Brooke Carlaw: Eyes Opened Wide

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Brooke Carlaw, the UW Tacoma 2020 President's Medalist, had her eyes opened to the racial bias in our justice system's approach to eyewitness misidentification by Dr. Stephen Ross.

In a way, Brooke Carlaw is going back to the beginning. The UW Tacoma psychology major graduates in June. A few months after that she will begin work on a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at Colorado State University (CSU). Carlaw started her college career at CSU before transferring to UW Tacoma at the start of her junior year.

Carlaw planned on being a veterinarian. “CSU has one of the top vet programs in the country,” she said. Carlaw took a psychology course to fulfill a general education requirement and something clicked. “I really wanted to understand why people think the way they do and so that’s why I ultimately made the leap of faith and switched to psychology,” she said.

A Washington native, Carlaw moved back to the state and enrolled at UW Tacoma. “I really wanted to transition away from a university with large class sizes and see what it would be like have the opportunity to thrive in a smaller setting,” she said.

Carlaw threw herself into her coursework. “I set a goal for myself to really focus on my education and be the best that I know I can be,” she said. The effort paid off. Carlaw achieved a 4.0 GPA during her time at UW Tacoma and was recently named as this year’s President’s Medalist for the campus.

When she wasn’t studying, Carlaw was, well, studying. "Dr. [Stephen] Ross from the Center for Applied Social Cognition Research has assisted me with creating my own independent research." Carlaw is looking into eyewitness misidentification. “I’m specifically focusing on eyewitness memory of cross-race multiple-perpetrator crimes,” she said.

Carlaw’s interest in the subject has grown over time. “I’ve taken a lot of classes with Dr. Ross and he really opened my eyes to the problem with eyewitness misidentifications and erroneous convictions in our legal system,” she said. "The majority of wrongful convictions are from eyewitness misidentification and many of these were when the perpetrator and eyewitness are of different races."

Commencement will look a little different this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily put a hold on large public gatherings. Carlaw is disappointed but she does see an upside. “Honestly, it’s a blessing in disguise because I have family that will be able to see my Commencement online that wouldn’t have been able to attend in person,” she said. “My grandma is 92 years old and is unable to travel but now, since I’m graduating virtually, she’ll be able to see me.”

Carlaw is excited for the next phase of her life to begin and looks back fondly at her time here. “I’ve had a great time at UWT and I’m very thankful for all of my experiences here because they really helped shape where I want to go,” she said.

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / June 12, 2020
Photos by: 
Brooke Carlaw
Media contact: 

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