Converse College announces that alumna Phyllis Perrin Harris ’82 has taken the helm as chair of the Board of Trustees, marking an historic milestone for the College as she becomes the first African American to hold this leadership position.
Recognized as a transformational leader in the corporate and federal sectors, Harris is Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Legal Operations for Walmart Stores, Inc. In this role, she leads legal operations and focuses on technology advances for the world’s largest company.
“Serving Converse is one of the most meaningful and important roles in my life because I believe so strongly in the educational experience it provides young women,” Harris said. “Converse opened my mind to new ways of thinking about myself and my world, and it helped me become confident and resilient. Much of who I am today stems from that experience.”
Both a trailblazer and a leader, Harris is paving the way for fellow women through the launch of the Walmart Ready conference, which secures work for female and other diverse attorneys and prepares them for the demands of Walmart legal work. Earlier in her career, Harris was the first African American to serve as Regional Counsel and Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency where she advocated for justice, directed the nation’s environmental enforcement programs, and received the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Service.
“We know that diverse organizations are stronger, make better decisions, and are more successful because their Boards consider different perspectives and their decisions resonate with the variety of experiences, cultures, talents and contributions that comprise our global society,” said Converse President Krista L. Newkirk. “We believe that ensuring diversity on our Board of Trustees is an important step in building a stronger community both within and beyond Converse College.”
This year, Converse celebrates the 50th anniversary of the enrollment of its first Black students with a year-long series of events, Celebrating Courage & Charting the Future: Commemorating 50 Years of Black Women at Converse. Harris will speak at the Opening Convocation service on Friday, Sept. 21, which is the centerpiece of the anniversary celebration.
“When my journey towards chairing the Converse Board of Trustees began two years ago, the 50th anniversary celebrating Converse’s first Black students was not yet on the horizon. It is very special that my first year leading our Board coincides with this milestone,” she said.
In addition to her service at Converse, Harris currently serves on the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Board of Directors, the Environmental Law Institute Board of Directors, Theater Squared Board of Directors, the Council on Legal Education Opportunity Advisory Board, and the Wake Forest Graduate School of Sustainability Advisory Board. She was featured as a “Woman Worth Watching” in the 2016 Profiles in Diversity Journal, which highlights women who are visionaries, innovators and leaders in their fields; and was also recently featured by Corporate Counsel magazine. Harris has been named as one of the 50 Most Influential Black Lawyers and among the 25 Most Innovative In-House Legal Teams.