A Sustainable Future
Third-year student Alycia Edgeworth Kennedy has little interest in donning a power suit and high heels before heading to a courtroom. She would much rather grab hiking boots and a clipboard on her way to a community center to meet with disenfranchised residents and educate them about their civil rights.
Kennedy’s interest in protecting the rights of others should come as no surprise to her hometown friends in Bloomington, Ind., which she described as “a Liberal bubble in the middle of a Red sea.” A certified lifeguard and wilderness emergency medical technician, Kennedy spent much of her youth enjoying the great outdoors — and ensuring the safety of others.
As an undergraduate at Indiana University, she volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate in the local guardian ad litem program. “I was a mentor for a 5-year-old boy in the foster system,” she explained. “I conducted home visits and served as his voice in the courtroom.”
Despite this early foray into law, Kennedy’s interest in languages led her to triple major in English, linguistics and Swahili. Following her graduation in 2001, Kennedy joined Goodwill Industries International, where she helped people with special needs secure jobs and become self-sufficient.
In December 2002, she moved to Truckee, Calif., a small town north of Lake Tahoe. She spent the next few years juggling part-time jobs as a vet technician and a dog nanny and spending her free time on the ski slopes. “Law school was always in the back of my mind,” she said of her decision in 2006 to refocus her career. “I’ve always wanted to work in jobs that would allow me to help people. I thought law would be a good way to do that.”
In 2007, she moved to Oregon and enrolled at Willamette University College of Law. “I knew I wanted to study environmental law, so I was attracted to the school’s Certificate Program in Sustainability Law,” said Kennedy, a member of the Class of 2010. “I liked that it is less focused on the science of sustainability and more focused on people — on social justice and equity. It’s a total paradigm shift.”
Kennedy said that she experienced “culture shock” as a first-year law student. “I felt like I had to turn my brain back on after not having been in a classroom for six years,” she explained. “Fortunately, I met a lot of 2Ls and 3Ls who took me under their wing and gave me advice.”
Once settled into law school, Kennedy immersed herself in legal aid and clinic work. During the summer of 2008, she worked as a legal intern for the Family Resource Center of Truckee, helping mediate disputes for the Nevada County Small Claims Court. When she returned to school in the fall, she tackled a number of environmental justice projects through the Sustainability Law Clinic, including helping to empower low-income and minority communities adversely affected by plans to replace the Columbia River Bridge that connects Oregon to Washington.
“My role has involved educating people about the health effects of the construction project and ensuring everyone impacted is at the table of decision makers,” said Kennedy, who received a special sustainability grant from the University last fall to continue her work on the project. “It also has been about showing institutions and organizations how they can be more equitable in their decision making.”
Following graduation in May, Kennedy plans to forgo a position with a big-name firm and focus instead on a career in public interest law and environmental justice. “I want to help the people in my community — with an eye toward sustainability,” she explained. “Lawyers shouldn’t be on top, they should be on tap. We’re here to empower people to seek solutions for themselves before seeking justice in the courtroom.”