Global View: Law student eyes career in international law field

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Photos courtesy of Devon Graham-Aiyash

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Wayne Law student Devon Graham-Aiyash was exposed to international travel at an early age. And so when it came time to choose her major at Michigan State University, International Relations and Affairs was a natural fit.

“My mum was born in the U.K. and immigrated over with my grandparents when she was a child,” Graham-Aiyash says. “With all of our extended family remaining in the U.K, we spent many summers going back to visit everyone. Thanks to these trips, I became infatuated with learning about other countries – their cultures, religions, languages, and of course, food.

“My MSU major was a clear way to expand my global knowledge past travel and into policy, so I jumped at the opportunity.”

During her final year, Graham-Aiyash did a legislative internship at the Michigan House of Representatives, where she enjoyed speaking with constituents.

“It can sometimes be a trying task, especially when someone is calling about an issue they are angry or frustrated about—nonetheless, helping people directly was always purposeful work,” she says. “I think it’s easy to get frustrated with government and find yourself feeling the system doesn’t work, so to be in a position where I could connect people directly with the resources and answers they needed was very rewarding and refreshing. It’s a very humbling experience to be a cog that can actually help turn the wheel.”

When she then decided to refocus her education on something she could put to good use, law school immediately came to mind.

“I’ve always had a knack for arguing, which I’ve come to realize is often the stereotypical character trait that pushes many towards law school,” she says. “But I think it was the 2016 election that really pushed me to pursue law school. I was always fascinated by law, as it’s so unique in the fact that it controls our lives entirely yet is completely man made. But this election showed me the danger in that power and how important it is to have access to legal knowledge.

I’m very passionate about reproductive rights and the fight against sexual assault in our country, so seeing this administration shift pushed me to finally focus on pursuing my legal education.” 

Now a 2L at Wayne Law, Graham-Aiyash particularly appreciates the school’s sense of community.

“I’ve found a family in my friends, and that was truly something I didn’t expect—I was prepared to come to school, do what I needed to do to succeed, and leave,” she says. “Instead, I’ve met some of the most wonderful people within a community that allows and encourages these types of friendships to blossom. I couldn’t imagine surviving law school without my friends. Law school doesn’t have to be ruthless and I like that Wayne recognizes that.”

When she first entered law school, Graham-Aiyash was interested in prosecuting sex crimes—but as she gained experiences and focused on what she wanted to achieve within her personal life, her focus shifted.

“Through a series of speakers and student groups, my legal eye has begun to wander,” she adds. “I remain deeply passionate and committed to the fight against sexual assault and domestic violence and I’m growing to realize I can put those passions to work in more than just one way. I’d like to explore opportunities within family law. I believe I have a personable personality that could go to good use in sensitive areas of the law, like divorce. I’d also like to develop a part of my practice to specifically assist survivors of domestic violence.

“However, my passion for International Relations keeps International Law in the back of my mind. I’m currently taking International Law with Professor Brower and it makes that dream more tempting by the week.”

Graham-Aiyash serves as dean of the school’s Delta Theta Phi Chapter, overseeing all initiatives from rush events, to speaker series, to diversity initiatives, and ensuring everything runs smoothly.

“I love that Delta Theta Phi allows each chapter to carve out its own culture and initiatives,” she says. “When I ran for dean, I did so on a platform of diversity and shaking off the reputation of professional fraternities being a good old boys club. I was even more excited when I joined the e-board and found out they are equally as interested in pushing for the same changes.

Graham-Aiyash also serves on the e-boards of the Women’s Law Caucus and If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice.

“I come from a family of mostly women, so fighting for our rights and true equality for all women, no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation, relationship status, and nationality, is so very important to me,” she says. “I love that I get to work with other incredible women to create a positive legal community within Wayne Law while also fighting for the basic and expansive rights women have been owed for quite some time.”

She has enjoyed Mock Trial for providing insight into the courtroom through a step-by-step learning process.

“It’s provided me with exposure to the work of a litigator and the many skills necessary to conquer the courtroom,” she says.

Through Wayne Law’s Program for International Legal Studies, Graham-Aiyash was selected for an International Public Interest Law Fellowship to work this past summer with the Center for Democratic Development in Accra, Ghana. But the pandemic put the kibosh on that experience.

While replacement internship opportunities were limited during the pandemic, she landed a summer internship with JD Advising.

“Although it wasn’t legal experience, I was able to flex my writing muscles all summer, learn about the Bar Exam, work in social media—another interest of mine—and learned several ways to be a better law student,” she says.

She has been offered an externship for the upcoming winter semester with the Michigan Poverty Law Program working on a mix of family, elder, consumer, housing, and public benefits law.

A native of Indian River in northern Michigan, Graham-Aiyash and her husband, a first year medical student at the MSU College of Human Medicine, live at her grandmother’s Oakland County home.
For the past four years, Graham-Aiyash has been a live-in caretaker for her 94-year-old grandmother who suffers from dementia.

“We’re lucky in the sense her dementia has not eliminated her ability to do everyday tasks like get herself ready or remember who exactly we are,” she says. “However, I would say the trickiest part of life at home is living in two realities—the world my Nana lives in is not the one we all call reality, and it can be difficult to walk those two timelines. Managing my Nana’s care and law school can be tricky at times—each day is different. That being said, she is a very special woman in my life and helping her live life the best she can is rewarding in its own right.

“I’ve also learned life skills—most importantly patience and understanding—that I think will help me be a better lawyer. My family helps as much as they can, and I would never survive without them. We’re a small but very powerful unit of women!

“I’m the only daughter of an incredible single mother, who together with my aunt, owns and operates a prototype sheet metal company in Troy,” she adds. “Our family unit is small and incredibly female. The only man legally bound to the family is my husband. This undoubtedly influenced my passion for women’s rights.”

Studying during the pandemic has been challenging, especially with taking care of her grandmother.

“This is a time where I really had to recognize my shortcomings and address them head on to find effective solutions. Acclimating was difficult, but not impossible. That being said, I can’t wait for life to be in person again.”

Graham-Aiyash even adds to her family by volunteering with Big Brother Big Sister of Metropolitan Detroit, where she has been matched with her “little” for just over six months.

“My ‘little’ is one of eight siblings and I’m helping her with her reading, exposing her to new types of food, and helping her grow her interests,” she says. “The staff at BBBS is wonderful, so if you’ve ever considered signing up, please take the leap and reach out!”

Before the pandemic, Graham-Aiyash loved to travel, racking up visits to 24 countries. Her favorite adventures include whitewater rafting the Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River, building a house in Cambodia, cuddling baby elephants in Kenya, and visiting Egypt, where she got engaged to her future husband—the two have now been married for two years.

One of her favorite countries is Ireland, where she spent four months working at Spunout.ie in Dublin, an Irish youth advocacy website.

“I had the opportunity to write for the site, work in sex education workshops, go to Belfast for a community connection project, and speak to people all across the country for partnerships,” she says.

“Opportunities to learn firsthand how others in the world live are always beneficial and incredibly special. I also made some incredible friends. I continued to go to back to Ireland, as a close friend of mine lives there, and I would always meet up with my past co-workers.”

She also runs a TikTok account dedicated to fighting fat stigma and sexism, and already has more than 250,000 followers.

“I started the account during the original lockdown, and it has helped me feel connected to the world despite rarely leaving my house over the past seven months,” she says. “I’ll soon be launching a podcast with a friend speaking on the same topics as my TikTok account.”

Boxing has been a passion for the past five years, and Graham-Aiyash has set up a small gym in her garage.

“It’s made a huge difference in managing stress and feeling good. My right hook is especially impressive,” she says with a smile.




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