UMSL graduate Lucy Grimshaw earns Fulbright scholarship to further her passion for social justice abroad

by | Apr 17, 2023

Grimshaw will pursue a master’s degree in the Department of Sociology and Center for Criminology at the University of Manchester.
Lucy Grimshaw

Lucy Grimshaw, who graduated from UMSL last year, has been selected for a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the Department of Sociology and Center for Criminology at the University of Manchester. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

In early March, Lucy Grimshaw was on a Zoom call discussing her next steps with her mentor, Pierre Laclede Honors College Dean Ed Munn Sanchez, when she received an email that would change the course of her career.

Grimshaw, who graduated from the University of Missouri–St. Louis last summer with dual degrees in public policy administration and social work and also received an Honors certificate, was feeling less than optimistic. She had recently completed the intensive process of applying to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for the second time in two years and, after not hearing back about an interview in February, believed she was out of the running once again.

Munn Sanchez encouraged Grimshaw to stay hopeful and wait just a few more days to hear back – perhaps they were just running behind. But Grimshaw was steadfast in her resolution: she was not being selected, and she needed to start making other plans.

As fate would have it, an email then popped up, letting Grimshaw know she had been selected for an interview. Overjoyed, she spent the next two weeks preparing, reviewing her personal statement, and conducting mock interviews with family and friends. Ultimately, on March 27 she received word that she had been selected for a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the Department of Sociology and Center for Criminology at the University of Manchester. Grimshaw was working a shift at her full-time job at a psychiatric rehabilitation home when she got the news, and she immediately went to the bathroom to call her mom, jumping up and down in excitement as she processed the news.

Grimshaw’s interest in exploring the prison system stems from a service trip to Haiti when she was 15 and from her love for the novel and musical Les Misérables from a very young age. She has centered her research on the criminal justice system within the intersections of mental health, race and poverty. Reflecting back now, she acknowledges that the real-world experience she gained on the ground after not being selected for the Fulbright the first time helped shape the focus of the work that she wants to do.

“The change in the level of sophistication in her application and just in her self-understanding over two years is amazing,” Munn Sanchez said. “Her project on how we think about and engage with mental health and the intersection with race, poverty and incarceration is just a really core issue. She’s always had a passion for justice, and this is a key question of justice. She wants the world to be a better place, particularly for this group of people. The core is her passion for it and then, of course, she has the ability to do it. She thinks really well. She understands research. She’s really engaged. But I think what really makes the difference is that she found something she’s really, really passionate about.”

Here, Grimshaw chats more about that passion, her plans at the University of Manchester and how her experience at UMSL equipped her for this next step.

Why were you interested in applying for the Fulbright in the first place?

Fulbright was founded to help promote mutual understanding between countries and was set up after World War II. I have always been passionate about traveling abroad and understanding other global cultures. At the end of my junior year, one of my friends got a Fulbright, and I thought it looked interesting, so I approached Ed Munn Sanchez, my mentor, about applying, realizing that the process would be hard but worth it. I decided to apply for the U.K. because I thought it would be a good fit for me, but I ended up applying for the Open award, which is the most competitive award. It was a strong application, but in January, I found out I was Non-Select, which was hard for me.

What did you do after you found out you had not been selected the first time?

When I learned that I didn’t get the Fulbright, I decided to work. So for my last paid practicum for social work, that’s what I did. But it was the best thing for me because, throughout my time at UMSL, I got several opportunities to intern with ArchCity Defenders, Freedom Community Center and New Covenant Legal Services. For my last practicum, I worked in a psychiatric rehabilitation home, and that’s really where my passions came to fruition during the end of my senior year. Some of what I wanted to do in terms of research abroad materialized on the ground. I got a lot more on-the-ground experience analyzing the system and working with the guys in the home.

For me, it’s heartbreaking because many of them have lost so much time in their lives because they have been put in institutions. They deal with these intersections of race and poverty. A lot of them didn’t get an education, didn’t have health care growing up, and were misunderstood. Many of them were in communities where mental health was not discussed. And there were clear signs when you read their case files, but they weren’t able to be acted on. So, they got worse and worse and worse, to the point where they had to be institutionalized. Some of them are now out and now in homes like the ones I work in. I can see how the system has worked in their favor, how it hasn’t worked in their favor, and how much time they’ve lost. They would be amazing people in society, but they didn’t have that chance that you or I may have just because they didn’t have the resources to get what they needed. I was really blown away during my practicum and after the practicum ended and I graduated, it turned into a full-time job.

How has that experienced shaped your focus?

Over the past year, I’ve gotten to work with this population, learn more and understand it holistically. What are their struggles? What are they going through? What did the courts help with? What are the courts not helping with? Who are their support systems? How can I be a support system? What medications do they take?  I wouldn’t have had that perspective if I had done the Fulbright the year before. At the same time, I knew a Sudanese refugee, Bade Ali Jabir, who was unfortunately shot by the police and passed away in September 2022 while I was in the process of reapplying. He was one of the main reasons I knew my work was important. It gave me more of a perspective for why I wanted to do what I wanted to do because it was a case in point – looking at his PTSD from being in a war-torn country, coming to the U.S. seeking a new start, and then being shot by the people who are supposed to protect him. It really, really broke my heart. And I was like, we need to do something about the stigmatization of mental health and get more boots on the ground to help with this. My brother also has mental health struggles, and I’ve seen how stigma has affected him. Lastly, I was also adopted by an amazing, intelligent and strong white British woman. My life as a transracial adoptee gives me a unique perspective on race and global cultures. In an NPR article, I talked about some of my experiences as a transracial adoptee. So, these are all reasons I think my research would make a lot of difference. I want to see if there are ways to benefit society and dignify people who have these mental health struggles that may end up being institutionalized or incarcerated and if there are more dignifying ways that still protect society but are more cost-effective.

What did it mean to you to be selected as a Fulbright Scholar this time?

It means I can more effectively advocate for my clients and those suffering from these global intersections of mental health, race, and poverty. Since the U.K. is the most competitive program – in 2021, the U.K. granted just 4% of grants to over 1,000 applicants, and my program had 31 applicants – I talked to someone from Dartmouth through a U.K. Slack group chat who was so inspiring and also up for my exact award. It was amazing that I now get to represent UMSL, as I didn’t have an entire Fellowship office of 30 people backing me. Also, since I am now among an incredibly small but dedicated group of Fulbrighters in the UMSL student community to get a study award recently – and to the U.K., nonetheless – I am honored. I will say that many friends and family (you know who you are, and I am grateful) helped me, reading and rereading drafts and helping with mock interviews. But I worked incredibly hard on my own as well to succeed. In addition, I was so humbled that the Fulbright Commission chose me, realizing how much time and tenacity can be rewarded and is super important.

Now, when I’m abroad, getting my Master of Research, when I get tired, I’ll be able to think of Bade and my other clients and realize that they don’t have the access or the ability to be in the rooms I’m able to be in. So, when I get tired, I’ll think of them, which I wouldn’t have been able to do as fully a year ago. It also means being a part of a fantastic new community. The Slack group chat kept me sane talking with them during the waiting. That’s where I grew especially close with a candidate from York, and I was thrilled that we both got the award. Now we are all on GroupMe in a chat that I started, and we are planning trips. I am so excited. I’ll get a flat with one of the Fulbrighters from Manchester Met. I am so amazed at the kindness, passion and intellect that each Fulbrighter holds.

Why did you choose the University of Manchester?

The U.K. is interested in ending mental health stigma and assisting with mental health crises sufficiently, so I felt it would be the perfect place to compare and contrast how the U.K. and the U.S. handle mental health crises and the criminal justice system. I looked at different schools and realized that the University of Manchester would be the best fit for me because of its critical thinking skills and nuance around criminology. I wanted a school internationally renowned for thinking about the topic critically and handling issues of criminality – specifically in how people are deemed as criminals – with nuanced compassion, seriousness and wholeness and a focus on rehabilitation and eliminating stigma. I wanted to be able to do independent research and think critically at a graduate level. I wanted my work to be compelling and taken seriously within the context of methodology, nuanced data collection, compassion and activism. I’m passionate about combining research with activism and humans with research, which is why Manchester was one of the ones I liked. It’s also one of the only Master of Research programs holistically analyzing criminology. It’s a highly competitive program, with only 18 people globally being hand-picked for one of their three criminology programs. The University of Manchester, in and of itself, is in the top six schools in Europe and 28th according to the QS World University Rankings as of 2022.

One of the things I am most excited about is being engaged in the community while I’m there; I’m excited about getting involved with local organizations Rethink Rebuild Society and Conversations Over Borders to work with the refugee populations. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to find a population like the one I tutor at Firm Foundation, but I am excited to continue that work. I also plan to volunteer some with Girls Out Loud. I have been a coach at Girls on the Run for the past five years and plan to continue my mentorship over there just in a different capacity; I love all my GOTR girls so much. I also anticipate working with Community Led Initiatives to get to know the prison population and what they deal with over there.

Tell us about your plans to pursue a master’s degree in research and criminology.

I want to understand the populations that deal with the vulnerable intersections of mental health, race, and poverty, who may engage in deviancy and crime and have mental health crises. So the questions I want to look at are what are some ways to prevent crime when people have mental health crises, and what is the criminal justice system’s impact on stigmatizing people who have mental health issues? Does that mean we need to have police and social workers on the ground more? I also want to analyze the impact of COVID-19 on these communities. What does institutionalization mean for those who have been in a pandemic? I also want to examine how George Floyd’s murder affected these populations and how we have these conversations.

How did your experience at UMSL prepare you for this next step?

I owe so much of who I am and what I’m able to do to UMSL. UMSL grew my confidence holistically as a person, as well as a critical thinker and scholar. Being in the Honors College gave me lifelong connections with peers and taught me how to analyze text, engage in scholarly discussions and produce quality outputs. Obtaining two degrees and having advisors willing to help me with public policy and social work gave me a broader, unique perspective of how the system and society help and hinder individuals, specifically within my chosen population. I exercised my passion for looking at research, which would be more the public policy route, in tandem with how human beings are involved in the research with social work. I took four different research methods classes from both sides of my separate degrees, which Manchester told me makes me more than ready for the research side of their graduate program. I only had that experience with such dedicated professors, advisors and classes that I loved.

One of the things I was able to do that I loved was speaking at the MLK Day Celebration as a freshman, and that’s what helped me to solidify so many of my dreams. I went on a civil rights trip with Dr. Sha-Lai Williams and Courtney McDermott over spring break, going to Selma, Alabama, and talking about why the program is needed with them on St. Louis on the Air. It changed my life. I was chosen as a Newman Civic Fellow by Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, which connected me with incredible people nationwide.

What are you hoping to do after the Fulbright scholarship?

Working with this population over the past year has made me very passionate and protective over them, ensuring they get treated with the dignity they deserve. Because of this, I want to see how I can intertwine the research that I do within the master’s program with going to law school and becoming a civil rights lawyer and potentially, after that, making a broader systemic impact. I’ve also contemplated getting a JD/MSW, JD/PhD in psychology or JD/PhD in criminology. My main goal is to ensure that this population isn’t forgotten about and that alternatives are put in place so that these people can be productive members of society. I want to help rehabilitate members of society who deal with these intersections, whether young or old, to make the world a better place. And I want to dignify and ensure that whoever I work with is not stripped of their humanity in the court of law because, within these intersections, they’ve already been stripped of their dignity through misunderstanding, stigma and lack of resources. I think the bottom line is treating people with love and respect. Bryan Stevenson once said in his impactful book, “Just Mercy,” “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” In my personal statement, I said, “Many people have never had their stories told and face the real weight of the criminal justice system, with race, poverty and mental illness tipping the scales. Without someone fighting for those who are disadvantaged, they may not live to see another day, and the world may not have the chance to see them as more than their crimes.”

I would like to thank my family, friends and the clients I currently serve, the former for their kindness, longevity, belief in me and empathy, and the latter for their inspirational, tenacious and redemptive lives. There are also many faculty members and advisors who supported me throughout my time at UMSL, including in some cases writing letters of recommendation on my behalf for the Fulbright Scholarship. In particular, I’d like to thank Annie Hyde, Rob Wilson, Courtney McDermott, Michael Gearhart, Ed Munn Sanchez, Ann Torrusio, Dan Gerth, Tchule Moore and David Kimball. And most importantly, to God, who has supported me every step of the way.

Heather Riske

Heather Riske