Welcome to The BC Law Magazine Candid Q&A, a growing collection of conversations with members of the BC Law community—students, faculty, alumni, and close friends—on lives lived, careers made, missions accomplished, causes championed, and the general hubbub of being in the 21st century.
AISHA JORGE MASSENGILL ’95 IS VICE PRESIDENT AND MANAGING COUNSEL FOR EMPLOYMENT AND TEAMMATE RELATIONS AT THE SPORTS EQUIPMENT AND APPAREL COMPANY UNDER ARMOUR.
Q: Where and how did you grow up?
A: I grew up in the Bronx, New York, in the ’70s and ’80s, so I’ve had a lot of struggle in my life, to be frank, and that’s something that I never lose sight of. I always feel like I’m grounded as the little girl who grew up at 1665 Andrews Avenue in the Bronx, and I use that as fuel in all the places and spaces that I go through in my workplace.
My dad was a corrections officer at a variety of correctional facilities throughout New York state, most famously Sing Sing in Ossining. It was really neat because he would come home with a lot of different kinds of stories. We never visited at his workplace, but I have this very strong memory of a picture of him in one of the towers. He’s like holding up a shotgun, guarding the guard tower. My mom just stayed home with us.
When my parents split up, I lived with my mother for a time. She was what people call a welfare mother; we had to live in various welfare hotels around the city. Not having a permanent place to lay our heads, meant I had to go to the WIC [food stamp] people in order to get milk and cheese and cereal. I didn’t want to have a life that consisted of that. I did have little opportunities early on to see outside of my neighborhood and that gave me a sense there was something else out there. It just took some time for me to figure out how I could access those things.
After a while, I went to live with my dad full time. Before it was really popular, my dad went to court and got custody of my brother, sister, and me—we were his biological children—so that he could raise us. With him being in law enforcement and given my penchant for always having something to say, the [eventual] idea of me going to law school was no surprise to him at all, and it’s something that made him very proud.
Q: Was a lawyer what you wanted to be from the very beginning?
A: Honestly, the first thing I wanted to be was the starting center fielder for the New York Yankees. That was not available to me at that time, so as I grew up it really morphed into a lot of different things. Being someone whose family had a lot of interactions with the legal process, I had a great sense of frustration about not understanding how the system worked. I think that there are a lot of different ways to get at some of the ills in society. Some people work within the system to make change; some people work from outside of the system to make change. I wanted to learn how the system worked to see if I could make change.
Q: But back up. Why such a passion for sports?
A: Because I am a New Yorker and it’s our birthright. So I grew up three train stops from Yankee stadium, and it really just formed the basis of my love for sports. If you know anything about being a New Yorker, it’s a love of the Yankees, and also if you travel through the city, it’s about pickup basketball. Those are two things that I spent my entire youth doing.
My brother and I—I’m the eldest of five children—are very close because he and I are only one year apart. We spent our youth squeegeeing windows and washing car windows so that we could make money to go to the swimming pool and Yankees games. So I grew up getting a chance to watch wonderful players like Willie Randolph and Reggie Jackson. I was either going to Yankee stadium in summer, playing basketball, or going to the swimming pool. We had a love for all things sport growing up in New York.
Q: What happened next?
A: I had the wonderful opportunity to attend Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. And that was a game-changer for me for a variety of reasons. It was a big adjustment coming from the inner city and being around people who maybe came from great wealth and had opportunities that never would have been presented to me because of who I was and how I grew up.
Being able to marry those different worlds and be successful is something that I’m very proud of. My varied background has really served me well. One of my favorite quotes, by Rudyard Kipling, is about walking with kings but keeping your common touch. And so, because of who I am and where I’m from, in my work today at Under Armour, I’m able to speak to a secretary or administrative assistant and also engage with the CEO of my company. I feel equally comfortable doing both.
Q: How would you describe your job?
A: I help people do the right things at the right time. Both from an employment law perspective and a human resources perspective, I give a lot of advice and counsel about policies and procedures and just try to make sure that we are doing our best by our people in the workplace every day.
Q: What do you like most about your work?
A: Impacting people’s lives is something that just speaks to me. I often joke that I’ve worked in environments where people have dealt with millions upon millions of dollars. In my lifetime, I may or may never see millions and millions of dollars, but I can really identify with someone’s claim that they’ve not been treated fairly in the workplace or that they didn’t get the opportunity to advance by way of a promotional opportunity. Dealing with people and making sure that they can be their best, complete, full selves when they come to work is something that really resonates for me and I’m passionate about.
Q: You majored in English as an undergraduate at Boston College and initially thought about being a teacher. How did you end up at BC Law?
When I was applying to law school, I heard about other schools where students cut cases out of the textbooks or out of the codes so you couldn’t see the information if you went to the library. It was that competitive. I remember thinking, I don’t want to find myself in that kind of environment.
The main thing that sticks out to me about my law school experience was this community of people who had a vested interest in seeing you succeed. Whether that was your own classmates and forming your study groups or the professors or, I remember very fondly Dean [Lisa] DiLuna, the dean of students. If you had a personal problem, if you had a financial aid problem, if you had an academic problem, you could go and have a conversation with her and try to figure things out.
And the same thing with the student body. My connection with BLSA [the Black Law Students Association] was just incredible. We were a very close-knit group. I mean, we would even have Christmas and Kwanza celebrations in various people’s apartments and things like that. Law school is difficult enough. To have to constantly look to your left and to your right for people who intend you ill; it just never felt that way. At BC Law School it felt like, we’re all in this together and let’s see how we can get through it.
When you are a person of color attending a predominantly white institution, there comes a time where you need the social and emotional support, because all day long, you’re operating in environments where you’re one of few. And although we actually had a pretty large minority student population at the Law School, you were still some of a few. BLSA was a place where you could really go and kind of let your proverbial hair down and just be with people who you had more commonalities with than differences. And that’s not to say that the folks in BLSA were a monolith. We had folks who were very geographically different, who had different political views, but the one thing that we didn’t have to worry about was always being the minority, so to speak, during the law school experience.
Q: What were some takeaways from your BC Law experience?
A: There are always going to be schools that by virtue of their name give you the ability to open doors. But what you want to really look for is the quality of the education that you’re going to receive. The geography of the law school is certainly important. There are schools that have a more national reach; there are schools that have a more regional reach. I’m a perfect example of BC’s very good reach. I started my legal career in Pittsburgh and I’ve lived in Atlanta. Now I live in the greater Washington, DC-Baltimore area. And so I think the law school education at BC certainly travels with you.
I never have to explain what BC Law is, where it is, or the quality of the education. It really kind of stands for itself and, more often than not, if I say I went to BC Law, it’s kind of like, “Oh”—like people will sit up—”Oh, you went to BC Law.” Like now I’m legit because I went to BC law.
Q: How did BC law prepare you for what came next?
A: The one piece of feedback I consistently hear in my work life is my ability to take really complex issues and distill them into what the key concerns are. That’s something that I learned at BC Law. Through this legal analysis construct called IRAC [Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion], we had to take a big case and try to cut out all the noise to get to heart of the issue. That has served me so well throughout my career in a variety of different places of employment.
Q. How does being a black woman inform your work?
A: Whether it’s women or underrepresented minorities in the workplace, you have to find your voice and the way that you feel most comfortable with expressing yourself and not shying away from it. In corporate America, where I work, there’s a very delicate balance because sometimes as women or underrepresented minorities, we don’t get the same opportunities for not only success, but also for failure. So there’s a big fear of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing and feeling like you don’t get an opportunity to recover from that in the same way that other groups do.
There’s frustration, I think, for women and underrepresented minorities that we don’t have the same rope to be able to succeed or fail that the majority culture has. My encouragement to people is to stand in your truth and not be afraid to express who you are unapologetically. Sometimes that means you’re going to have to take your lumps a little bit, but I think if you stand firm in your truth, you will rise to the top of your vocation and ultimately you’ll win the respect of your colleagues and other people you work with.
When I am talking with my team, I will always challenge them. For example, if something I’m saying doesn’t make sense, please let me know because I, like everyone else, have blind spots, but everything should not be grounded in things that are like me. Part of the challenge that I see in the country and more narrowly in the workplaces, is that we look for what we call confirmation bias. That, “Oh, if this person is like me, then that means that they’re good to go.” So sometimes I will actually tell my colleagues at work that we have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That means confronting uncomfortable topics, uncomfortable people, uncomfortable situations where you’re not always the person who is in the majority, and just finding peace within yourself in that, but also valuing opposing views. That’s really important and that gets lost in this country and sometimes in the workplaces.
Q: What do we need to do to heal as a society?
We need to be able to return to respectful discourse in how we talk about issues, whether it’s in agreement or disagreement. I have three sons and I want them to be in a world that’s better for them than what I had. Every parent has that dream. It sounds like a cliché, but I get concerned that as much as they’ve grown up in a solidly middle-class environment, when they walk out of my door, they’re still confronting some of the same issues that my parents confronted when they were growing up.
It really is a balance—we’ve come far, but we haven’t come far enough. I just wish that it were more of a shared struggle, rather than let me hold on to what I have that you’re trying to take from me. Just make the table bigger so that everybody can have a seat.
Interview conducted by Mark Gargarian.
Photograph by Stephen Voss