UNT Dallas College of Law professor honored for her leadership in criminal justice, civil rights and legal education

Monday, February 26, 2024

UNT Dallas College of Law professor Cheryl Brown Wattley has been honored by her alma mater, Smith College, for her many significant, impactful and life-changing accomplishments in the five decades since she graduated in 1975.


PProf. Cheryl Wattley, UNT Dallas College of Law

Prof. Cheryl Wattley, UNT Dallas College of Law 

Professor Wattley is a founding member of the UNT Dallas College of Law. She teaches criminal law, serves as Director of Experiential Education and leads the Joyce Ann Brown Innocence Clinic.

In a special Rally Day ceremony on the campus last week, Wattley received a Smith College Medal, one of four alumnae recognized during the annual event. Smith College president Sarah Willie LeBreton said Wattley has "forged an extraordinary legacy... to vindicate and liberate those who have been abused by the criminal justice system."


Professor Cheryl Wattley (second from right) joined by her fellow Smith College Medal honorees

Professor Cheryl Wattley (second from right) joined by her fellow Smith College Medal honorees Brenda Ekwurel (left) Sarah Belal (second from left), Tomi-Ann Roberts (far right) and Smith College president Sarah Willie-LeBreton

LeBreton praised Wattley for securing the exoneration of those who have been wrongly convicted and facing life in prison or the death penalty. She said Wattley is now inspiring a new generation of legal scholars.

VIDEO: Watch Smith College Medal Ceremony and Professor Wattley's Acceptance Remarks at 41:40

In accepting the award, Wattley shared her surprise upon learning about it during a phone call that left her speechless. She said the unexpected announcement "achieved the impossible" by leaving her "at a loss for words..." Wattley then shifted from humor to music, recalling a song that was popular when she was a freshman. It was a Jackson 5 hit, before Michael went solo, called "ABC."

"That song started playing in my head," Wattley told the audience. "What a flashback." It served as the inspiration for her message to current Smith students. In today's world, Wattley said the A, B and C should stand for Appetite, Bold and Compassion.

Professor Wattley watches as UNT Dallas College of Law graduates

Professor Wattley watches as UNT Dallas College of Law graduates are sworn in during a courtroom ceremony.

Referring to Appetite, Wattley said, "You have to want 'it'. Your goals must speak to you. The passion of your dreams will carry through you." For Bold, Wattley advised, "Be confident, take risks, be courageous. Stand up for what is right, seek justice, build a world that values every person's life." And, finally, explaining Compassion, she said it is important for yourself as well as others. "Treat yourself with patience and understanding that you would show a dear friend. Cut through the noise of today -  the vitriol, the anger - focus on our shared humanity."

Wattley ended by saying, "So it's as simple as ABC...Let your appetite for your dreams empower you to act boldly and your compassion compel you to make a difference to make this world a proverbial better place." She received loud, appreciative applause from students who seemed to embrace her ideas.


Professor Cheryl Wattley with Richard Miles

Professor Cheryl Wattley with Richard Miles, a Dallas man whose exoneration she fought for. Courtesy NBC5/KXAS-TV


In an interview with Smith College, when asked about her proudest accomplishment, Wattley said, "I am most proud of my children. It is amazing to see the growth, development, and evolution of children into their own identities and personalities. Professionally, I have been very blessed to have worked for the freedom of four individuals who were wrongfully incarcerated. But it is my role as a founding faculty member of UNT Dallas College of Law, a public law school committed to expanding the opportunity to study law to traditionally underrepresented populations and provide services to under-resourced communities, that has been most rewarding. In August, we will celebrate our 10th anniversary, graduating hundreds of students who would not have otherwise had the opportunity to realize their dream of becoming a lawyer.”

Celebrating the UNT Dallas College of Law's 10th anniversary has become the latest passion project for Wattley. In addition to her many other activities and responsibilities, she is overseeing the publication of a book marking the milestone. It will be just one of many Wattley has experienced in her exceptional career.

From UNT Dallas News