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Tori Fisher / Gavel Media

Tina Tchen Discusses Ethical Leadership and Gender Equity

On Saturday, Feb 27., the Boston College Graduate Student Association hosted “An Evening with Tina Tchen" in the Heights Room. Tchen is an Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Michelle Obama, additionally serving as the Executive Director for the Council on Women and Girls and the past Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

An Ohio native, Tchen lived in Chicago for 30 years before President Barack Obama tapped her to direct the White House Office of Public Engagement. Tchen was a partner in corporate litigation in the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, representing public agencies in state and federal class actions, including the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois Department of Public Aid, and the Chicago Housing Authority. The multitasker also had the opportunity to serve on the boards of organizations including the University of Chicago Medical Center and Chicago Public Library, and completed pro bono legal work whilst fulfilling other professional obligations.

She was a Barack Obama supporter and fundraiser dating to the 2004 Senate race that catapulted him to the national stage.

Tchen, in addressing the audience, called it "serendipitous" that years ago she ran into a "tall guy, with big ears and a funny sounding name … long before others knew who he was.”

Tchen’s professional obligations have required her to serve as the "front door of the White House." A highlight, she said, was assembling supporters Dec. 22 when Obama signed the measure to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

"It was special," she said, citing a crusade with men and women who had been discharged from the military for their sexual orientation.

Appointed in 2011 as Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Tchen cited a "biological-clock thing" in opening her lecture to the audience by explaining why her habit of sleeping from 2 a.m. to 6 enables her to operate efficaciously. "I have the good fortune to not need a lot of sleep," she said. "That's been a great gift.”

As the Chief of Staff, Tchen has helped advance the first lady's signature causes — fighting childhood obesity, supporting military families and showcasing the arts — whilst assisting her in high-profile social events.
One of the focal objective’s of Tchen’s tenure has been to champion women’s rights and the necessity for equal educational opportunities for women.

“Giving women education and the ability to control their own income, inherit and own property, benefits the society. If a woman is empowered, her children and her family will be better off — this concept is critical to the development of any successful nation,” said Tchen. “Our enemies abroad realize the tremendous value inherent in giving a proper education to women, and in making it so that the women in their countries are not literate and educated, they cripple their country’s potential for growth.”

In addressing the Boston College community, Tchen also hoped to impart a key message to students about the prevention of sexual assault on college campuses.

"Universities need to stress to their students, particularly women, that they care more about students than they care about their reputation, their publicity and potential lawsuits from perpetrators,” asserted Tchen. “Too many institutions are looking to protect their institutional brand by saying … 'Rape doesn't happen here – or, if it does, it happens infrequently.’ As members of the future of the nation, the onus is on all of you to strengthen support for victims of sexual assault on campus, regardless of race or gender; to work together and unite to cause change.”

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