Janet Adams Viggiani was a lawyer, educator, human rights advocate and former assistant dean for coeducation at Harvard College.
She was born in Middletown, Connecticut, October 15, 1954, the second child of Jane Mead Viggiani and Carl A. Viggiani, professor of Romance languages and literature at Wesleyan University. She spent her young years in nearby Middle Haddam and attended East Hampton High School, where her career in law was foreshadowed by her passionate public defense of Black students unjustly accused of provoking violence in a racial dispute. She completed high school at the Buxton School in Massachusetts.
After graduating from Smith College summa cum laude in 1978, she worked for the Nine-to-Five Organization for Women Workers in Boston, for Brigham and Women's Hospital, and for Radcliffe Career Services as a counselor and then assistant director.
A co-founder of Massachusetts PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) and the New England Sexual Assault Network, she was named assistant dean at Harvard College in 1988 while working for her doctorate at the Harvard School of Education. As a dean, she dealt with issues of concern to women, sexual harassment and assault, training of teaching fellows and resident tutors in related matters, and advising the dean of the college and the Harvard administrative board on policy and procedure in these areas.
At Harvard, in addition to her deanship, she held the post of Allston Burr Senior Tutor of the college's Adams House, where she was responsible for many aspects of the lives and studies of 420 Harvard undergraduates.
In 1991, she received the degree of doctor of education from Harvard. However, the same year marked the onset of a cancer that was to recur. Not knowing what the future held, she bought a car and traveled across America for almost a year.
In the fall of 1993, with the cancer in remission, she began a new career by entering Harvard Law School. She received her law degree in 1996, passed the state bar, and took a job with the Boston law firm of Hill & Barlow, where she specialized in discrimination and employment law.
The Harvard University Gazette called her Harvard's beloved tutor. She was known as the "dancing dean" to students and colleagues for her love of dance and guitar playing. A colleague said of her, "Janet was one of the most generous delightful, warm, compassionate, intelligent people I've ever known. A light has gone out of a world that can ill afford such a loss." Click here to read the full article.
In 1999, she accepted an invitation from Simmons College President Daniel Cheever to come to Simmons as the college counsel and assistant to the president. In the educational environment she enjoyed, she dealt with a wide range of legal issues ranging from employment, student affairs and intellectual property, to probate and criminal law.
In her year of travel across the country, she had discovered the peace and beauty of the southwest corner of Colorado. When the recurrence of cancer forced her retirement from Simmons in 2001, she returned to that area and rented a house in a pine forest where she spent her last year. She remained active until the final weeks of her life, even hiking at 13,000 feet in the nearby Rockies.
Janet's passage on earth was marked not only her extraordinary success and relentless cheerfulness in the face of adversity but also by her generous assistance and counsel to students, colleagues, and friends during her short but rich life.
In her memory they have helped endow a "JANET VIGGIANI AWARD" at Simmons College: the award will be made every year to a student majoring in Women's Studies who writes an essay judged by a faculty committee to be worthy of special recognition. Contributions to the "SIMMONS COLLEGE JANET VIGGIANI AWARD FUND" can be sent to the Office of Development, Simmons College, 300 The Fenway, Boston, MA, 20115-5898.