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‘An Extraordinary Student, Leader and Changemaker’

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Jordyn Reiland


Jordyn Reiland writer

GSPP grad Juliana Davis is pursuing criminal justice reform in her own way and on her own timeline.

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Campus Life  •
Juliana Davis poses for a photo

Juliana Davis resonates with Billy Joel’s song “Vienna.”

It’s a metaphor for growing older, with lyrics like “Slow down, you're doing fine, you can't be everything you want to be before your time.” The song also highlights the need to take the time to smell the roses—something Davis, a self-described Type A personality, has learned throughout her life and especially as a graduate student at the University of Denver.

“Your goal will be there when you get to it. It’s going to wait for you, so take your time and get there—there’s no rush,” she says. “You're not on anybody else's timeline other than your own.”

Davis will graduate this spring with a master’s degree in forensic psychology from the Graduate School of Professional Psychology. Her path was not always entirely clear—and she faced tremendous challenges along the way—but just weeks before graduation, she is where she wants to be, thanks to both the opportunities provided and the connections made in Denver.

Davis has long known she’s wanted to be a part of criminal justice reform, but she wasn’t sure what that would look like—until now.

She had thought about becoming a lawyer but instead earned an undergraduate degree in behavioral neuroscience from Saint Mary’s College of California and was on the path to becoming a psychiatrist. It was then that Davis realized what she wanted most was to come home to Colorado.

Originally from Aurora, Davis decided to attend DU and begin her MA in forensic psychology in 2022. During her time in the program, Davis started working with a Denver nonprofit called the Youth Empowerment Agency in their school-based behavioral health program.

Davis credits professor Kim Gorgens for connecting her with the organization, which she learned about when she met a member of the Denver Justice Project in one of Gorgens’ classes.

Currently serving schools in Adams County, Davis works to provide an alternative to standard disciplinary action for students with behavior issues.

For example, when a student is sent out of class or to in-school suspension for a disciplinary reason, they meet with Davis or one of her colleagues, who tries to better understand what factors may be impacting that student’s behavior.

Juliana Davis poses for a photo

Davis plans to work with the program on a full-time basis after graduation and hopes to expand it to other parts of the state, including Aurora Public Schools—a district she knows well.

“If it goes well, this is something that I do think must be implemented in schools across the nation,” she says.

Davis also had the chance to be a part of collaborative research that sent her and some of her classmates to Los Angeles to present at the annual conference of the American Psychology-Law Society in Los Angeles. They presented on the experience of pregnancy and postpartum during incarceration.

“The research, the people, the connections that I’ve made while being here is most definitely what’s giving me the drive to go out and find all of these cool things,” Davis says.

Throughout it all, she has tried to remind herself to not sweat the small stuff, enjoy the little moments and celebrate the successes, even during the greatest of challenges.

This was never more important than just before the end of her first year in the program, when Davis was the victim of a random act of gun violence. After taking some time away from DU to recover, Davis was determined to graduate on time with her cohort. She thanks program director and professor Lynett Henderson Metzger for the “crucial” work she did to help make sure she reached every requirement to get it done.

Neil Gowensmith, a professor and Davis’ academic advisor, described her as an “extraordinary student, leader and changemaker during her time at DU.”

“Juliana has experienced life-changing challenges during her time in our graduate program. Her response has been nothing short of unbelievable,” Gowensmith says. “She has maintained exemplary professionalism throughout, while never sacrificing her goals or the quality of her work. Our faculty could not be more impressed with Juliana as a person and as an early career professional.”