Nirajé Medley-Bacon, 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.

Medley-Bacon received the award Friday as part of UVA’s Community MLK Celebration event hosted by the Law School online.

“When I do things [with the Black Law Students Association or at the Law School] … I just do it because I find it interesting or I find it to be important work,” she said. “So to know I was recognized by my peers, as well by professors and other members of the Law School community, for having good character and conduct, that was just really special to me, and it’s something I’m really proud of, to know that I have that kind of positive impact on other people.”

At UVA Law, Medley-Bacon serves as BLSA social action chair and on the organization’s mock trial team (where she was a National Black Law Students Association Mid-Atlantic region quarterfinalist), on the editorial board of The Journal of Law & Politics and as a Peer Advisor. In November, she was appointed the student representative on the President’s Council on UVA-Community Partnerships, created by President Jim Ryan ’92 in 2019.

She said it’s important for UVA to invest in the surrounding community, and that she values the variety of voices and expertise brought to the table for council initiatives.

“It’s not just lip service,” Medley-Bacon said. “People are trying to create the opportunities for real changes and being very direct on what the University needs to do and what types of steps they need to take in order to build a stronger relationship with folks in the area.”

The Swanson award, launched in 2018 during a commemoration of Swanson’s time at UVA, is meant to recognize students who have the traits 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.

Medley-Bacon’s nominators included fellow BLSA officers, who lauded the programming she has organized in the past year during the pandemic. Medley-Bacon said her first event of the fall semester — a program on allyship that drew 70 viewers on Zoom — was particularly meaningful.

“It’s not just something you proclaim for yourself, but it’s actual work,” she explained about allyship, “so the fact that folks were really interested in doing that and learning more about what it means to be an ally, it was really interesting being able to educate folks from a Black perspective about what that looks like, and what the expectations are. It’s something that I really enjoyed doing.”

Professor Gregory Mitchell, one of Medley-Bacon’s nominators, was her Civil Procedure teacher and her coach with BLSA’s mock trial team.

“Niraje has already made contributions to the Law School community that can justify this honor, but giving her this award would also signal that we see great potential in her and expect great things from her,” he wrote in his nomination. 

Medley-Bacon, who earned a bachelor’s from Morgan State University, is unsure what field of law she will go into but is interested in litigation on the partner track at a law firm.

“Ultimately, I just want to be happy with what I do every day,” she added, “that’s a big thing for me.”

Previous 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.

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