March 8, 2019

Q&A with Dr. Constance Rice for International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, we reached out to one of our countless inspiring female alums who has made notable contributions to our academic community and has driven meaningful change in the public sector.

Dr. Constance Rice is an example of the power of women’s involvement, contributions and accomplishments in the public sector. Read on for our interview with Dr. Rice about the women who inspire her and what drives her to pursue a more just and equitable society.

Dr. Constance Rice holds a graduate degree from the University of Washington, Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, and a doctor of philosophy from the University of Washington, College of Education. She is the Chair of the UW Board of Regents, President of the Very Strategic Group, and a longtime advocate for social justice both in Seattle and internationally.

What inspired you to pursue your career in the public sector?

I grew up during the Civil Rights movement- that’s been the greatest influence for me. I am working for social justice in society and focused on the Black experience in America. I wanted to be in an environment that can change the structures of our society.

What skills have helped you be a more effective leader and advocate for others? How did you develop those skills?

Early on, I developed strong public speaking skills and small group communication skills by being on public sector boards and for-profit boards. In those spaces, if you want to make change, you have to work behind the scenes and understand the value of relationships. Relationships will help you leverage the outcome you want through the allies you have in the larger room.

I have also been fortunate to have a network of good friends that are kindred spirits. They support me, and I support them. My best friend is my husband, Norman, but I also have an interesting group of individuals that I call the African American Young Women’s Brain Trust. They are a group of women that I have mentored over the years, and now they mentor me. That has been a really powerful, important thing for me.

What other women inspire you, and why?

Well, first off, my mother and my maternal grandmother. They were foundational in terms of reinforcing my spunkiness! With them, there was always someone who loved me no matter what.

Another person who really inspired me as I was growing up in Brooklyn NY, was a woman with the same first name as me: Constance Baker Motley, an African-American civil rights activist, lawyer, judge, state senator, and Borough President of Manhattan.  She was one of the only black women I saw consistently in the newspaper. I finally had a chance to meet her when I was 61 years old, and that was really special.

Recently, I met Graça Machel, who has been a huge advocate for girls in Africa. She encouraged me to not only help youth here in the US, but young people abroad as well. After talking to her, I set to work on building two educational centers for girls in Swaziland.

There are really so many women who inspire me: Non-profit leaders, Seattle Public School teachers; the people who do the behind the scenes work, who do the research, monitor the grants, things like that. I benefit from their hard work.

What advice would you give women in public policy and leadership today?

Go beyond yourself always. We tend to limit ourselves, or think we have to be super over-prepared for every situation. We let that voice in our heads say, “Give it another year or two.” I believe in jumping in. Go for it- politics, CEO positions, whatever it is! Think of yourself there in the room and push yourself.

What are you going to take on next?

Even though I’m semi-retired, I am working on something! I noticed a huge number of black and brown boys being suspended in comparison to their peers; even as young as in pre-school. Right now, I’m in Mississippi working with leadership in the South to address this issue, and over the next decade we hope to turn things around. Here in Seattle I’m doing similar work with Alliance for Education, and the Seattle Public Schools Whole Child Whole Day Initiative to reduce school suspensions and increase graduation rates. Superintendent Juneau and Mayor Durkan are providing wonderful leadership in these efforts for better achievement.


Thank you, Dr. Rice, for sharing your invaluable guidance and tremendous insight with us! You are truly an example of the kind of integrity, passion, and community-mindedness that we hope all of our Evans School graduates will take out into the world.