This past Saturday, SMU’s Women of Color Research Cluster hosted a symposium focused on the stories of women of color becoming more visible in the #MeToo movement.
Yulise Reaves Waters was the third speaker at this event. Waters is an assistant city attorney with the city of Dallas and a community courts prosecutor. She completed her undergraduate and law education at SMU.
“My journey has been one that was not necessarily predictable,” Waters said. “Many people prior to law school and prior to undergrad were like ‘oh what kind of lawyer are you gonna be,’ and I adamantly said I was not going to practice criminal law. And here I am.”
Waters went from SMU undergrad to SMU law. There she was connected with Gay G Cox, an SMU School of Law alum. She clerked for Cox until graduation, when Cox offered her partnership.
“So I graduated and about 12 days after passing the bar, we started a law firm called Cox Waters PLLC,” Waters said.
After a couple of years, Cox decided to retire, and Waters was reluctant to run the firm on her own. At the time, her husband had recently been appointed to start a church.
“So we had an infant church, and I just had my second child so I had an infant child and an infant law practice,” Waters said laughingly. “So that was a bit of a challenge.”
Despite these challenges, Waters was still in high demand and didn’t spend much time off her feet. She was soon hired at the City Attorney’s Office where she’s worked since 2011.
Waters discussed her experiences as a black woman during her presentation and went into further detail during our interview.
“It really caused me to work harder,” Waters said. “Because for many people when they first encounter you, unfortunately, there is a diminished perspective of who you are and what you bring to the table. I use that to fuel my drive and quest for knowledge and information.”
Waters’ speech also touched on engendering spaces where people could feel comfortable expressing themselves honestly.
“When you recognize that there’s a gap in community, take initiative to foster it, to bring it together,” Waters said. “Because it’s in those communal spaces where we’re able to learn and grow from each other.”
As far as advice for students, “I would just say dream,” Waters said. “Dream big and push forward and know that you can you can make it happen. You absolutely can make it happen.”