Scholarship winner driven by desire to address social injustice

Scholarship winner driven by desire to address social injustice

Law student hopes to improve access to justice system and prevent mental health concerns among legal professionals

Within minutes of meeting Ammy Lewis (pictured), it becomes evident that she is passionate about making a difference in the world.

The law undergraduate, now in her final year, is motivated by a desire to correct social injustice and create a fairer society for those who have not been dealt the best cards in life.

This drive brought her to the University of Wollongong (UOW), the first in her family to aspire to higher education.

This drive also steered her towards a career in law, after she originally decided to pursue international studies.

And it is this drive that is pushing her to create the Mental Health in Law Society at UOW, which will put mental and emotional wellbeing at the forefront for the next generation of legal professionals.

“I was originally studying international studies because I had this grand idea that I wanted to change the world. But one day I was helping my dad install tactile paving at the Family Court of Australia in Sydney and I realised that law was what I was truly passionate about,” Ammy said.

“I grew up in Housing Commission, so not only have I become aware of social injustice, I have lived experiences of it, too.”

Ammy, who will graduate next year with a double degree in Law and International Studies, was last month named the 2017 recipient of the UOW Jack Goldring Memorial Scholarship.

The award honours the late Jack Goldring, the Foundation Dean of the School of Law who was committed to providing greater access to law education for Indigenous students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Professor Warwick Gullett, Dean of the School of Law, said Ammy stood out from the applicants with her passion for raising awareness about mental health and correcting inequality across society.

“Ammy combines her law studies with passion for social justice. The selection panel was deeply impressed with her commitment to mentoring and promoting education to low socioeconomic individuals, so people in such circumstances can overcome barriers to education and justice,” Professor Gullet said.

“She is committed to create change, to improve opportunities for people to break cycles of disadvantage.”

Ammy was “really surprised” to receive the $10,000 award, which is given to one law student each year who demonstrates a commitment to social justice, but said she embodies the very ideals for which Mr Goldring so fiercely advocated.

“Despite coming from a disadvantaged background, I’ve been able to come to UOW and study law and feel equal to my peers in every way, because of the programs and policies that Jack Goldring put in place,” Ammy said.

“He was very passionate about social justice and ensuring students from disadvantaged backgrounds had the same opportunities.

“I’m hoping to specialise in employment law when I leave UOW, because there is a real need for advocacy in this area. It particularly affects international students and people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are often in low stream employment and don’t feel they have a voice or are able to stand up to their employer.

“I want to advocate for people who are unable to advocate for themselves.”

It is clear Ammy has a bright future in the legal profession. But in addition to working within the system to fight for the rights of her future clients, she is also hoping to fix the system itself.

To that end, one of her key aims, as part of the Jack Goldring Memorial Scholarship, is to implement the Mental Health in Law Society at UOW.

She hopes that by providing greater understanding and support of the mental health issues facing those in the legal profession, she can ensure the next cohort of law students who enter the workforce are well equipped for what lies ahead.

“I was motivated to act after I heard that half of all people in the legal profession will experience a mental illness at some point in their career. That is a huge statistic,” said Ammy, who instigated the annual Wellbeing Day for Wollongong UniCentre staff and the Wollongong UniCentre Wellbeing Policy while she was a an employee at the Centre for Student Engagement.

“We need to raise awareness about mental health issues in the legal profession, and empower people to speak up or ask for help. I want to get students trained in this area, so we can start to reduce this statistic. There’s a long way to go but I would love to be the person to do that.”

Ammy entered university with the aim to create change, and with graduation on the horizon and a career in law beckoning, it is clear that whatever the next chapter in her life brings, she will have left her mark at UOW.

Photo: Undergraduate student Ammy Lewis. Credit: Paul Jones