Isabell Murray: Best Foot Forward

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UW Tacoma junior Isabell Murray is using her status as Miss Pierce County to help raise awareness about juvenile incarceration.

Update since we published this story in 2018: Isabell Murray, '19, Law & Policy, served as an intern with the Pierce County Juvenile Court and has since been hired to work as a detention officer. She also serves as the campaign manager for Tacoma School Board candidate Enrique Leon. Murray was one of six students named to UW's 2019 Husky 100.

Isabell Murray is a ballerina, pageant winner and advocate for formerly incarcerated individuals. The 21-year-old law and policy major plans to pursue law school and a career as a criminal defense attorney. “I think they’re [defense attorneys] demonized a lot,” said Murray. “It’s important to protect peoples’ constitutional right to representation.”

Murray came to Washington three years ago from Georgia. Her dad is in the Army and received orders to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Murray was a high school graduate by then and had the option of staying in the Peach State.  “I wanted to see what the Pacific Northwest had to offer,” she said.

Murray’s desire to explore is rooted in her experience. She grew up in South Korea, Germany and a handful of states in the Southern US. “It was hard when I was younger, moving somewhere and not having a lot of friends,” she said. “Still, I had opportunities that may not have been possible if I stayed in one spot.”

Ballet is one of those opportunities. Murray has been involved with dance in one way or another since she was four years old. While in Germany Murray was recently named one of the eight inaugural Dressel Scholars.  The Dressel Scholars program, funded by an initial gift from the family of Melanie Jan LaPlant Dressel, provides support to students at the University of Washington Tacoma.she had the chance to participate in a Royal Academy of Dance program that provides certification in classical ballet. The organization is considered one of the most influential dance instruction organizations in the world. “I love to dance [and] I think the hard work and determination to improve carries over into everyday life,” said Murray. “I don’t give up easily.”

Dance is so integral to Murray’s life that she made it part of her platform during the 2017 Miss Pierce County pageant. “Dance was really the only constant in my life,” she said.  “It’s my community and I wanted to bring that to children, specifically to kids whose parent or parents are in the military.”

Murray got involved with the pageant organization during her first year at UW Tacoma.  This past March she won the competition. Murray’s platform this time around focused on keeping young people out of detention centers, jails and prisons. “I loved my first platform, but I wanted to work on something that impacted more people,” she said. “We have a very punitive outlook in the United States and it’s not effective. We need a new system and I want to help bring about change.”

Social justice issues weren’t on Murray’s radar until she moved to Washington. She took a law and policy course at UW Tacoma that got her thinking. “I began asking a lot of questions,” said Murray. “I’m a curious person and once I started learning I wanted to know more.”  Murray helped start CARE, a registered student organization designed to assist formerly incarcerated individuals. “In many states these people lose their voting rights, are denied access to housing and can’t find a good job,” she said.

Murray is committed to using her status as Miss Pierce County to help others. She’s become a volunteer mentor through Gateways for Incarcerated Youth and plans to start an awareness campaign called #KidsNotCriminals. “There’s a responsibility that comes with the title,” she said. “I made a commitment to help marginalized people and I intend to do that long after I hand over the crown.”

Return to 2019 Commencement: The Husky Family

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / May 23, 2018
Photos by: 
Ryan Moriarty
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or