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EPD head of comms earns juris master, becomes Double Eagle

A. Kenyatta Greer |
Morioka Johnson 24L

Traditionally, most law school graduates go on to be lawyers. But for Morieka Johnson 94C 24L and other recipients of the juris master degree, there is the opportunity to learn from world-class legal scholars and take that knowledge into a number of careers that require one to look at situations through a legal framework.  

Her work isn’t just law adjacent. She is on staff at the Emory Police Department, a cohort of 43 sworn officers who serve the Emory University, Oxford College, and Emory University Hospital Midtown campuses along with 28 administrative staffers. 

Johnson is director of communications in the Department of Campus Safety at Emory University. She is co-chair of the Emory Black Employee Network and recipient of Emory's Friend of Residence, Sorority, and Fraternity Life Award. Now, 30 years after earning her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Emory, Johnson will become a Double Eagle.  

She shared some insights about her law school experience with Emory Lawyer. 

What made you decide to enroll in the JM program? 

I learned about the JM program when I read a profile on my colleague Sgt. Ayinde Luqman, a 2020 graduate. At the time, I was considering a role with the Emory Police Department. After joining the team, I was proud to see that EPD strongly encourages employees to pursue continuing education. My role involves strengthening EPD’s connections to the community we serve. I realized that the JM program would enhance my skills and my contributions to the department.  

Were you nervous at all about starting the program and, if so, why? 

As an Emory alum, I knew the coursework would be challenging. I had some concerns about balancing the workload, but EPD program graduates Sgt. Ayinde Luqman and Lt. Anthony ReFour (JM 22), were so supportive. It also helped me to go through the program with a coworker. Sgt. Christian Theis was my accountability partner. We committed to tackling this journey together. 

Describe how you felt before your first class. 

The night before class, I was extremely nervous. When we started the virtual bootcamp session, I took a screenshot as a memento. We dove right into legal concepts with Professor Robert Parrish and Professor Allison Thornton and I remember thinking, “There’s no turning back.”  

Do you have a concentration in the program?  

I concentrated on Employment Law, which includes the courses Employment Discrimination and Employment Law for Professionals. This concentration has given me valuable exposure to important legal concepts that will serve me well in my role with EPD, and beyond. My goal is to consult other agencies on implementing community policing practices. Transformative work often begins with a focus on employees.   

How does it feel to be closing in on the finish line?  

I’m proud. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learned and encouraging other EPD colleagues to consider this program. Every course has taught me something valuable that I apply daily.  

How do you use this degree in your current work?  

My role within EPD involves strengthening our relationships with students, faculty, and staff. The role incorporates data analysis, legal concepts, marketing, mediation, and storytelling. Courses such as Dispute Resolution, Law and Legal Professionals, and Business Oversight and Compliance have enhanced my approach to the role. I’m better able to focus on the bigger picture as well as the immediate needs of our community.   

What was your favorite class?  

Every class made me better. However, Contracts was probably my favorite. Contracts seem intimidating, but we enter agreements every day, from buying a car to accepting terms before updating a phone app. It’s so important to consider the details in these agreements. Fortunately, Professor Mindy Goldstein was incredibly engaging. She made this complex topic much more approachable. Now, I see contracts in a totally different way, and I’m grateful for the experience.  

Did you have a favorite professor?  

I loved that Professor Goldstein gave us engaging, creative assignments that made difficult concepts more approachable. I also consider Professor Virginia Mellema a favorite. She taught Employment Discrimination for Professionals. This course has helped me advise colleagues on best practices regarding compliance with equal employment opportunity laws. Professor Mellema’s extensive background reinforces the benefit of an Emory degree. She worked as an administrative judge for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for 34 years and earned a PhD in Jurisprudence and Social Policy from UC Berkeley Law School. Dr. Mellema knows this topic and has been an amazing resource for me. I look forward to staying connected.   

Who is your personal support system?  

The program is challenging. Whenever I got discouraged, I remember a message from my pastor: “The grace that brings you to a challenge will carry you through a challenge.” I also benefited from having my colleague, Sgt. Christian Theis, go through the program with me. We have been able to keep each other uplifted and focused. We also set a goal of applying what we learn to help EPD as well as other agencies, so I’m excited about what’s next.   

What does it mean to now be an alumna of Emory Law? 

I’m so proud to have completed this program. It’s special to come full circle and earn the distinction of being a Double Eagle. 

Will you march at the ceremony in May? 

I will proudly march in the Law School ceremony. As for Commencement, that’s a special time when our entire department focuses on ensuring that Emory students and families are celebrated. I’ll be with my EPD colleagues, and I look forward to hearing encouraging words from our Commencement speaker, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice.