Elizabeth Richards ’83

2014 Distinguished Citizen Award

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It was during her last year at Macalester that Elizabeth Richards found her life’s work. That year the speech and women's studies major did an internship with the St. Paul nonprofit Women's Advocates helping to get women protective court orders.

A few years later she was in law school at the University of Minnesota working in a new public interest law clinic that took on domestic abuse cases. “We picked up 22 cases in the first two weeks of the program,” Richards remembers.

Thus she entered the important new field of domestic violence prevention work, a field that in the early '80s had only existed for a few years in Minnesota. Richards went on to work for 10 years as training program manager for the Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project, as a battered women's advocate with the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, and as a civil rights complaint investigator for the City of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota.

Two years ago, after working for the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women for several years as a lawyer and program director, she became the group's executive director. In that role she helps bring together 80 member programs throughout Minnesota that advance women's safety and security.

Says her college roommate and nominator Tina Clarke ’82, “Liz has worked tirelessly to help prevent and heal violence in every corner of Minnesota. She builds bridges, solve problems, empowers women, facilitates understanding, and proactively prevents violence, abuse, and prejudice.”

Last year was a discouraging one for domestic violence workers in Minnesota, with a larger than usual number of Twin Cities women killed by their husbands and boyfriends. “It’s easy to ask, why is this problem not getting any better?” says Richards. “Are we making any progress at all? But I have a 30-year perspective and I can see that things have improved for women in Minnesota. Three decades ago they had no options, few shelters, no programs.”

That said, she is by no means complacent. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women is working on conflict resolution programming designed to prevent domestic violence, and educational programming around teen violence and is continuing its public awareness and public policy work.

“Safety is a fundamental human right,” says Richards. “If we cannot provide safety in our citizens’ homes, how can we move onto other things?”