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Caitlin McIlwain

Professor Talbott
Honors 230C
11 December 2017

This quarter was my first term back at UW after studying abroad in the UK for a year –I

had watched the election, the daily scandals, the inauguration, the riots, and the apparent

separation of the United States of America with angst from London. I felt very disillusioned with

what I was seeing on the news every day: the institutionalized sexism, racism, classism, and

political polarity made me cringe with fear. I had not been in a classroom full of educated, young

Americans who felt equally as disheartened as myself since the spring of 2016; I also had not

been given the tools to truly critique the system that perpetuates the institutionalized biases

towards those with power until I stepped into Denny Hall, room 112 in September 2017. I was

truly unaware that I could fight “the good fight” by inciting change in the US Justice System.

There were many moments this quarter when I was left feeling awestruck by what I

heard: when I learned that the mandatory minimums for crack cocaine and pure cocaine were

strategically different, I was shocked that such obvious racism could still exist. When I learned

that innocent people actually do confess, I became scared by the manipulative power that an

investigator has. When I learned about the power of eyewitness testimony, and the concurrent

high rate of misidentifications, I was agitated that nothing substantial has been done to address

this wrongdoing. When I learned about the tunnel vision that prosecutors face when investigating

a crime, I couldn’t think of anything that could ameliorate such a deeply rooted issue. When I

learned about the pressure that prosecutors face to get a conviction, that police face to close

cases, and that public defense attorneys face to get cases off their desks, I felt that the system had

failed the underprivileged. When I watched the movie 13th, I admittedly sobbed when the clips of

Donald Trump appeared, showing footage of his violent rallies, and playing back his racist

remarks that so freakishly mimicked those made during the era of segregation in the 50s and 60s.
Caitlin McIlwain
Professor Talbott
Honors 230C
11 December 2017


But I also I learned about Lara Zarowsky’s work with the Innocence Project Northwest, and I

finally felt optimistic that small, local change is on the horizon. Equally, when I listened to the

Ted Talk of the prosecutor who is unravelling the system from the bottom up, I felt inspired.

As a future economist, I want to work in the field of public policy, using data and

economics to directly establish how impactful a particular policy might be, and what the effect is

on a given group of people. But sometimes, the data skims over certain biases, and it’s not until

you know what kind of data to look for that you can start disbanding some of the

institutionalized and repeated wrongdoings that are ever present in our society. I felt so inspired

by this quarter, that I no longer think that I need to get a masters in public policy to directly

affect change in the US. I had thought about law school before, but with the idea that I could be a

prosecutor, or a defense attorney, and not with the idea that the knowledge of the law is the key to

changing the law. I am proud to say that I am now reconsidering law school.

While you might think that I became more disillusioned as the quarter went on, I just

became more aware of the truth. The truth that our justice system does not currently seek justice,

but seeks resolution and closure. Our justice system is so wrought by the institutionalized beliefs

of the patriarchy, the same beliefs that are grounded in the US Constitution, that it is hard to

believe that such an unprecedented reform can take place. But change is coming: local, and small

reform is paving the way for bigger improvements. The system has failed too many innocent

individuals, has incarcerated too many citizens for petty crime, and has unjustly tried the wealthy

against poor: it must be changed to give more Americans the same voice that I have as a young,

educated, and newly naturalized citizen. I have always wanted to help Americans who have been

undercut by a system that is inherently biased against them, and now I know how I can do so.