Profile with Cristina Rodriguez

Cristina Rodriguez

Cristina Rodriguez (Texas & St John’s 1995) is currently a professor at the Yale Law School. Earlier this year, she became the school’s first Hispanic tenured law professor. From 2011-2013 she served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice, and before that she was on the faculty at the NYU School of Law. She also has clerked for both Judge David S. Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court. Professor Rodriguez holds a JD from Yale Law School, an MLitt in Modern History from the University of Oxford, and a BA in History from Yale University.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?  

Cristina Rodriguez: That’s a good question. I grew up in San Antonio, but I would say the east coast of the United States has become home. New York City is probably the place where I feel most at home. I lived there the longest during the last twenty years on the east coast, but I obviously don’t live there now, so I can’t really say New York City. So, somewhere between Boston and Washington D.C.

Rhodes Project: What was the first job you ever held?

Cristina Rodriguez: I taught at a high school debate camp the summer after my senior year of high school. I was a high-school debater, and before college, I wanted to do something to make money. Two different opportunities came up to teach at camps where I had been a student, so that’s how I spent my summer.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

Cristina Rodriguez: This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz’s new novel. I finished it on a recent vacation. He is one of my favorite writers. It was a total page-turner. I couldn’t stop.

Rhodes Project: When you were a child, what did you aspire to be later in life?

Cristina Rodriguez: Up until I was a teenager, I wanted to be a doctor. All of the role-models in my family were doctors—my father, three of my grandparents—and I always thought I would do some sort of medical research or practice medicine. But that changed once I got to high school.

Rhodes Project: Was there anything in particular that steered you away from medicine or was it something that steered you toward law?

Cristina Rodriguez: I think I was pulled in the direction of current affairs by doing high school debate. I became really interested in government and politics, which had not been on my radar before I started debating, because no one I knew was involved in any of those worlds. They suddenly became exciting, and I think I gravitated in the direction of the humanities and social sciences as a result, and it all went from there.

Rhodes Project: Great. What is the best part of your job now?

Cristina Rodriguez: The best part of my job now is the autonomy. I love being an academic and being able to identify what I want to think about and write about, and who I want to work with, and having the freedom to structure my life in a way that suits me. Obviously, when you’re teaching, the teaching obligations themselves are very concrete and set in stone. But there’s so much intellectual and personal autonomy surrounding the job.

Rhodes Project: What would you say is the most challenging part then?

Cristina Rodriguez: I think the hardest part is stepping away from the work.  I just came back from two years in the government and there, even though it was a very demanding job and I was working all the time, I felt it was possible to take time away when on vacation. But at least for me, and I know this is true for other academics, when I am involved in an academic project, it feels like I could always be reading or always rethinking my agenda. And actually, there’s something really refreshing about completely stepping away, so having the discipline to do that is definitely the hardest part.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman in your field?

Cristina Rodriguez: I think I would advise someone who wanted to be either a lawyer in government or an academic to seize opportunities and speak up. One of the things I find as a teacher is that it is harder to get women to speak up in class than men. I’m sure people hear this from lots of different sources—it is important not just to speak up in class, but to speak up in meetings, and volunteer yourself for opportunities, and make sure that if there is something you want, that you go after it. I think it’s really important. I think women are less likely to do this than men, as a group.

Rhodes Project: If you could meet one famous woman today, who would it be and why?

Cristina Rodriguez: I would love to meet Hillary Clinton. I think she is an unbelievably inspiring and impressive woman. And when I’ve seen her giving speeches, she has seemed like a very warm person as well. I’d love to meet her.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Cristina Rodriguez: I really like the theater and dance, to consume the performing arts. I really love to travel, too, which is something I started doing at Oxford. I got hooked on the ability to just take off and go somewhere new. I find that relaxing. I think it’s a good way to really get outside of yourself as well. Also, I love to read. That may sound hokey, but I think a lot of people in positions like mine are here because we like to read. It’s why I’m an academic—I like to read.

Rhodes Project: What inspires you and why?

Cristina Rodriguez: I think people doing things that are meaningful to them and going after what they want I find inspirational. I think people able to balance a wide array of professional and personal obligations are inspiring. And art inspires me, which is why I like the performing arts in particular. Watching people do things that I could never do, that I don’t have the talent to do, is inspiring.

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