'I learned it's possible to impact systems and structures that appear out of reach'

Prameela Kottapalli

College Scholar, Government, & Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Cupertino, Calif.

What was your favorite class and why?

FGSS 3400/GOVT 3401: Refugees and the Politics of Vulnerability: Time and Space of Immigrant Detention. This was one of the few in-person courses that I had during fall of 2020 (the remote semester). Despite sitting six feet apart from my classmates, this was the class where I found advocates in my peers, who energized me and organized with me. Our final project culminated in a campaign that put pressure on a Buffalo-based facility to release someone from immigration detention; we used social media during the height of the pandemic to galvanize the Cornell community and build support for our campaign. Through these efforts, I learned how to put theory (that I learned in class) towards practice (effecting tangible change).

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

I worked with my classmates and the FGSS program to scale our advocacy efforts into the Cornell Anti-Detention Alliance, a student organization dedicated to working directly with

woman outside

people inside immigration detention facilities in Upstate New York. As a group, we wrote to and assisted dozens of detained individuals, led a successful clothing drive for migrants arriving in New York City, collaborated with statewide and regional migrant justice coalitions and worked with a community partner on a campaign that reinstated visitation at a detention facility post-COVID. It’s these experiences that taught me what it means to lead with purpose and with vision, and that it’s more than possible to impact systems and structures that appear out of reach.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

At the end of my spring semester junior year, I planned a picnic near Cayuga Lake, bringing together old friends, new friends, classmates, almost every peer at Cornell who had impacted me in some way at some point. Finals were fast approaching but it was the most ideal study break I could have imagined — the air was filled with laughter, music and the sweet, languid smoke of the barbecue grill. Seeing people from so many different spaces and places come together to enjoy a meal meant a lot during what was otherwise a stressful, hectic time of year, and I think truly embodied the spirit of what Cornell is to me: community.

How have your beliefs or perspectives changed since you first arrived at Cornell? What have you discovered about yourself?

I learned that I’m immensely passionate about people. Whether it’s as a teammate, a friend, a leader, a student or a storyteller, I’m most energized by the people around me and the relationships I form. And across all the advocacy work that I’ve done, the stories shared with me and the trust I've built through these connections are the things that have motivated me the most.


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		Prameela Kottapalli