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Alumni Update: Marly Williams ’15

December 10, 2019

What is life like for history majors after Lewis & Clark College? I teamed up with Professor Reiko Hillyer to find out what Marly Williams, a history alum from 2015, has been doing post graduation. While a student, Marly wrote her thesis on the history of Portland strip clubs, which was later published in a condensed edition by the Oregon Encyclopedia. Inspired by her experiences in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange class, taught by Professor Hillyer, Marly has been working for a nonprofit, the Vital Projects Fund. The organization works toward criminal justice reform and ending the present state of mass incarceration in the United States. 


1) Can you briefly describe the nature of your current work? How did you arrive at this work?

“The job allows me to learn about and be involved in some of the most urgent problems facing our country today, from the opioid epidemic to voting rights to ending life without parole.”


2) Are there specific skills you gained from the History Program that are particularly useful for your current work?

“Definitely. The work involves a lot of research and occasionally diving into a variety of primary sources. For example, I recently read a 167-page Staff Analysis of Executive Clemency in Louisiana from 1978. I’m also always applying a keen critical eye to conversations about criminal justice that happen in the media, online, and even just in my everyday life. Thanks to the history program, I have the historical context and analytical skills to do this well.” 


3) I know you took the Inside-Out Prison Exchange class–how did this influence the path you have taken? Are there other courses or projects at L&C that were particularly influential?

“The Inside-Out hugely influenced the path I have taken after graduating. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it weren’t for everything I learned and all the amazing people I met in that class. After studying alongside the men at the Columbia River Correctional Institution, I knew I wanted to be involved in the criminal justice reform movement and do what I can to change the way other people think about crime, punishment, and forgiveness.” 


4) What have been some of the greatest highlights of your recent work?

“There have been so many highlights. Perhaps the biggest one was traveling to Philadelphia to meet with local activists and journalists doing amazing work there. I ended up meeting a man named Ghani  who was one of the people who trained Reiko/Professor Hillyer in the Inside-Out program. It was so amazing to meet formerly-incarcerated individuals who are using their knowledge and experiences to make significant change in the world.”


5) Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

“I love that the history program gives students the opportunity to get outside the classroom and study in a real-word context. Classes like Inside-Out and LC’s other off-campus programs prove that history is a vital and relevant major that helps us understand our current moment as much as it helps us understand the past.”

Interview by Gwen O’Connor, ’20

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