Mary Morrison, master of laws (LLM) student at the University of Oregon School of Law, has been awarded the 2020-21 American Association of University Women (AAUW) fellowship and grant.
Established in 1888, the AAUW has been one of the world’s oldest leading supporters of graduate women’s education. Fellowship recipients are noted for their pursuit of academic work and leadership in innovative community projects to empower women and girls.
“Our fellows and grantees have a long and distinguished history of contributing to their schools, their communities and to society at large,” said Kim Churches, chief executive officer of AAUW. “Even in today’s challenging times, we know that this year’s recipients will continue in that esteemed tradition. AAUW is proud to provide the support they need to excel in their academic work – and to ultimately make the world a better place.”
Morrison is from Nairobi, Kenya. She received her post graduate diploma from the Nairobi School of Law and an LLB from the University of Nairobi.Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been able to pursue her LLM degree and continue working as the Legal Manager at the nonprofit organization WildlifeDirect, based in Nairobi.
In this position with WildlifeDirect, she manages “Eyes in the Courtroom” a program that monitors wildlife and environmental crimes in Kenya. Essential elements of the position include changing hearts, minds, and laws to protect wildlife and the environment.
“I have believed that it’s the simple things in life that matter; the earth that we live in, the air that we breath, the food that we eat,” Morrison said. “All this stems from taking care of our homes -and I view the environment as my home.”
Morrison says that she grew up with clear and strong values of protecting the environment. Raised on the Kenyan Coast with a close affinity towards wildlife, she knew about its importance from an early age.
“As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a lawyer who protects national heritage,” Morrison said. “My culture had a close symbiotic relationship with wildlife. It was not a surprise finding my calling as protector of wildlife and the environment.”
Born into a family of women and growing up from the Giriama tribe in Mombasa, Morrison’s family supported women advancement in any field.
“I come from a culture that nods to early marriage; a woman is seen as a vessel of childbearing; a woman to be seen and not heard,” Morrison said. “My parents understanding the value of education decided otherwise, and that is how my sisters and I were the first in our clan to be educated at a university level.”
She says that her parents also encouraged her to participate in conservation activities - and that’s where she learned the values of protecting the environment. At a young age, her activities and hobbies weren’t typical. She volunteered for environmental and women organizations on matters such as reproductive health advocacy, advocacy on clean environment and effect on women, and marine conservation activities like beach cleaning.
“I believe that Environmental Law encompasses so much more than just the environment," Morrison said. "Be it from wildlife to human rights or principles of public participation, it is a symbiotic area of law that touches on basic human principles and matters of public policy.”
In the wake of climate change and rise of environmental crime, Morrison says that it is imperative that practical solutions are employed in countering their effect. And she plans to be a part of the solution.
Her plans to impact environmental law are bold and ambitious - and the LLM degree is key to her career journey. In five to ten years, Morrison sees herself becoming an expert environmental lawyer championing protection and conservation of the environment – with international influence.
“I seek to advance my knowledge and skill set, engage in policy formulation, build capacity and resilience on environmental justice system,” Morrison said. “I seek to spearhead advocacy for environmental law reform, decrease environmental crimes in East Africa and sensitize the public especially women and youth on the importance of conservation.”
By Rayna Jackson, Alumni Association Communications