Mackenzie Fierceton: An Ivy League And Rhodes Scholarship Scandal

How did Mackenzie Fierceton cause such a controversy in her home town, at an Ivy League University and with the Rhodes Scholarship?

By Rick Gonzales | Published

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Mackenzie fierceton

By all appearances, Mackenzie Morrison was living a normal teenage, high school life. She lived with her single mom, Carrie Morrison, who was well known in the medical industry as the director of breast imaging and mammography at St. Luke’s Hospital, in Chesterfield, MO, a suburb that is a stone’s throw from St. Louis and one that is very affluent. While things appeared to be normal, they were far from it. So, how did Mackenzie Morrison end up as Mackenzie Fierceton and why was the University of Pennsylvania holding Mackenzie’s Master of Social Work degree from her? How did it bring the Rhodes Scholarship into things and what is she doing now? It’s a wild and winding story.

LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING

Mackenzie Morrison was born Mackenzie Terrell but took her mother’s name after her father, Billy Terrell, who worked in soap operas, left. Mackenzie Fierceton didn’t come until much later, but with good reason. Mackenzie went to a private prep school, Whitfield, in St. Louis and was an active student. She was in student government, she managed the field hockey team, she played varsity soccer, and she even volunteered to help with the Special Olympics. She was also an A student. But under the surface…

Lisa Smith is the mother of one of Mackenzie’s best friends when she was at Whitfield. Smith recalls one day when her daughter came up to her to ask her why Mackenzie was always injured. Smith recalls, “My daughter kind of looked at me funny, and I looked back at her and said, ‘What are you trying to say?’”

Mackenzie Fierceton would get asked from time to time about her bruises and she would always brush them off with comments about her clumsiness. But people – friends, moms, teachers – began to truly notice. Mackenzie then began to start documenting her life at home with her mom and her mother’s boyfriend, Henry Lovelace Jr. Lovelace was a personal trainer who was best known as Missouri’s Strongest Man, a competition he had won.

One of her first entries in her diary was the recollection of a head injury she suffered a few months prior. The injury left her in the hospital for four days. According to the hospital records, “Mom heard her tumble, thought maybe tripped going up the stairs.” This was the hospital where Carrie worked. Mackenzie said she couldn’t remember how she got the injuries, but the consulting physician said that it was likely that Mackenzie Fierceton fell down the stairs at her home and hit her head. But he also included, “She appears scared.”

As the months moved on and Mackenzie Fierceton got back home and to school, memories of her fall began to creep back in. She remembered that she and her mom had been arguing about Lovelace a week before her “fall.” She wrote in her diary, “Did she actually have something to do with it? God, I don’t know.” She then added, “If I look back at all the signs, at the days leading up to and proceeding my ‘accident,’ the signs all seem to point in the same direction. The one that I feared most.” Mackenzie never did elaborate on those pages.

What she did though was talk about her mother. She explained how brilliant a woman she is. But she also said that her mother can charm anyone and is “pretty much invincible.” Because of this, Mackenzie Fierceton knew that if she were to share any of these things with anyone, her mother would be able to convince them that Mackenzie was lying or downright crazy.

About a month after starting her diary, Mackenzie allegedly went to school with a black eye. She tried to cover it up, but it was no use. She wrote in her journal that she told the story her mother allegedly told her to tell – she was playing with her dogs and tripped and fell into a table. The teacher who pulled her out of class did not buy the story and explained to Mackenzie that she would have to contact the Department of Social Services.

True to Mackenzie’s words, when she came home later that evening, a caseworker was sitting with her mother, chatting it up like they were old friends. Carrie Morrison did not appear to be the typical child abuser. The caseworker did conduct Mackenzie’s interview with Carrie present and Mackenzie gave the same story to her as she did at school. The caseworker was glad things were fine between mom and daughter and that was that.

ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE

Mackenzie Fierceton recalled in her diary an allegedly sickening incident that happened a year prior that involved Lovelace. Mackenzie says she had fallen asleep on her mom’s bed watching a movie, only to be woken up with Lovelace on top of her. She wrote he was “feeling my boobs, running his hand around my inner thighs & exploring other places.” Mackenzie was able to get out from under him, locking herself away in her own room. When she called her mom, she was shocked at her mother’s sick reaction. “She just bursts out laughing,” Mackenzie wrote. She said her mother told her it was simply an accident, saying, “I’m flattered that he got me mixed up with my 15-year-old daughter.”

For the next year, Mackenzie Fierceton alleges, Lovelace continued to sexually abuse her. The teenager could not understand why her mother wouldn’t do anything about it. “I still just don’t understand why she won’t protect me,” Mackenzie told her diary. “Did I do something wrong to make her not want to?”

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COULD IT GET WORSE FOR MACKENZIE FIERCETON?

There is nothing worse than the sexually abused, let’s be clear on that. During Mackenzie’s junior year, she drove to school looking for the one teacher who Mackenzie Fierceton always felt comfortable talking with. “She showed up at my classroom door with a bloodied and battered face and then fainted,” the teacher said. After an ambulance was called and took Mackenzie to a hospital (not the one where Carrie worked), a pediatric intensive-care nurse described the injuries saying, “She had two black eyes, and her hair was full of blood. She had bruises all over her body in different stages of healing—an obvious sign of child abuse.”

When Mackenzie Fierceton was asked who did this to her, she finally said the words, “My mom.” Of course, when Carrie was confronted with the accusations, she denied it all. She also denied the allegations that Lovelace was sexually abusing her daughter. Things, though, were stacking up against Carrie. The wellness director at Mackenzie’s school claims she saw text messages Carrie allegedly sent to Mackenzie calling her a “f%^&ing piece of [email protected]#$” or ordering her to “Get your fat — home.”

Detectives brought Carrie into the police station about a week after Mackenzie Fierceton had been admitted. She was asked one more time about the incident to which Carrie responded, “The only thing she can think is Mackenzie did this to herself.” Then when she was asked why her daughter would accuse her of such a violent act, Carrie said, “I guess she has more problems than I thought.” Carrie Morrison was arrested.

WAS MACKENZIE FIERCETON TREATED FAIRLY?

Mackenzie Fierceton spent three weeks in the hospital. When she was released, it was into foster care. All the while, Carrie Morrison was attempting to turn the narrative. It started when the news of Carrie’s arrest hit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They included a picture of Carrie, looking her finest, regaling about all her accomplishments in the medical field. Mackenzie was hit with an ambush of brutal comments that included, “Bet the daughter is an entitled brat,” and “Such a shame this angry teenage girl just destroyed her mothers career.”

To make matters worse for Mackenzie Fierceton, Carrie was working her “innocence” to those who were potentially siding with Mackenzie’s allegations. Carrie left a voice message with one of Mackenzie’s elementary school teachers, saying. “You know me—I would never hurt my beautiful girl. Mackenzie is making this all up. As you know, she’s mentally ill.” This immediately drew red flags to the teacher as she said, “But here’s the thing,” the teacher said. “We had never talked about her being mentally ill.”

NOT GUILTY?

More like the charges were completely dropped against Carrie Morrison. The case didn’t even make it to the grand jury before the St. Louis County assistant prosecuting attorney decided to drop all charges. Apparently, new evidence was brought into play, though the prosecuting attorney never did provide a direct answer as to what the “new evidence” entailed. The community was now starting to turn their backs on Mackenzie. She went from one foster home to another. When that didn’t work out for her, she went to a third.

Mackenzie remained firm with her allegations. She was bound and determined to make a complete break from her mother and Lovelace, and she had her sights set on college. But Mackenzie knew she didn’t have the financial support she needed to get into a university. Her college counselor then told her about QuestBridge, a non-profit that helps exceptional students who find themselves financially challenged. Mackenzie had to do some serious writing to get her application looked at.

When she was asked to “Describe an experience which caused you to change your perspective,” she decided to write about waking up in the pediatric intensive care unit. She said that “the one who almost killed me . . . the one who is my mother. She broke me.” But she concluded with something more powerful, stating, “I was never broken. She was.”

WELCOME TO COLLEGE

With the help of QuestBridge, and because she was an excellent student, Mackenzie Fiecerton was able to get a full ride at the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t the easiest of times for Mackenzie, although she continued to soar in her schoolwork. But holidays were a time of panic for her as she didn’t have a family to go home to. She would visit friends or former teachers, who always tried to help, but it only made her feel more and more uncomfortable. She worked through it though. By the time her sophomore year in college arrived, Mackenzie decided she should apply for a master’s degree at Penn’s school of social work. If anyone could understand that field, it would be Mackenzie. Unfortunately, this is where even more trouble for her began.

On the application, one question asked her, “Are you the first generation in your family to attend college?” The definition provided by the application was broad, but it does include a sentence about students who have a “strained or limited” relationship with a parent or parents who have graduated college themselves. When Mackenzie read that, her immediate reaction was “F%&^ that—I don’t have one of those.” So, she marked the box saying she was the first one in her family to go to college.

FROM MORRISON TO FIERCETON

Carrie Morrison continued to actively campaign against the charges. Although all charges had been dropped, Morrison’s name was still on the perpetrators of abuse and neglect registry. She had lost her job at St. Luke’s but shortly thereafter she found work at another hospital. Morrison was granted a trial to have her name removed from the registry. Morrison testified on her behalf; Mackenzie testified against her mother. The trial took a month, but when all was said and done, the judge ordered, “While it is possible that Petitioner was the cause of the alleged injuries, the court cannot make that finding by a preponderance of the evidence based on the evidence presented.” Morrison got her name removed from the registry.

Mackenzie wanted nothing to do with any of her family, mainly her mother. To that end, she decided it was time for a change, as in name change. One of the main reasons she wanted the name change was so that it’d be more difficult for her mother to find her. She wrote down a bunch of names to see what would stick and ended up going with Fierceton.

MACKENZIE FIERCETON, RHODES SCHOLAR

Determined to put her mother and the alleged abuse behind her, Mackenzie Fierceton decided to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship so she could get her Ph.D. at the University of Oxford. She was the ideal candidate, with her work ethic and dedication. The application process was intense. Mackenzie explained in her application a project she hoped to accomplish, that being the troubles between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. But as she continued the application process, she had to speak about her personal background and that of her interests in school. Here, she took a few liberties that would eventually catch up with her.

With the help of many, including deputy provost Beth Winkelstein, Mackenzie Fierceton was named by the Rhodes Trust as one of thirty-two Rhodes scholar elects within the U.S. In Winkelsein’s letter of endorsement, she wrote, “Mackenzie understands what it is like to be an at-risk youth, and she is determined to re-make the systems that block rather than facilitate success.” Penn University was very excited to announce that Mackenzie was one of the recipients and published a press release stating this fact. She was even honored as a senior on the Penn Civic House Facebook page. The Philadelphia Inquirer then took the story and after a twenty-five-minute interview with Mackenzie Fierceton, they published one of their own. Their article began with “Mackenzie Fierceton grew up poor.” Trouble was soon to follow.

WHO’S TELLING THE TRUTH AND WHO’S LYING?

Did Mackenzie Fierceton, nee Morrison, make up her abuse stories? We know she fudged her answers on her applications, but that was more to hide herself away from the abuse she claimed. Does this mean she is fibbing about the abuse, as her mother suggests?

A father of one of Mackenzie’s high school friends read the article in the Inquirer and decided to reach out to Penn University to let them know the article was incorrect. He explained that not only did Mackenzie not grow up poor, but that she grew up very well off. As well, a former high school classmate of Mackenzie’s also saw the article and in turn, sent an email claiming she definitely didn’t grow up poor.

Not long after that, Penn reached out to Carrie Morrison to get her take on the situation, and she filled in the university with her version of things. As Carrie explained it, Mackenzie was a “loved and cherished” daughter and things began to go bad for her because “she had just failed the first AP Chem test and was overwhelmed with workload in other classes.” To counter that claim, Mackenzie says she never failed any chem tests and her final high school transcript shows she received a B+ in the class. But Morrison continued on, saying, “She was falling apart under the academic stresses at school and was exhausted, and I believe looking for an out.”

It wasn’t long after that that Mackenzie Fierceton received an email from Winkelstein to meet so she can address questions that had “arisen from an anonymous source.” To Mackenzie, that only meant one thing – her mother was involved. What took place after that was almost like another trial. Mackenzie arrived to answer questions and her mother was present. Winkelstein grilled and grilled the young Fierceton to the point of tears. Fierceton ended her “meeting” by telling Winkelstein, “My mom tried to kill me.”

Of course, Carrie Morrison continued to spin her story. She kept in contact with Wendy White, the university’s general counsel, writing to her and saying, “M [Mackenzie] stuck to her story. She has become emboldened over time and has been successful with her evolving tale for 6 yrs.” Mackenzie’s “meeting” with Winkelstein didn’t do much good for her. The issue came from Mackenzie’s initial application where she categorized herself as “first-generation.” When Winkelstein asked her why she did this, when her mother had gone to college, Mackenzie responded, “When you are in foster care, your legal guardian is the state. I was considered the only generation at this point.” She concluded, “I legally did not have parents and never considered them as such to begin with.”

Winkelstein eventually sent over a letter to the Rhodes Trust explaining that Mackenzie may have embellished her childhood. She told the Trust that on Mackenzie’s application, she failed to “acknowledge her upper-middle-class upbringing and provides a description of a life of abuse that the judicial process concluded could not be substantiated.” The Rhodes Trust was now investigating Mackenzie Fierceton.

It was now the university’s turn as well. They were threatening to hold Mackenzie Fierceton’s degree from her based on the “first generation” claim by Mackenzie, but offered her a deal. If she would give up Rhodes, as well as her Latin honors, where she graduated summa cum laude, the university would “take no action against your undergraduate degree.” Additionally, Mackenzie would have to take a mandatory leave from school and undertake counseling. All this would need to happen before the university would grant her a Master of Social Work degree. That was a hard pass for Mackenzie.

In April 2021, the Rhodes Trust investigative committee recommended that Mackenzie’s scholarship be rescinded. Mackenzie was prepared to fight it, but then was warned that her case could be turned over to federal prosecutors. Finally, Mackenzie Fierceton decided to withdraw from the Rhodes scholar. This prompted one of her close friends and ex-teacher, Anne Norton, say, “I cannot avoid the sense that Mackenzie is being faulted for not having suffered enough. She was a foster child, but not for long enough. She is poor, but she has not been poor for long enough. She was abused, but there is not enough blood.”

WHERE IS MACKENZIE FIERCETON TODAY?

It did not end there for Mackenzie Fierceton. She continued to be run through the wringer fighting for her name and the abuse she claims she suffered. Up until April 2022, Penn University was still holding on to Mackenzie’s Master of Social Work degree. Then, on the 12th of that month, School of Social Policy & Practice Dean Sara Bachman told the university’s registrar to release the hold on Mackenzie’s degree. Ron Ozio, Penn spokesperson, said that the decision was made to release the hold after “a careful review of all materials, and considering the recommendations made to Dean Bachman by two SP2 faculty committees.”

In Fierceton’s response to the university, she said, “This was a very sudden and unexpected development, and I believe it is a result of the widespread public outcry and fierce organizing by students, faculty, the local community, and well-known advocates, as well as my refusal to issue an apology.” Mackenzie has no intentions of giving the school an apology and while they claim they are no longer requiring one, she will still have a “permanent mark” on her school transcripts.

Mackenzie Fierceton is not too active on social media. She does have a Twitter account that is slowly growing and is steadfast in saying she’s “refusing to be silenced.” You can find her on Twitter here.