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Alumni and current students from the Department of Political Science and International Studies (PSIS) gathered to mingle, network, and gain valuable insights from Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan ’76 at a reception Thursday night sponsored by PSIS and Alumni Affairs.

Ryan, who has held the position of DA since 2013, shared highlights from her distinguished — and pioneering — career in law enforcement. Her words illustrated her commitment to meaningful work and served as inspiration for others to seek out roles that align with their values and goals.

“I am incredibly fortunate to do every single day a job that I love as much as the day that I started there,” she said. “I urge you to seek out work that is both meaningful and enjoyable — a philosophy instilled in me at Emmanuel College.” 

marie natoli, lenore martin, marian ryan, adam silver at emmanuel college

Ryan's journey in law began with an internship at Greater Boston Legal Services during her time at Emmanuel. It was there that she discovered her passion for advocating for the underserved and marginalized in society. The experience sparked a desire to pursue a legal career focused on making a tangible difference in people's lives. “I was representing people who were desperately poor and had so many other needs, in addition to their legal needs,” she said. “I only lived 11 miles from that office, but it was a world completely different from what I had known. I was drawn to that work, fulfilling work.”

Reflecting on her tenure as a district attorney, Ryan emphasized the broad spectrum of cases that come across her desk daily. "We are the biggest county in New England... 54 cities and towns, diverse in every possible way," she remarked. Her role extends beyond prosecution; it involves advocating for systemic changes that enhance public safety while ensuring fairness and equity.

I urge you to seek out work that is both meaningful and enjoyable — a philosophy instilled in me at Emmanuel College.

Marian Ryan '76

One notable aspect of Ryan's work is her focus on reforming bail practices to prevent incarceration solely due to a lack of financial resources and in cases where the DA’s office did not plan to impose a jail sentence. She recounted instances where individuals languished in jail over minor bail amounts, affecting their families and perpetuating cycles of crime and arrest. She spearheaded a program that reduces the use of cash bail for minor offenses with the goal of increasing the number of defendants released before their trial and thus allowing them to maintain stable housing and employment while their cases are pending. The program is specifically geared toward economically disadvantaged and minority defendants.

“It’s a matter of balancing public safety with fairness and compassion,” she said.

marian ryan, emmanuel college president beth ross

Her commitment to justice extends beyond prosecution; it includes initiatives like the Conviction Integrity Unit, aimed at rectifying wrongful convictions. "We have to be willing to examine our own work and be fully transparent," she said, stressing the importance of accountability and continual improvement within the justice system.

Ryan's office has been at the forefront of advocating for immigrant rights within the legal system. She described a scenario where victims of domestic violence, regardless of their immigration status, were detained by ICE while attempting to obtain restraining orders in court. Her office, along with other agencies, sued ICE to prevent them from apprehending individuals seeking legal protection. This resulted in a successful lawsuit and an injunction, making Massachusetts the sole state with such protections against ICE interference in court proceedings.

“We live in a country where the courts have to be accessible to everybody,” she said. “People cannot live in fear of being detained by ICE.”

Mental health issues are a pervasive challenge within the criminal justice system, and Ryan underscored the critical need for resources in addressing the complex issue. As district attorney, Ryan has encountered numerous cases where individuals involved in the criminal justice system also grapple with mental health disorders. "It's a matter of resources," she acknowledged, highlighting the strain placed on the system when individuals with mental health needs do not receive adequate support and treatment.

Ryan's distinguished career has been driven by a deep sense of purpose and a desire to effect positive change. Her journey underscores the impact of justice administered with empathy and integrity.

District Attorney Ryan is an engaging, motivating, and thought-provoking speaker, and it was an honor to have her join us to highlight how her experience as a student at Emmanuel shaped her professional career. I hope that this event can serve as a catalyst for similar events in the future that bring together alumni, students, staff, and faculty all in the interest of ensuring we stay connected as a community.

Christina Ascolillo '17, member of the Alumni Association Board