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Noted advocate for immigrant women to receive honorary NIU doctorate at May 10 graduation

May 6, 2013
Layli Miller-Muro

Layli Miller-Muro

NIU will confer an honorary doctoral degree this spring to Layli Miller-Muro, founder and executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center.

Miller-Muro will receive her honorary doctorate during the Graduate School commencement ceremony, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 10, in the NIU Convocation Center.

An alumna of the American University Washington College of Law, Miller-Muro is the winner of the 2012 Diane Von Furstenberg Choice Award and was named among Newsweek/Daily Beast’s 150 Most Fearless Women (2012), Goldman Sachs’ Top 100 Most Innovative Entrepreneurs (2012) and the Top 40 Feminists Under 40 (2010) by the Feminist Press.

“It is NIU’s honor and privilege to award Ms. Miller-Muro an honorary doctor of humane letters. She is truly a deserving individual,” said Lisa Freeman, vice president for Research and Graduate Studies.

“Ms. Miller-Muro founded the Tahirih Justice Center in 1997,” Freeman added, “and since has assisted more than 14,000 women and girls in obtaining legal immigrant status or asylum, education, English translation assistance, custody of children, employment, housing or other necessities.”

Based in Falls Church, Va., near Washington, D.C., the Tahirih Justice Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting women from human rights abuses through the provision of legal aid and public policy advocacy.

Tahirih Justice Center logoSince 2001, Miller-Muro’s leadership has grown the center’s staff from six to more than 40 and expanded its offices to Houston and Baltimore. In 2007, Tahirih received the Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management.

Her journey to these heights began in law school, when she became involved in a high-profile case that set national precedent and revolutionized asylum law in the United States.

Fauziya Kassindja, a 17-year-old girl who had fled Togo in fear of a forced polygamous marriage and a tribal practice known as female genital mutilation, was granted asylum in 1996 by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals. This decision opened the door to gender-based persecution as grounds for asylum

Using her portion of the proceeds from a book she and Kassindja co-authored about the case – “Do They Hear You When You Cry” – Miller-Muro established Tahirih.

Book cover of "Do They Hear You When You Cry"Now the author of numerous articles on female genital mutilation, immigration law and human rights abuses against women, Miller-Muro is frequently asked to lecture at universities and conferences throughout the world.

She has appeared as a commentator about female genital mutilation, the international marriage broker industry, U.S. immigration policy and women’s rights on Fox News, CNN, BBC, NBC Nightly News, PBS, CNBC, NPR, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

NIU President John G. Peters said that awarding an honorary doctorate to Miller-Muro is a privilege for him as he prepares to step aside next month.

“Layli Miller-Muro is a fascinating and fitting choice for a university like ours,” Peters said.

“As I’ve read more about her advocacy work with immigrant women, I have learned that her passion to help this population was ignited during her law school days. She came to the assistance of a teenage girl from Togo who had fled abusive customs in her home country,” Peters said.

“Likewise, our students at NIU often discover or confirm their life’s callings through the myriad opportunities we offer for engaged and experiential learning,” he added. “I believe Layli will appreciate our deep commitment to making those things possible for students.”

NIU also works to educate future leaders like Miller-Muro.

The Center for Non-Governmental Organization Leadership, which strives to enhance civil society through the work of nonprofits and other forms of public service, houses the bachelor’s degree program in Community Leadership and Civic Engagement.

Layli Miller-Muro and NIU President John G. Peters

Layli Miller-Muro and NIU President John G. Peters

One-of-a-kind in Illinois and among only a select few in the United States, the interdisciplinary CLCE program launched in 2011 exposes its students to a wide variety of topics offered by departments ranging from anthropology and history to economics and political science.

In receiving an honorary degree from NIU, Miller-Muro joins distinguished company.

The list includes former U.S. Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert; Argonne National Laboratory Director Eric D. Isaacs and former Argonne directors Robert Rosner and Hermann Grunder; author and physician Abraham Verghese; historian Arthur Schlesinger; U.S. Sen. Paul Simon; poet Gwendolyn Brooks; astronomer Carl Sagan; Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and Leland A. Strom, former chairman of the board and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration.