Indigenous Law Student of the Year: Alison Whittaker
One of UTS Law’s most outstanding students has been recognised by the Australian Government for her success academically, and extensive community involvement. What drives Alison Whittaker to go above and beyond? The answer might surprise you.
Like most law students, and lawyers, Alison Whittaker finds it difficult to answer the question, “What originally made you want to study law?” While there is no denying her commitment to her studies, or passion for the law, putting her finger on what exactly it was that ‘inspired’ her is not so easy.
“I originally wanted to study psychology actually, which I think is weird reflecting on it now, because the elements that made me want to study psychology are ultimately what attracted me to studying law. I was interested in the way that the law intervenes in people’s everyday lives, and the way it can make changes systemically,” said Alison.
Her interest in the role of the law in people’s everyday lives has drawn her to take on a vast range of commitments, and projects, including volunteering as a paralegal at the Aboriginal Legal Service, and interning at the Australian Law Reform Commission.
Despite her busy schedule however, Alison has always excelled academically at UTS and has received a number of awards including the UTS:Law Equity Scholarship in 2011, the Thompson-Reuters Award for Best Indigenous Student in First Year Law in 2012, and the Robert Greenwood QC memorial prize for Indigenous Law Student with Best Academic Achievement in 2013.
It is therefore no surprise that she was named the National Indigenous Law Student of the Year by the Federal Government for 2015.
Nevertheless, she remains incredibly modest, “It is great to be recognised, but there is a tension between acknowledging one person, and acknowledging that the full cohort are really exceptional as well – in terms of all indigenous law students.”
The award recognises one particularly outstanding law student each year, based on their academic merit, community involvement and career aspirations.
Over the past four years of her studies at UTS, Alison has been heavily involved in the University’s community, taking an active role in the Brennan Justice and Leadership Program, the UTS Law Student’s Society, and the UTS Student Representative Program, as well as working as a Research Assistant for Senior Lecturer Thalia Anthony.
Working for Thalia, Alison has been able to explore her interests in Indigenous law further. “Almost all of the work is in the area of indigenous law, focusing on Indigenous feminism and sentencing, and this year part of my work has also entailed looking over the UTS Law curriculum and thinking about the ways that indigenous knowledge can be better incorporated,” she said.
Alison believes she is lucky as, since she is so passionate, her work often doesn’t feel like work at all, and she has particularly enjoyed being involved with the Gendered Research Violence Network.
“I really love the work that I do there, this year we hosted a conference about the Asia-Pacific and gendered violence in general, it attracted a huge crowd and influenced conversation in that area, and it was really satisfying to see things come together, and to make an impact,” she said.
Looking to the future, Alison hope to complete her Masters at Harvard Law School, and hopes that the Indigenous Law Student of the Year award will go some way to helping in her application.
In the long term, she hopes to complete a PhD at UTS at some point, but her career goal is to be able to balance being able to work academically, and practically in the law. In terms of thinking about what area however, she says she remains curious, and thinks she could “really go anywhere.”
Story by: Jessie Goldie
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