ASU Dean’s Medalist to attend law school, become a public defender

Anjali Mistry was inspired by her passion for gender studies, Black feminism and politics


November 16, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

In December, Chandler, Arizona native Anjali Mistry will graduate summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in women and gender studies, and political science with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Anjali Mistry School of Social Transformation Dean's Medalist Anjali Mistry Download Full Image

In the classroom, Anjali has been an excellent student and has earned outstanding grades. Anjali’s course instructors have been particularly impressed by the thoughtfulness and insightfulness of Anjali’s contributions to class discussions. Anjali has centered her time at ASU learning about Black feminisms and Black history. Learned from the pioneers of Black feminism, she uses intersectionality as a critical lens to inform her academic work. She is a reader of authors such as Angela Davis and Audre Lorde who have inspired much of her passion for gender studies and politics.

Michelle McGibbney, a senior lecturer and current faculty head in the women and gender studies program in the School of Social Transformation, remembers having Anjali in the WST senior seminar this semester.

“I was impressed by the work she produced in this course. Her research paper was theoretically sound and her discussion posts were thoughtful and insightful. She is an excellent student who is extremely motivated and is a critical thinker.  She is well-deserving of this award and we are excited that this outstanding WST major will be recognized.” McGibbney said.

Furthermore, Anjali has worked tirelessly to promote inclusion and awareness of critical social issues. While at ASU, Anjali was a political reporter and opinion columnist for the State Press and a co-coordinator of the Clothesline Project to raise awareness about domestic and sexual violence.

“Anjali was enrolled in my WST 477: Gender and Violence course in fall 2018," said Dr. Alesha Durfee, associate professor in women and gender studies and who has led the School of Social Transformation's Clothesline Project since 2014. "We cover difficult, complex material and then use it to change society by raising awareness about domestic and sexual violence. Anjali thrived in the course and earned an "A". Anjali was also an integral part of the 2018 Clothesline Project. She worked a shift where she was available to students to talk with them about domestic and sexual violence and provide them with information about resources. 

“She also helped with the set-up and tear-down of that event, which is a big job! She also co-organized and co-hosted a separate mini-Clothesline Project on campus. She was always prepared for and very engaged in class, gave insightful comments, worked well with other students, and was clearly passionate about social justice. Anjali was a pleasure to work with, and I'm tremendously happy to see her be recognized through the receipt of this award."

In addition to her work with the State Press and the Clothesline Project, Anjali also interned throughout her junior and senior semesters at various government institutions. Last year she worked as a Senate page at the Arizona State Senate. There she learned the ropes of the legislative process and the intricacies of state government. She then went on to intern at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office of Victim Services, where she spent time doing casework and attending court hearings to help fine-tune her understanding of the justice system

This fall, as part of her work with the Humanities Lab, Anjali has collaborated on projects to develop a new sex education curriculum that is more inclusive of the disabled community and to create a zine sharing student experiences as part of a call for reform to improve accessibility at student counseling services.

After graduation, Anjali plans to attend law school and become a public defender. Anjali’s career ambitions are motivated by her dedication to advocate for marginalized populations and to work to address racial disparities in criminal sentencing. 

We met with Anjali (virtually) and ask a few more questions about her experience at ASU and what motivated her to choose her career path.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My aha moment was after the inauguration of Donald Trump when millions of people all over the nation and globe gathered together to demonstrate the power of women with the women’s march. I was so inspired I decided to dedicate my time at ASU to the study of feminism to better understand how to empower myself and the women around me. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

A: I learned that every person on this earth is ignorant in some type of way, myself included. The amazing professors/mentors I have had at ASU have taught me that I need to work every day to unlearn my ignorance and better my understanding of various communities.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A:
ASU is such an enormous university I knew that the diversity of people and the professors here were going to open me to a whole world of knowledge I hadn’t even known existed yet.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A:
It is a tie between Professor Vinas-Nelson and Professor Stanlie James in the African and African American studies department. They introduced me to Black feminism, whose scholarship and literature has shaped my personal perspective on social issues and has taught me to view the world through the lens of intersectionality.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A:
I would say, don’t go for the easy classes. Take the classes with topics you have a genuine interest for or are even curious about, it will make your time in undergrad so much more fulfilling.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A:
I love Charlie’s Cafe in the Design North Building!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A:
I am applying to law school this fall and planning on attending law school by fall of 2021 with hopes of working for a public defenders office.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A:
I would put the money towards funding for biosecurity measures so we can continue to fight the current pandemic and prevent future ones.

Enrique Martin Palacios

Communications and Marketing Coordinator, School of Social Transformation, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-6432

From ASU Dean's Medalist to Harvard Law School

The School of Social Transformation recognized Mackenzie Saunders with The College’s Dean’s Medal


April 15, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

In May, Mackenzie Saunders, an Ahwatukee native, will graduate summa cum laude with Bachelor of Science degrees in justice studies and politics and the economy and a certificate in socio-legal studies. A graduate of nearby Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee Foothills, Saunders has been a Barrett, The Honors College student and earned a 4.0 GPA while at ASU, among numerous other achievements. In addition, she has been very active with campus residence life and has increasingly taken on leadership positions in political advocacy and nonprofit organizations. SST Dean's Medalist Mackenzie Saunders School of Social Transformation Dean's Medalist Mackenzie Saunders Download Full Image

Gregory Broberg, a lecturer in the School of Social Transformation, remembers Saunders' academic work as her fifth grade elementary school teacher. "Mackenzie’s commitment to her education has always been evident," he said. "Watching her academic growth has been an honor and I know that this will continue as she moves to Harvard Law School."

Saunders has been accepted to Harvard Law School (incoming class of fall 2022) and after earning her law degree, she aspires to work in the area of disability rights law to strengthen the Americans with Disabilities Act and to eventually become a federal judge. In the meantime, she will continue her work as a deputy campaign manager for the November 2020 and March 2021 elections for Phoenix City Council and as director of operations for a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for disability rights and provides resources to people with paralysis nationwide. 

Mackenzie’s honors thesis, “Improving Physical Accessibility at Arizona State University: A Student Perspective,” draws inspiration from her own experience as a walking paraplegic following a spinal cord injury sustained during a soccer game when she was 11 years old.

“For her honors project, Mackenzie conducted an extensive inventory of nearly all buildings on the Tempe campus to identify physical accessibility issues — a painstaking process, given the blistering summer heat and her reliance on disability transportation to get from building to building," said Annamaria Oliverio, Mackenzie’s honors thesis adviser. "But Mackenzie’s drive and determination are only matched by her energy and contagious joy. Her goal was to create a thesis that not only contributed to a nascent academic body of knowledge in disability studies but also advocated for all students. As a disabled student, her perspective is certainly unique, though her results benefit the entire university community. It’s a document other university campuses also can adopt. Mackenzie has been coordinating her efforts with the Disability Resource Center and Facilities Management Office, who have already begun to use her thesis work to improve accessibility over campus."

In many respects, Saunders' thesis embodies the School of Social Transformation's commitment to social innovation and to fostering a more inclusive and just society. “Mackenzie is a pathbreaker who rises above the small-mindedness of individuals and the restrictions of society. She elegantly transforms challenges into opportunities, not just for herself, but also others,” said Oliverio.

We met with Saunders (virtually) to ask a few more questions about her experience at ASU and to learn more about her future plans:

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I was actually in the business school for the first two years of my undergraduate career. Business school definitely helped me realize that I belonged elsewhere. I didn't find the work I was doing to be fulfilling; I wasn't excited about the work I was doing. The moment that really made me realize I had to change majors happened over the summer between my sophomore and junior year. I looked at my class schedule for the fall semester of my junior year, and I felt a feeling of dread. I love school, and I love learning, yet I was dreading school to start. That really flipped a switch for me; I told myself that I needed to make a big change and find a field of study that made me excited and motivated. I looked through all of the majors ASU offered — yes, all of them — and I landed on justice studies. I love helping people, I love social justice, and I love immersing myself in the worlds of others to gain valuable perspectives that I don't currently have. Justice studies excited me, and it was exactly what I needed to make the rest of my undergraduate experience enthralling and rewarding.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Some of the most incredible people in the world go to state schools. Sure, private and Ivy League schools get a lot of praise, but I think the real magic happens at state schools like ASU. I've been lucky to meet people of all walks of life here at ASU: first-generation college students, first-generation Americans, veterans, nontraditional students, students who transferred from local community colleges. ASU is so incredibly and beautifully diverse, and ASU awards all students with the opportunity to succeed to their fullest potential. This has led me to curb my former thinking of "the more exclusive the school, the better it is" because that's totally false! It's not whom you exclude that makes you better; it's whom you include and how you enable them to succeed. That's how you measure greatness: through inclusion. ASU does a brilliant job of awarding a huge and diverse group of people with the opportunities to succeed and thrive.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was born and raised in Arizona, about 10 miles south of the ASU Tempe campus. I chose ASU because I would be closest to my family: my entire family lives here, and they're my best friends. Also, because I'm a first-generation college student, we didn't really have the finances to send me out of state for undergrad. But ASU didn't just draw me in because of its proximity to my family or its in-state tuition; ASU really drew me in with Barrett, The Honors College. The thought of having a small, tight-knit community of driven individuals like myself at ASU — the largest university in the nation — sounded like a dream. And it really was. My Barrett experience shaped my entire undergraduate career, and I can't imagine where I'd be if I didn't choose ASU.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Annamaria Oliverio was my Disability and Justice professor, and she was also my thesis director. As my thesis director, she helped me immensely by telling me to slow down, narrow my project's scope, and remind myself that I can't do everything on my own. Dr. Oliverio taught me how to reach my high standards for myself, all while not stressing myself out too much. I'm the queen of stressing myself out and beating myself up for things I do wrong; Dr. Oliverio, on the other hand, was always the person to remind me that I could be my best, and still take care of myself along the way.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Build relationships with your professors! Ask them questions about their past research! Go to their office hours! ASU professors are some of the most brilliant people out there, and we as students are so lucky to have them here for guidance and insight. Some of my favorite people in the world are professors here at ASU. I'm convinced that me getting into Harvard Law School was because of the sheer amount of help I received from multiple ASU professors during my admissions process. Don't forget that your professors are here to help you, and they truly care about you.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: For my honors thesis research, I walked through every floor of every single ASU Tempe building to document any inaccessible features. Through this process, I discovered so many cute nooks and places of ASU's Tempe campus that no one goes to or knows about! My absolute favorite spot to go is this strange little building on Mill and Curry Street: the ASU Community Services Building. It has a big, grassy lawn and a great view of downtown Tempe. I go there at least once a week to read, get some sun, and study for exams.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was recently accepted to Harvard Law School, but I deferred my acceptance for two years. This means that I will get two gap years after graduating ASU to gain some professional experience before starting law school in September 2022. After ASU graduation, I'll be starting my full-time job as the deputy campaign manager and finance director for Yassamin Ansari's Phoenix City Council campaign. She is a nonincumbent running for an open seat, and it will be a really exciting race. The election is in November, and the run-off is in March 2021! I'll also continue my part-time remote work as a paralegal at The Spinal Cord Injury Law Firm in Washington, D.C. and the director of operations for SPINALpedia, a disability nonprofit in Washington, D.C.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle the problem of homelessness! We have more vacant homes in the United States than we do people who are experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is not an issue of a total lack of resources; it's an issue on how we allocate those resources and how we approach homelessness as a whole. I would use $40 million dollars to aid the development and subsidization of low-income housing in areas with a high amount of homelessness, and I would also fund the voluntary relocation of people who are experiencing homelessness and are willing to relocate to currently vacant homes. I would put more funding into existing homelessness shelters as to improve their quality and capacity, and I would create support programs for those who have previously experienced homelessness, focusing on one-on-one mentoring and a proliferation of employment, financial planning, family and addiction resources as to prevent a situation of homelessness in the future.

Look out Harvard, cause here comes Mackenzie!

Enrique Martin Palacios

Communications and Marketing Coordinator, School of Social Transformation, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-6432