Originally from Los Angeles, Elizabeth Rene made the long journey to Cornell with a specific path in mind. She matriculated into the College of Arts & Sciences knowing she wanted to major in Government but serendipitously landed on the American Studies major after taking intro level classes.
Rene notes that she loved the way the curriculum was set up, which she describes as a “bottom up approach” where all perspectives — including those that have historically been left out — are included.
“I thought that was really interesting because I’ve always been really passionate about history, especially with domestic politics in American history and I feel like during high school and during middle school, a large part of historical accuracy was actually left out just to push certain perspectives forwards while leaving others out,” Rene said.
She emphasizes the stark contrast in the way certain topics were portrayed in high school and how they are portrayed in college, which she says has allowed her to relearn history through a different perspective.
She has also been able to make real life connections and applications through her courses such as AMST 3785: Civil Disobedience taught by Prof. Alexander Livingston, which she took right after the George Floyd protests. “I worked in City Hall and we were right next to the L.A.P.D. building, so I saw police cars being set on fire and then learning that in a classroom and the development of protests overtime, that was really interesting.”
Professor Livingston also serves as Rene’s senior thesis advisor and has helped her frame her thesis, which focuses on judicial activism through the lens of former Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas. Her thesis integrates her interest in Black political thought and constitutional law, which has been supplemented by the AMST department she says. Rene, who is double majoring in Government and American Studies, considers herself lucky to work with Livingston who teaches in both departments.
To dedicate more of her time to the prelaw track, Rene resigned from the track & field team as a student athlete during her sophomore year. Since then, she has gotten more involved in the Cornell Political Union (CPU). “We’re the only organization on campus that is bipartisan, both in theory and also in practice because we have members in pretty much every aspect of the political spectrum,” she says.
As the Chair of the democratic leaning Great Society Caucus under the CPU, Rene has constantly been challenged by various political sentiments, which has helped her write her thesis on Justices Scalia and Thomas, two conservative justices.
In addition to this on campus organization, Rene interned at a pro bono law firm this past summer where she worked with individuals, such as those affiliated with DACA, who are often marginlized by the American legal system. Not only did the internship require general knowledge of the legal system but it also required an understanding of inequities pervading the system, both of which she felt like she learned through AMST coursework.
“Right now our legal system is very much in favor of those who already have protections of their rights and those that are left out often don’t have the financial support to then support laws that protect them and their rights,” she says.
After undergrad, Rene will be studying for the LSAT and continue getting legal experience, specifically in the pro bono sector. She hopes to use the framework that the AMST department has provided her with to think about the world through an interdisciplinary lens. “If [you] want to learn about an event in American history but you’re not familiar with a losing side of a war or those who didn’t have primary sources written about them, that’s when American Studies comes in really handy,” she says.
“Coupled with the fact that American Studies is not just history classes but historical film classes and historical music classes. There’s a whole bunch of other disciplines in American Studies that aren’t common in most majors.”