Second-Year Student Wins Swanson Award
Michele St Julien, a second-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, is this year’s recipient of the Gregory H. Swanson Award, named in honor of UVA and the Law School’s first black student.
The award recognizes students who demonstrate courage, perseverance and a commitment to justice within the community.
St Julien is a Posse Scholar, member of the Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law Editorial Board, social action chair of the Black Law Students Association and an Innocence Project pro bono volunteer.
She was also a 2018 Mid-Atlantic Black Law Students Association Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition semifinalist and worked as a summer associate at Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York.
“This award underscores the need to take responsibility for the society we’ve been given and invest in change-making work that will allow us to reimagine spaces in which our most vulnerable populations are protected and solidarity exists not only in theory, but in practice,” St Julien said.
The award, launched in 2018 during a commemoration ceremony of Swanson’s time at UVA, is meant to recognize students with traits that he embodied. Swanson attended UVA Law during the 1950-51 academic year as an LL.M. student after winning a federal lawsuit aided by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Professor Kim Forde-Mazrui, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Law, said letters supporting her nomination from a wide range of students, faculty, alumni and attorneys attested to her selflessness and leadership.
“What is especially impressive about Michele was the breadth, depth and long-term nature of her commitment to social justice and service,” he said. “She worked for a racial justice organization before law school and came to law school to equip herself to continue such work. As a law student, she reaches out beyond these walls to work with students across Grounds, in the community and with the police.”
Following law school, St Julien plans to work at a New York City law firm before pursuing a career in prosecutorial accountability, with the goal of working toward criminal justice reform and ending mass incarceration.
She said living in Charlottesville at such a pivotal time in race relations has helped prepare her for a career in law.
“It reminds me that my voice is needed, my perspective is important, and that I have a duty to bring both into the field, into my professional atmosphere and certainly into the courtroom,” she said.
Before entering law school, St Julien worked as a strategic content manager at Color of Change and was a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs.
She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in sociology from Dickinson College.
“I feel honored to be receiving this award because it energizes me to continue the pursuit of intersectional racial justice work and to utilize my privilege as a law student to do so,” she said.
Gregory H. Swanson Award Winners
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.