Three VLS Students Pursue Legal Careers Focusing on Civil Rights as Marshall-Motley Scholars

Three recipients of the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program, which provides full tuition, room, board and incidentals for students committed to pursuing careers in civil rights law, are preparing for practice in the public interest at Vanderbilt Law School as members of the Classes of 2024 and 2025.

The Marshall-Motley Scholars Program, developed by the Legal Defense Fund, aims to eliminate financial barriers for law students who seek to devote their careers to civil rights and racial justice advocacy by fully covering the cost of law school and attendant expenses. LDF created the program to educate a new generation of civil rights lawyers and enable them to pursue careers as civil rights advocates in the South, unencumbered by student debt.

“It’s been a pleasure and an honor to welcome Marshall-Motley Scholars from the first two cohorts of this exciting program to Vanderbilt Law School,” said Assistant Dean and Martha Craig Daughtrey Director for Public Interest Spring Miller.

Marshall-Motley Scholars attending Vanderbilt Law School include Ashley Fox, Class of 2024, of the first cohort, and Adom Abatkun and Sophia Howard, Class of 2025, of the second cohort:

  • Ashley Fox, Class of 2024

    Ashley Fox of Nashville, Tennessee, earned her undergraduate degree in political science at Washington University in St. Louis and worked in Washington, D.C., for more than five years as communications and outreach director and ultimately deputy chief of staff for a member of the Council of the District of Columbia, the city’s governing body, before entering law school. Fox worked as a legal intern for the ACLU of Louisiana in summer 2022, supporting a Justice Lab initiative aimed at challenging racially discriminatory policing practices in the state. Her interests include voting rights, political engagement and public outreach and advocacy.

  • Adom Abatkun, Class of 2025

    Adom Abatkun of Atlanta, Georgia, earned her undergraduate degree at Georgia Southern University, where she focused on criminal justice and criminology. Before entering VLS, she worked as a prisoner’s rights paralegal for Florida Legal Services for more than two years. She was also an investigative intern with the Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center.

  • Sophia Howard, Class of 2025

    Sophia Howard of Nashville, Tennessee, earned her undergraduate degree at Spelman College, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. During her time at Spelman, she was a Yale Law School Liman Undergraduate Summer Fellow and worked as a policy intern with RestoreHER US.America, a public advocacy organization that supports justice-involved women of color, and a social media and research associate with WomenNOW in Atlanta, a reproductive health and social justice summit sponsored by SisterLove, a women-centered health and reproductive justice advocacy organization.

The first cohort of 10 Marshall-Motley Scholars entered law schools throughout the U.S. in fall 2021 and the second in fall 2022. Students selected for the program choose where to attend law school and commit to practicing in one of 13 Southern states. Scholars participate in an annual retreat each summer.

“The Legal Defense Fund has responded to the need for well-trained, dedicated civil rights advocates with a prestigious scholarship program that will prepare 50 outstanding attorneys to become effective civil rights lawyers and leaders in the fight for equity and justice across the South,” said Jino P. Ray, director of the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program. “The program also provides professional development experiences and resources to equip our scholars to become impactful civil rights lawyers and leaders in the fight for equity and justice for Black communities across the South.”

“I am grateful to the Legal Defense Fund for investing in educating and mentoring future civil rights litigators through this important scholarship program, and I’m very proud that Marshall-Motley Scholars Ashley Fox, Adom Abatkun and Sophia Howard chose to receive their legal education at Vanderbilt,” said Dean Chris Guthrie.

In addition to covering tuition and living expenses, the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program facilitates summer internships with civil rights organizations and access to special training sessions during law school sponsored by LDF. The program then supports scholars as they launch their careers in public advocacy with two-year post-graduate fellowships with civil rights organizations. The program will fund three additional cohorts of 10 scholars who will graduate in 2026, 2027 and 2028.