FGSS alum continues social justice work in India, Texas

After spending a year helping human trafficking victims in Mumbai, India, alum Katharine Poor ‘16 is headed to Texas to work for an organization that aids refugees and undocumented immigrants.

A native of Boston, Poor double majored in American Studies and Feminism, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and wrote her honors thesis on modern-day eugenics in the discourse of drug marketing to women. Outside of coursework, she participated in Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood, The Women’s Resource Center, The Cornell Daily Sun and also worked for the Mental Health Association.

“I have been interested in the intersections of gender, trauma, and labor exploitation for a long time, and I credit the FGSS and American Studies departments at Cornell for fueling that curiosity,” said Poor. “I carried those lessons with me to Mumbai.

“I loved Mumbai,” said Poor, “it has character, charm, veggie-friendly food and extraordinarily kind people.”

Upon moving to Mumbai, she worked for International Sanctuary and Obataimu. International Sanctuary is an aftercare community that provides resources to survivors of human trafficking. She discovered that the local anti-human trafficking front lacked a strong system for ensuring long-term safety and recovery.

“Many of the people who escape from traffickers are struggling with trauma and social development and have never had the chance to pursue an education or develop professional skills,” Poor said. “Thus after they leave safe-homes, they often fall back into poverty and become highly susceptible to re-victimization at the hands of traffickers.”

International Sanctuary provides vocational training, jobs and stable incomes, healthcare and health advocacy, trauma-informed therapy and a specialized education program that is tailored to work with the specific learning styles of participants.

“Most importantly, our space offers community,” Poor said. “This allows participants — many of whom have endured emotional abuse, isolation, inexplicable violence and exploitation throughout their lives — to find a sense of purpose, meaning, self-value and belonging.”  

Poor also worked part-time at Obataimu, an ethical arts, fashion, and bookstore cooperative. A tailor’s workshop is located inside the bookstore to ensure transparency of the supply chain, undo the fragmentation of the fashion industry and allow the creators and customers to know each other.

“It’s a beautiful space,” Poor said. “The founder, Noorie Sadarangani, hopes to inspire critical thinking about fast fashion and the anonymity and invisibility of exploitation that goes into the creation of our clothes. She’s also interested in community building, so after hours we hosted lectures, movie screenings and music in our space. I contributed as a book buyer, and I brought many FGSS-inspired titles into the store!”

“The most rewarding aspect of my work was upholding this profoundly restorative community,” Poor said about her time working in Mumbai.

After a year in Mumbai, Poor is preparing to move to Texas, where she will serve as a Case Manager for Casa Marianella, an advocacy center and safe-house for refugees and undocumented immigrants. 

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 Katharine Poor