Meijer Lecture Series: Varnum partner discusses importance of inclusion, belonging

January 10, 2023 (Volume 46, Number 9)
Article by Brian Vernellis

Luis Avila at podium gesturing with both hands

Luis Avila, partner at Varnum, gives a presentation at the Meijer Lecture Series in December.

Through his personal life and as chair of the DEI Committee for the Varnum law firm, Luis Avila has seen the importance of creating welcoming spaces centered around diversity, equity and inclusion.

Avila, partner at Varnum, spoke with students in December as part of the Meijer Lecture Series, sharing his reflections on working for the United Nations. 

Born in Mexico City, Avila and his family moved frequently between the United States and Mexico. With each relocation, he experienced big culture shifts and saw himself as an outsider at school and in the community.

Studying law at the University of Michigan, Avila said he wanted to pursue a career as an international human rights lawyer to address the type of discrimination and negativity he experienced as a youth. Upon his graduation, Avila joined the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. 

For the first time in his life, he said he felt connected to a place that teemed with international culture.

“I was used to dealing with a culture shock from moving around while my peers in Geneva were struggling with it because they may have never left the country,” Avila said.

Avila returned to West Michigan to be closer to family and settled into his role with Varnum. Since then, he’s been active in the Grand Rapids community and has served on several boards. The Grand Rapids Business Journal recognized his service by naming him to its 40 Under-40 list five times. 

“I’m really charged with leading the efforts on DEI within our firm,” he said. “DEI is something that I deal with on a daily basis and through some of the organizations that I’m in.”

Avila challenged the group of students to recognize how biases can be limiting.

“What can prevent us from achieving an inclusive environment? Our biases,” he said. “I’d like to think that most of us check our conscious biases, but we also have unconscious biases. 

“What are unconscious biases? Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that we form outside our consciousness. We do have to check these biases and practice self-awareness.”

 

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This article was last edited on January 10, 2023 at 9:19 a.m.

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