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Politics student wins University Medal and Michael Jackson Prize

25 June 2020
Recognising outstanding academic performance
Bachelor Arts/Bachelor of Laws student Nina Dillon Britton has been awarded the 2020 University Medal and Michael Jackson Prize for achieving the highest mark in Government honours.

Congratulations to Nina Dillon Britton, who has won both the 2020 University Medal and the Michael Jackson Prize. The prize is awarded annually to the student who receives the highest mark in Government honours and who has also been awarded the University Medal, which celebrates honours students who possess an outstanding academic record.

I feel incredibly honoured to win the prize. It feels really wonderful to be recognised within the Department of Government and International Relations, and more than makes up for not getting a graduation ceremony due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Nina Dillon Britton

The Michael Jackson Prize is made possible through the support of philanthropist and University of Sydney alumna Annie Corlett AM. Annie has a long-standing affiliation with the University and was previously the President of the Alumni Council. Her outstanding contribution and service to the University was recognised in 2017 when she was awarded the title of Honorary Fellow.

For Nina, the award has already had a positive impact: “I spent it on a much needed new pair of shoes and donated the rest to the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, which provides emergency legal advice to refugees and asylum seekers.”

Nina’s passion for social justice and equality also shines through in her prize-winning honours thesis, Throwing away the umbrella: A quantitative analysis of the effects of Shelby County v Holder.

Her research measured the effects of a 2013 US Supreme Court decision which invalidated a policy called “preclearance” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Preclearance required states with histories of racist voting exclusions to obtain federal government approval for any changes to their voting laws. The process was designed to reduce discrimination, increase voter turnout, and to ensure each citizen had equal power to elect his or her preferred representative.

Map of states in the US formally under preclearance

Map the USA highlighting states and regions affected by the special restrictions on changes to voting procedures in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

‘Throwing away the umbrella’ refers to a quote from Justice Ginsburg, who argued that, “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

“My thesis found evidence of a drop in voter turnout for African Americans in areas previously covered by preclearance, following the 2013 US Supreme Court decision. Further research is required, but I believe this lends support to the argument that restrictive and discriminatory voting practices have increased since the decision was made”, explains Nina.

Studying politics as part of the combined Bachelor of Arts/Law degree enabled Nina to investigate the forces that shape and drive political, economic and social change – invaluable knowledge that has complimented her law studies.

“Studying politics at the University of Sydney has taught me to see politics in all areas of life. It’s pushed me to participate in the political struggles occurring on our campus, at our workplaces and in our student organisations. It’s not something just to study with detachment, but something we can actively affect.”

Nina is currently the editor of Honi Soit, where her coverage of anti-sexual assault protests has been featured the New York Times, News.com and Junkee. Last year, she was the Editor in Chief of the Sydney University Law Society’s Dissent Journal.

She recently worked as a Research Assistant to Associate Professor Anna Boucher in the Department of Government and International Relations on Patterns of Exploitation, a project comparing the effects of different legal regimes on migrant workers’ rights. She is planning to do a PhD in politics in the United States.

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