Understanding politics at home and abroad: Sarah Cutler '16

While some Arts & Sciences students choose to focus on one field of study, many also choose a more interdisciplinary pathway. Sarah Cutler ‘16 majored in Near Eastern studies and government, and leveraged her time at Cornell by adding in several experiences abroad. She is a reporter for a local newspaper in Idaho, where she gets to pursue her interest in political polarization. Boise is a fascinating case study. She is the city of Boise reporter at the Idaho Statesman, so she covers local government stories. She is currently working on a story about Star, Idaho, where a lot of people are moving in from out-of-state for political reasons. She is using this story to analyze the intersection of real estate advertising and politics in this community.

Cutler said her majors fit together naturally and have provided a solid foundation for her work in her current position.

“I studied Arabic all four years, and did Cornell’s study abroad program in Jordan my junior year. I highly recommend taking a language course in the Department of Near Eastern Studies” she said.

As a Cornell student, she also   interned with the press office of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, where she used her Arabic to interact with local students and other groups returning from study trips to the U.S. and translated statements from Kuwaiti people about the United States’ role in regional events

Cutler said her Cornell experience helped her learn many skills vital to journalism — how to quickly learn new information, ask questions, be aware of biases and consult reliable sources. 

She called out one course with Professor Thomas Pepinsky, Southeast Asian Politics and link? , where she learned the importance of defining key terms before entering into a conversation or a debate. In class, she said Pepinsky broke down seemingly obvious terms such as “democracy,” showing how terms can mean very different things to people in different contexts.

She said her A&S education has also enabled her to understand complexity in the ways that people think, and to understand better how people of differing perspectives can both have truth on their side. 

“I learned to be aware of the validity of different narratives, depending on different groups’ framing and where they start their story,” Cutler said. In a class on the Israel/Palestine conflict with Professor Ross Brann, she was struck by Brann’s presentation of common Israeli and Palestinian narratives about the creation of the state of Israel. Each narrative was factual, but they created strongly different impressions of which side was right or wrong.

After graduation, Cutler worked as a research analyst focused on the Middle East, then graduated from the Columbia Journalism School in May 2023. After that, she was hired by PBS NewsHour for a six-month fellowship. 

After years of observing political polarization and radicalization overseas, Cutler is shifting to cover some of those trends closer to home. She has recently begun covering local politics in Idaho at the Idaho Statesman. Idaho, a state that has leaned conservative for years, is receiving an influx of newcomers from both ends of the political spectrum.

Cutler is interested in learning about political polarization in Idaho, and is using this reporting as a method to explore political polarization and interaction between people of different political backgrounds.

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