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ASU alumna excels as a champion for diversity, inclusion

ASU alumna Malissia Clinton.

December 10, 2020

Editor's note: Malissia Clinton joined Meritage Homes Corporation in April as executive vice president, general counsel and secretary after 12 years with The Aerospace Corporation.

Even as a child, Malissia Clinton knew that she wanted to be a lawyer.

“I’ve never not wanted to be a lawyer,” said Clinton. “From my first memory it was something that I wanted to do.”

The Arizona State University political science alumna was inspired by the work of her grandparents, Roy and Malissia Cooksey, who founded the Arizona chapter of the NAACP.  Her grandfather would serve as its president for years and would also lead the civil rights division at the U.S. attorney’s office in Tucson, Arizona.

Upon graduating from Sunnyside High School in Tucson, Clinton applied to universities all over the country. Even though she was the valedictorian of her class, the cost of those schools proved to be too much. Through Arizona State University, Clinton was able to fully fund her education with academic scholarships.

“I knew, even at that age of 17, it was really important to me that I had economic independence and that I was self-sufficient,” Clinton said.

When she visited Tempe, she fell for the beauty of the campus.

“On the spot I decided that was where I was meant to go to school.”

Thinking that it was the best path to becoming a lawyer, Clinton decided to major in political science and would go on to get her JD from Stanford University.

Clinton has remained involved with ASU over the years as a donor and through serving on boards such as the ASU Foundation Board, where she helps shepherd the process of raising funds for the university.

“Everything I am is because of the start that ASU gave me,” Clinton said. “I get choked up just thinking about it.”

In her high school senior year book, Clinton wrote that she wanted to be a corporate attorney. Now as senior vice president, general counsel and secretary for the Aerospace Corporation, Clinton knows this was the job she was meant to do.

“I love what happens with business — how they make a product and how they sell it. I enjoy being an enabler for that.”

With the company since 2009, Clinton’s work with the Aerospace Corporation has not gone unnoticed. She was recently named the Los Angeles Business Journal’s 2020 Leaders in Law – Nonprofit Leader in Law of the Year winner.

“I was honored and humbled,” said Clinton, who gave thanks to the Aerospace corporate communications department. “But I am also pleased that the story they were able to tell about the work we do and the law the department’s influence merited such a high recognition.”

Beyond her position with the Aerospace Corporation, Clinton is on a number of boards, including most recently being appointed to the board of directors at Progyny, Inc. — a fertility benefits management company. She was drawn to Progyny because, according to Clinton, they have a business model where everybody wins. She added that she is looking forward to helping Progyny with their environmental, social and corporate governance initiatives.

“That is a sweet spot for me. I’m very much into diversity and inclusion,” Clinton said. “I feel like I have a duty on these boards to bring those issues forward and to help the company be a better corporate citizen.”

Four years ago, Clinton gave a Tedx talk telling the story of when someone lit a tire on fire and threw it through the front door of her home in Manhattan Beach. Initially deeming the firebombing as neither arson or a hate crime, the authorities followed up by calling in Clinton’s husband for a polygraph test. Concerned, frustrated and humiliated, Clinton and her family decided they would move.

“Sure we knew that we were giving in to hate,” said Clinton in her talk, “but keeping our kids safe came first so if we were being asked to go – we’d go.”

When she notified her book club that she was planning to move, the community swiftly rallied around Clinton and her family. Within 48 hours of the fire, the community had reached out via phone and email, organized a crowdfunding site, and the police chief and fire captain arrived at their house asking for a do-over. Seventy-two hours after the incident, a vigil was held in the town square, where the community pleaded the family to stay.

“I thought the firebombing was bad, but it’s easy for us to convince ourselves it was isolated … and then you have a year like this,” said Clinton, reflecting on 2020. “It exposes the racial wound that still beset our country but I think that exposure is important to meaningful progress.”

Clinton shared that the past year has taught her that having hope and staying positive is key during difficult times. The exposure to challenges like race relations is only the first step. Clinton says we continue to struggle with these issues because we have not put in the work.

“I think that what one does for the blended ‘underrepresented minorities’ will not solve the issues that African Americans deal with,” Clinton said. “That’s why they exist still. I think they are unique and entrenched.”

Being on ASU’s Foundation Board has given Clinton the opportunity to hear what the university is doing on their diversity measures. She shared that she is interested in seeing what ASU does for their African American students, faculty and employees.

“I’ve had these discussions with President Crow and I am anticipating that he will take his amazing gift at being a change agent and revolutionize what is being done at the university level to deal with these issues.”

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