Find Your Passion: Seeking a Voice for Others

By Bobby Mathews
November 20, 2013

Hannah HicksHannah Hicks says a University of Alabama class sparked her drive toward social justice (Jeff Hanson).

Hannah Hicks notices things many people overlook.

She sees the homeless man on the corner, the dirt blacking his fingernails and worn into the creases of his outstretched palm. She notices the underage victims of sex trafficking, those whose lives have been worn down from the violence and apathy of poverty.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Hicks, 22, is a native of Attalla, Ala. She majored in philosophy and religious studies, with an eye on going to law school after completing her undergraduate degree.

As a first-year law student at the Capstone and a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship, Hannah’s plan seems to be coming to fruition. But life threw her a curve—and opened her eyes. Majoring in philosophy, Hicks needed to find another major to complement her studies.

“I was scrambling around to find another major,” Hicks said, “and I found a class (in religious studies) called ‘Modern Atheism.’ Taking that course really affected me in such a positive way by allowing me to engage with others, no matter what their beliefs.”

Hannah Hicks
A first year UA law student, Hicks says a religious studies class helped steer her toward public interest law
(Jeff Hanson).

That class introduced a profound change in Hicks’ life. She began to listen to those with different views than her own, began to dialogue, and, finally, began to see.

“It just all sort of clicked for me,” she said. “You walk past people—the kinds of people that you don’t even see a lot of the time, people who are under-represented in our culture.”

That sight—that vision—led to her senior thesis on law and the emotional abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons.

“That wasn’t something I was too familiar with before I came to the University,” Hicks said.

It was, however, a part of her new passion—social justice. Hicks would like to advocate for the dispossessed, for the unfortunate and downtrodden—for those whose own voices are silenced or drowned out.

“Hannah really represents the best of what the humanities at a university can accomplish—through a wide exposure to history and texts, to arguments and sets of interests different groups have had, students zero in on something for which they have passion and then they follow it, long after they leave our classroom,” said Dr. Russell McCutcheon, chair of the religious studies department at The University of Alabama. “The world is a really big menu, with lots of options, and it’s incredibly rewarding, speaking as a professor, to see how students, like Hannah, browse it and then make their selections.”

Hicks’ views on social justice have been greatly defined by author Gyanedra Pandey, the author of “Routine Violence,” a book that stresses how some everyday acts are inherently violent in that they continue to marginalize people.

Hannah Hicks
Hicks says she’s in search of that “moment when I can make a difference …” (Jeff Hanson).

“It talks about how violence in everyday life, in our day-to-day interactions, is so prevalent,” Hicks said. “Some things that you might not think of as violence, for example under-inclusive legal definitions of emotional abuse, continue to affect so many.”

Isn’t it a little wide-eyed, a little innocent, to think that she can help fundamentally change the surrounding culture? To make others acknowledge things they’d rather ignore?

“I’m a pragmatist at heart,” Hicks said. “I know I’ll be working within a well-established social structure. But, the thing I want to do is find a moment when I can make a difference, and seize that moment.”

After law school, Hicks sees herself going into public interest law.

“I think I’d like to work for an organization like Alabama Appleseeds or the Southern Poverty Law Center,” Hicks said.

But wherever she goes, Hicks will have her eyes open—seeing those who are in need. And, hopefully, seizing her moment.

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This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.