Mackenzie Roberts

Mackenzie Roberts
March 03, 2020

Mackenzie Roberts is a graduate of GW's American Studies department. She now works an Assistant Public Defender at the Alexandria Public Defender's Office. We reached out to Mackenzie to feature her in our weekly alumni spotlight. Read what she has to say.

How does your American Studies background inform your work as a public defender?

My background in American Studies prepared me to think creatively as a public defender. I was forced to think outside of the box in my American Studies classes and have taken that approach in my cases. I also think it also makes me more aware of, and sensitive to, cultural and societal influences on my clients and helps me communicate and understand them better.

Is there a meaningful moment you remember from your time at GW that stands out?

I remember that Professor McAlister asked me to speak about my thesis topic on a panel to showcase student work. I was very proud to have been chosen because I loved the process of writing my thesis: an ethnographic study about how understanding of work ethic is passed down from mothers to daughters.

What paths did you take to get to where you are now? We know you had other jobs before, but what did you see as your path, your goals, that led you from one place to the next? Where do you see yourself going next in your career?

During my time at GW, I interned at the DC Public Defender Service. It was the first time that I was  exposed to the many inequalities and injustices in not only our criminal justice system, but also our society. I was so inspired by the work, and loved engaging with a community that was so different from the one in which I grew up, that I knew I wanted to work in a public defender's office. After undergrad, I worked as an investigator at the Public Defender's office in Seattle. I enjoyed being an investigator but decided to go to law school so that I could make a larger impact in the courtroom. I always wanted a career where every day is different and exciting, that keeps me mentally stimulated and engaged in the community, and gives me the opportunity to see the tangible results of my efforts. Being a public defender is truly all of those things. I am now at the Alexandria Public Defenders Office and it is everything I hoped. If I ever leave, I would probably move into criminal justice reform policy or work for a non-profit. 

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received and what advice would you give American Studies students today?

No amount of money is worth doing a job you dislike.

Imagine you’re lecturing at GW—what is the topic?

I would lecture on alternatives to incarceration and compare the US system of mass-incarceration to more rehabilitative and restorative models in other countries.