Dickens Mathieu – Trinity College

Beyond advice and counsel

In the spring of 2004, as he prepared for trial representing the federal government in a drug-trafficking case—one he knew “wouldn’t make a dent” in the volume of illegal drugs coming into the U.S.—Dickens Mathieu took a break from the wiretap transcripts to check his email. There, near the top of his inbox, one subject line caught his eye: “In-house legal position at Tufts University.”

Reading the description, Mathieu was instantly intrigued. Here, it seemed, was an opportunity he had not previously considered—a chance to have a real impact in an area that spoke to his heart, education. Three weeks and several interviews later, Mathieu had a new title: senior legal counsel for Tufts University.

Dickens Mathieu – Trinity College Vanguard Law Magazine

“When I was working as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, I always had the satisfaction of knowing I was working for the good guys,” Mathieu recalls. “It was important that my next job be in a role where I felt a similar sense of pride. That’s why higher-education appealed to me.”

Today, as general counsel for Trinity College, a private liberal arts college based in Hartford, Connecticut, Mathieu’s timely calling has become a full-fledged career—even if the impacts are largely felt behind the scenes.

Board games

Upon joining the Trinity administration in 2015, Mathieu was reunited with the college’s president, Joanne Berger-Sweeney, who had been the undergraduate dean of Tufts for part of Mathieu’s tenure. There was just one thing: In addition to his duties as general counsel, Mathieu would also serve as secretary to the college’s board of trustees.

“Between the planning, strategy and focus on enterprise risk, you could say that substantially expanded my role, yes,” Mathieu says, letting out a laugh. “It’s also given me an exposure to the governance of the institution at a much higher level. In a way, it’s been a most fulfilling surprise.”

Dickens Mathieu – Trinity College Vanguard Law Magazine

With responsibility for the operational logistics and corporate compliance of the board, Mathieu handles the details so that trustees can focus on the institution’s goals and mission. He also oversees orientation for all new board members, giving them “the legal and institutional context necessary to thrive in their roles.”

Sword and shield

Of course, not all of Mathieu’s duties are bound to the boardroom. As the chief legal officer, he advises Trinity in all legal matters. One of the most pressing areas involves Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination on college campuses.

While for decades the law was known primarily for its impact on funding for women’s sports programs, it’s become increasingly cited in cases involving campus sexual harassment.

Like just about every American college and university, Trinity isn’t immune to such issues. In 2015, on the heels of a newly implemented taskforce aimed at addressing sexual assault on campus, Mathieu collaborated with faculty and administrators on campus to draft a new sexual misconduct policy.

“Sexual misconduct claims are difficult for all parties concerned, including the school,” Mathieu explains. “We wanted to ensure that Trinity had in place a process and policies that were rigorously fair and equitable to all participants.”

Taking off the hat

Speaking more broadly, Mathieu says the increased politicization of higher education as a sector, creates the potential for even more legal pitfalls. In the wake of the 2016 election, as the Trump Administration threatened to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA—the 2012 executive order allowing children who came to the U.S. illegally to remain in the U.S. on renewable two-year terms—some Trinity students found themselves in political crosshairs.

It was Mathieu’s job to help craft the school’s policy statement, which reiterated Trinity’s commitment to maintaining the confidentiality of all student information, while offering free legal advice and consultation to any and all community members impacted by DACA.

Dickens Mathieu – Trinity College Vanguard Law Magazine

“Sometimes, the advice I provide isn’t straight legal counsel and is often driven by policy, PR, or moral considerations,” Mathieu reflects. “Sometimes, you end up taking off the legal hat altogether, and you give advice as one human being to another.”

If Mathieu comes off sounding sympathetic to the plights faced by some of Trinity’s minority students, there’s a reason for it: He was once firmly in their shoes.

Making the most

The son of Haitian immigrants, Mathieu immigrated to the Mattapan area of Boston when he was seven years old. It was on these “rough and tumble streets” that Mathieu saw the dark side of the American dream.

“Not all of my friends and family members made it to their 20s or 30s,” Mathieu reflects. “In my view, the main difference maker for those who succeeded was education. I was lucky to have people in my life that, when the road forked and I was about to zig left into a dead end, noticed and redirected me down the right path. Their guidance allowed me to be here talking to you today.”

Ultimately, Mathieu earned a scholarship to the prestigious Amherst College, where he graduated with a B.A. in political science in 1987. After working for three years as a sales rep, Mathieu—recalling the advice given to him by his former roommate—decided to pursue a law degree. In 1990, he enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law, earning his J.D. three years later.

Par for the course

It was during his time at UVA that Mathieu first discovered what would become another passion project: golf. Not only has the sport introduced him to far-flung cultures and climes; it’s also helped him cultivate a robust network of friends and colleagues alike.

“The game of golf is the ultimate test,” says Mathieu, whose most recent excursion was a long-awaited pilgrimage to the birthplace of golf: Scotland. “Every match tests ones resolve, integrity and imagination in ways that one wouldn’t expect in a game where the basic objective is to knock a small ball into a small hole. Plus, I am constantly called by the sublime beauty of the links. It’s become a sanctuary for me.”

Dickens Mathieu – Trinity College Vanguard Law Magazine

Mathieu started his career in private practice, as an associate attorney at the Washington, D.C., firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, where he represented clients on issues ranging from civil litigation to pro-bono work.

In 1999, hoping to help “clean up the streets of Boston,” Mathieu joined the U.S. Department of Justice as an Assistant U.S. Attorney working out of the Boston office. But despite the high-profile caseload, Mathieu grew increasingly disillusioned with the “endless cycle of crime and incarceration.”

He went to Tufts, followed by a one-year stint at Syracuse University, before joining Trinity in 2015.

“The fact that I had the opportunity to come to the United States, to have an education that transformed my life, and knowing the impact that will have on the lives of my children and grandchildren—I am very grateful,” Mathieu says.

Any other advice for up-and-coming lawyers? Keep checking your email.

Published on: December 12, 2018



Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!

Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing tag) where you want to display our review banner.


The piece highlighting my company, Bob Baker Enterprises, Inc., came out fabulous. Our company is in the new and used car sales and service industry. Everyone was great to work with and extremely professional. They produced a high-quality product and have provided expert assistance and guidance post-production of the article.
– Wade Poulson, General Counsel, Bob Baker Enterprises Inc.
I was honored to be the subject of an article. I enjoy reading Vanguard articles and seeing how other attorneys got to their positions and see their jobs. It's also interesting to see how different law firms partner with the subjects of the articles.
– Henry Marquard, in-house counsel, Stanley Consultants Inc.
It was a great honor to be featured in Vanguard Law. Working with every member of the team, from the initial interview with Erin Clark, through production with Victor Martins, writing the article with Taryn Plumb and creating the final content with Dave Gushee, was a true pleasure. Everyone was very professional, enthusiastic and supportive, and their creative approach and positive attitude clearly came through in the final product.
– Kevin C. Rakowski, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Compliance with Radian Group Inc.
As promised in advance, my feature in Vanguard has increased my visibility within the profession and prompted more than a few people I have not communicated with recently to reconnect. One of the Italian law firms I have used in the past is now in the process of interviewing me for an article on their website and tweeting out the feature story. Activity and the number of people connecting with me on LinkedIn has soared, which is great. The Vanguard writers and editorial staff were great to work with—highly professional and made the effort to make the experience both fun and rewarding (they were also respectful of the time pressures and demands all lawyers face). I was very pleased with the experience and the final outcome. Needless to say, I have been very pleased. All in all working with Vanguard has been a very positive experience which generated good publicity for both Shawcor and myself. My sincere thanks.
– Tim Hutzul, General Counsel, ShawCor Ltd.


Spring IV 2024



  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.