Isabel Feldman: 'My interest in social justice issues has significantly developed since being at Cornell'

May 24, 2016

Isabel Feldman

History

New York City, NY

What is your main Cornell extracurricular activity -- why is it important to you?

Becoming a part of the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP) has profoundly influenced my interest in mass incarceration as well as the type of person I want to be. Since learning about the vital need for prison education programs from Rob Scott, the executive director of CPEP, I knew that I wanted to serve as a teacher’s assistant at Auburn Correctional Facility. Joining CPEP provided me an opportunity to marry my passion for promoting educational equality with my commitment to improving conditions within the American prison system. At the core of my TA experience was the powerful recognition of my shared humanity with the incarcerated students.

How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

My interest in social justice issues has significantly developed since being at Cornell. As a history major, I have the opportunity to explore myriad historical periods and topics. And yet, I am consistently drawn to classes that examine the development of the United States’ penal system as well as its torturous history with civil rights. Learning about the history of the U.S. prison system and the roots of the carceral state has sparked my interest in working in the criminal justice system in the future, whether as a prisoners’ rights attorney or a re-entry advocate.

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

I would encourage an incoming student to follow her own interests and dreams, rather than those of her parents, professors or friends. At a place like Cornell, where the academic and extracurricular opportunities are limitless, it can be difficult to determine where one’s genuine interests lie. Rather than take on a myriad of commitments in an effort to bolster one’s resume, I would advise an incoming student to pursue at least one activity that enriches her life with a sense of meaning and purpose. And, perhaps most importantly, I would encourage an incoming student not to become discouraged when that passion is not immediately clear. Be patient with your own self-development.

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