Kicking off this year’s Alumnae Perspectives lecture series, Alix McCown ’96 spoke at both Middle and Upper School assemblies about her work as an immigration attorney advocating for youth asylum seekers in the United States.
“She is a woman of vast experience and considerable intellect and rigor,” Head of School Bodie Brizendine said in her introduction of McCown, who is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Safe Passage Project.
“It is so good to have her come home,” Brizendine added, noting that through Alumnae Perspectives lectures, generations of Spence women learn from those who came before them, as alumnae return to the Red Doors to reflect on their education and careers.
“Being here, memories of opening and closing day assemblies come flooding back,” shared McCown, who recalled “when the entire school, K-12, and all the teachers, squeezed into a room not that much bigger than this.”
A sense of adventure has fueled McGowen’s education and career. She credits an exchange program in France with “igniting my passion for travel and learning about other cultures.” This early experience informed the depth and breadth of her work as a political analyst at the CIA, a law school student at the New York University School of Law and later, as litigation associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.
In her current role at Safe Passage, McCown works to help children from all over the world through the complex process of seeking asylum or special immigrant juvenile status in the United States. “Believe it or not, if you have to go to immigration court for immigration removal proceedings, you’re not guaranteed a lawyer, even if you’re a kid,” McCown said. “Our organization represents young people because we believe no young person should have to face immigration court alone.”
But McCown is more than just an attorney, and her clients are not average clients. In addition to navigating legal challenges, they’re also grappling with the traumas of fleeing their home countries to escape persecution. “I’m a little bit of a guidance counselor, a little bit of a lawyer, and an ear to listen to my clients when they have no one else to speak to,” said McCown, who noted that she has the added challenge of communicating with them across multiple languages.
Middle and Upper School students were eager to engage in a discussion with McCown about the complexities of her work, and were particularly curious about how she overcomes language barriers with her clients.
Even though she has interpreters, McCown explained, “Interpreting is an art. It’s a very difficult skillset. Spanish poses unique challenges because it has so many different dialects. You have to know, not only the language, but where that person is from and how they know the language.”
When asked why she likes the work she does, McCown expressed her love for the people she works for and with. “My clients crack me up,” she said. “They have been through some really unimaginable things, yet they still have reasons to smile and make me smile.”