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Social Justice Scholar is on path to become civil rights attorney

Loyola press release - May 4, 2015

Olivia Lawson, graduating from Loyola University New Orleans this May, proves that there are no limits to providing service through education. As she prepares for her next steps to becoming a civil rights attorney, she will carry Loyola’s Jesuit values into her future studies at the University of Cincinnati College of Law on a Social Justice Fellowship next fall as well as a Presidenital Scholarship.

Lawson is a sociology major with a concentration in social justice and inequalities and a triple minor in African-American Studies, Latin American Studies and Political Science. With the Department of Sociology, she is a Social Justice Scholar and has been the project leader of Students Against Hyper-Incarceration for the past three years.

As a Social Justice Scholar at Loyola, Lawson has developed her own racial justice project that focuses on education equality in New Orleans, served in various charter and private schools throughout the city, and assisted New Orleans Outreach as an intervention specialist for students who need to pass standardized tests. She even started an after-school club that focused on racial empowerment through the study and celebration of African-American history and culture.

Olivia exemplifies exactly what an engaged student should be, according to Ashley Howard, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at Loyola. Not long after hearing a presentation by civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander, Lawson did all the research and legwork to co-charter Loyola’s chapter of Students Against Hyper-Incarceration and became its founding president.

“Olivia easily embodies all of the 12 ideals of Jesuit Education. In the above example alone, her service engagement represents several: linking faith with justice, special concern for the poor and oppressed, commitment to service and learning from experience,” Howard said.

As the project leader of the Students Against Hyper-Incarceration, she developed an advocacy plan that has focused on building community ties with criminal justice nonprofits, hosted community meetings on mass incarceration and formed a coalition of student activists with other universities in the city. Leading up to her accomplishments and earning the fellowship award, Lawson was involved in the Model United Nations and international issues throughout middle and high school.

The University of Cincinnati's Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice selects a limited number of outstanding students annually as Social Justice Fellows. Their activities include research on current social justice issues, coursework that involves legal analysis through the intersecting lenses of race, gender, class, and sexuality, externships with local social justice organizations, and participation in activities that seek to cultivate social justice scholars, leaders, and activists. Currently, the center is working on two community-based research projects, one on intimate partner abuse and the other on predatory lending practices

Lawson says she is motivated by her faith in the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. She recalls seeing a flyer on campus that read "Strong faith equals strong action." She believes it to be true.

Loyola and the school's mission has been a major contributor to Lawson's commitment to service.

"At Loyola, I have learned what it means to be an instrument for justice. Over the past four years, my experience at Loyola has been liberating. As a sociology major, I have not only learned, but also demonstrated the major themes of a Jesuit education. Sociology has provided me with the theoretical and practical tools necessary for dismantling social and political inequality. With these tools, I have been dedicated to racial justice scholarship and activism as a way to better serve my community and God."