen every day.”

Avellaneda ended the interview on a note of confidence and optimism for her future at Emerson.

“Whenever you start to immerse yourself in an institution that has been around as long as Emerson has, it’s a little bit like drinking from the fire hydrant to kind of absorb everything,” she said.“I’m a good fire hydrant drinker.”

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About the Contributor
Bryan Hecht, Assistant News Editor
Bryan Hecht (he/him) is a freshman journalism major from Havertown, Pennsylvania. He currently serves as an assistant editor of The Berkeley Beacon News section. Bryan also contributes to WEBN Political Pulse and hopes one day to work in broadcast news media. As a member of the Emerson Cross Country team, Bryan can likely be found on a run around the Boston area when he's not writing for the Beacon.

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