‘Focus on bringing people together’ earned Román Hernández an Alumni Legacy Award


Photo courtesy of Román Hernández

Román Hernández, Oregon State University alumni and office managing partner at Troutman Pepper, won a legacy award in January 2021. He has now been appointed to serve on OSU’s Board of Trustees.

Luke Brockman, News Contributor

To overcome demographic barriers and adversities is one thing—it’s another thing to devote your life to advocating for other people’s ability to do the same.

“I’m a lawyer. I get paid to litigate matters for my clients,” said Román Hernández, Oregon State University alumni and office managing partner at Troutman Pepper. “But I do things within the Latino community to support other Latino lawyers, law students—in fact, any attorney or student of color… I’m trying to open the doors for them so they don’t have the same challenges I had when I was first starting law school.”

In January 2021, on Martin Luther King Jr. day, Hernández was awarded the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alumni Legacy Award from the OSU Alumni Association.

Other 2021 legacy awards were the Phyllis S. Lee Award given to Allison Davis-White Eyes and Marilyn Stewart; the Oscar Humberto Montemayor Award given to James Duncan II and Lara Jacobs; and the Frances Dancy Hooks award given to Tenisha Tevis.

According to the OSUAA, these four legacy awards are given annually to alumni who demonstrate “a deep and abiding commitment to causes of social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion and who exemplify and enrich OSU’s values of community, diversity, respect and social responsibility in their broader community or organization.”

The youngest of eight siblings, born to parents who immigrated to the United States from Mexico and worked as agricultural laborers, Hernández planned on joining the military after graduating from high school. But upon receiving a financial aid award letter from Treasure Valley Community College, he had the funds to pursue a college education instead—a route Hernández said would ultimately change his life.

“Two weeks before I started college, I was working in the fields harvesting onions,” Hernández said. 

Hernández transferred to OSU as an undergraduate student on an ROTC scholarship with the Air Force, where he studied general science and biology with a co-major in aerospace studies. 

After graduating, Hernández served in the military for five years. It was during this time that he met the first Latino lawyer he’d ever come across, showing Hernández that it was possible to become a lawyer even as a marginalized person with the odds stacked against him.

“He has had great support on his journey, and he’s very humble about it,” said Suzanne Flores Phillips, director of the alumni diversity and affinity groups at OSU and one of the board members who awarded Hernández earlier this year. “Whenever I interact with him, I always leave with a sense of the support that he’s willing to give.”

Hernández has earned national recognition for his work in commercial litigation, labor and employment law and for his work as an advocate for Hispanic and Latinx lawyers and students.

Throughout his career, Hernández has managed to merge his professional pursuits with an undying commitment to service and advocacy—a combination that, according to him, dovetails perfectly.

Beginning advocacy work early in his career has allowed Hernández to make meaningful connections and impact the lives of marginalized youth, lawyers and students from both the OSU community and across the nation. 

“I started [law school] in 1997, and there were just so few Latinx, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans—just so few that we congregated and supported each other,” Hernández said. “I then got hired after law school by a law firm called Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, it’s the state’s second largest law firm… I was the firm’s second Latino lawyer in 2000 when I started there.”

Hernández’s understanding of the isolating nature of being a marginalized person in a competitive field and his decision to support other marginalized people in the legal community have earned Hernández a reputation of honor and many accolades like OSU’s DEI Legacy Alumni Award.

During his second year as a lawyer, Hernández and two other colleagues created the Oregon Hispanic Bar, a bar association that aims to increase awareness and diversify the legal profession. In 2009 and 2010, he served as president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, and was recently appointed to serve on the OSU Board of Trustees.

“He has always used his firm’s resources to help bring people together,” said Melina Martinéz, a friend and colleague of Hernández’s, an attorney at Richardson Wright law firm and a fellow OSU alumni.

“His focus has been specifically to get people together who have a lot in common; whether it’s a person who is first-generation American, or the first person in their family to go to college.”

What makes Hernández so special, according to Martinéz, is how his life story, his work and his demeanor are the embodiment of a relentlessly positive leader—Hernández’s advocacy for students and marginalized people comes from a place of truth and personal experience.

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