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Pioneer Brings ‘Better’ to the State Senate

ON TOP OF MAKING HISTORY, Alejandra N. Paulino ’02 is changing the way business is done in the New York State Senate. Paulino—an adjunct professor at Albany Law School and a member of the Government Law Center advisory board—became the first Latina in the state’s history to serve as secretary of the Senate when she took over at the start of the 2019 session. As secretary, she oversees every department that makes the Senate function, a role she sees as “an opportunity to do business better.”

Paulino is updating the Senate’s sexual harassment policies and adding cultural competency training, having learned that the existing program is outdated. “We want to be better and understand each other better. It can be as simple as making sure you say someone’s name right.” Or having the correct religious text available. She oversaw the purchase of a Quran, noting that the Senate has a Muslim member. “Those are things that matter. My team and I are more aware of it.”

She is using her training as a lawyer, and her years of working as a defense attorney, to guide the transformation. “When I wanted one department to take a cultural competency class, I didn’t just tell them to take it. I did it, too,” she said, explaining that as an attorney she’s learned how to win people’s trust. “I’m using what I’ve learned as a lawyer to make people have this conversation in a safe place.”

It helps that she started her career as a Senate fellow. She feels comfortable there and has long wanted to make improvements. “We used to talk about these things among ourselves,” she said. Now she is empowered to bring those discussions into the light. “When I speak my truth, I am now helping other people be in their own truth. I’m here for a reason.” She couldn’t do this “extremely gratifying” job alone, Paulino added, noting that the Senate majority leader and her chief of staff are both women of color who are guiding transformative change.

There’s a lot of pressure; members often bring groups of young visitors to her office—not just because she’s the secretary, but also because of what she represents. Many people have told Paulino—recipient of the Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association’s 2019 Trail Blazer Award—that her position is an honor to every Latina. “I’ve received a lot of acknowledgment for being a Latina in this role, what it means to all the women and kids and girls that come through here. There’s no room to mess up.”

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