Fall 2019
Passing the Torch

Faculty-student collaboration inspires recognition of trailblazing Hoosier 

Ask Karlee Taylor ‘20 who Dr. Laura Merrifield Wilson is to her and she’ll tell you, “mentor, BFF, and mom away from home.” 

A first-generation college student, Taylor declared three majors before finding her fit in political science sophomore year. That’s where she met Wilson, assistant professor of political science, and experienced an “instant connection.”

“She was the person who reached out when I transferred into the department,” Taylor said. “She understood me and she saw me. Our relationship has been really crucial to my development.”

Campus was closed for the holidays when Wilson learned about a research grant that would allow her to collaborate with a student. She forwarded the email to a few people and heard back from one.

“Karlee had all the potential, but more importantly, she was the person who took advantage of the opportunity,” Wilson recalled. 

In spring 2019, Wilson and Taylor were awarded a $2,000 Shaheen Scholarly Activity Grant from the University of Indianapolis to conduct research on women in Indiana politics. This led them to rediscover the legacy of Harriette Bailey Conn, the first woman and first African-American appointed state public defender in 1970. 

Bailey Conn is also the first Republican African-American woman elected to the Indiana General Assembly, and the first African-American to earn a Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University Law School. Wilson and Taylor submitted a proposal to the Indiana State Historical Marker Program, requesting a plaque be installed near the Indiana State Capitol building in her honor. 

“I’m a lifelong Hoosier and so is she, but I’d never heard of her,” said Taylor. “She’s a phenomenal woman everybody should know about. It’s remarkable that she broke so many barriers despite all the odds she was facing.”

The pair’s request for a historical marker was accepted, and they were granted an Indiana Women’s Suffrage Centennial May Wright Sewall Fellowship from Indiana Humanities in support of their work. 

The next project for Taylor and Wilson? Planning a dedication ceremony in 2020 that will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Bailey Conn’s groundbreaking achievement. 

“I’m excited to help Karlee with her goals, and whether or not she realizes it, she’s helping me achieve mine too,” said Wilson. 

Learn more:

UIndy Votes

UINDY VOTES! is a non-partisan, student-led project that aims to empower voters at the University of Indianapolis and in the surrounding communities. The group emphasizes voter education, registration and a shared passion for democratic participation. 

UIndy Votes! was conceived by Dr. Laura Merrifield Wilson as a class project in 2016 with support from Indiana Campus Compact. More than 70 students have been involved since then, registering hundreds of voters and hosting dozens of community events. It’s also one of many student groups Karlee Taylor is involved with on campus. 

Register to vote today!