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Campus leader, survivor advocate wins Truman Scholarship

Junior Elissa Gray prepares for a career in public service

Truman Scholarship winner Elissa Gray with Provost Jonathan Holloway
Provost Jonathan Holloway surprised Elissa Gray with the good news.

Northwestern University junior Elissa Gray has received a highly competitive Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a $30,000 award that supports graduate education for outstanding students who plan to pursue careers in public service.

Gray, a journalism and political science double major with a minor in gender and sexuality studies, plans to attend law school and dedicate her career to the intersection of sexual assault survivor advocacy and the shortcomings of our criminal justice system.  

“You cannot be an effective advocate for survivors without recognizing the injustices of the system as it exists today, specifically as it relates to marginalized communities,” Elissa said. “I wouldn’t want to be a prosecutor supporting survivors of sexual violence without understanding why survivors of certain identities never report their experiences in the first place, or recognizing the racialized history of sexual assault accusations and how that connects with the disproportionate number of people of color in the American prison system.”   

On campus, Gray serves as the president of Alpha Phi Omega, a coeducational service fraternity that emphasizes the principles of leadership, friendship and service. She also serves as co-editor for student publication Her Campus.  

Already passionate about sexual violence advocacy before attending Northwestern, Gray joined Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators (SHAPE) during her sophomore year and currently works as an intern at the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, which provides free civil legal assistance to low-income residents. 

A first-generation college student and native of Las Vegas, Gray plans to use the Truman Scholarship to help pay for law school after she has graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Although she is not planning to pursue journalism after graduating, she praised the program in preparing her for the future: “My experience in Medill has forever shaped how I approach the work I want to do long-term.” 

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to select and support the next generation of public service leaders.

In 2019, there were 840 candidates for the award nominated by 346 colleges and universities, a record number of applications and institutions. Sixty-two new Truman Scholars were selected in 2019.

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