Validating and Examining My LGBTQ Experience Through Academics and Social Life at Cornell

For April, we focus on the theme of diversity. Ambassadors will share times at which they felt that diversity is important in Arts and Sciences, and what life at Cornell is like as a minority, whether that be in terms of race, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or perspective. This week, Sophomore Julian discusses how his academic and social experiences at Cornell have helped him process, validate, and examine his identity as an openly gay student. 

By Julian Kroll ’20, Government and Philosophy double major

My first day on Cornell’s campus, 2016

Coming to Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences as an openly gay student, I wasn’t sure what to expect about my academic and social experiences on campus. I wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable about being publicly gay; having outed myself to my neighborhood in Ohio when I was 15 years old, I was very familiar with the implications of publicly identifying as a member of the LGBTQ community. However, navigating the complex social and academic spaces of a University seemed a much more daunting task than doing so in the comfort of my hometown. While it has been uncomfortable at moments, I’ve found that the time I’ve spent at Cornell has helped me to process my experience as an LGBTQ person in new and exciting ways. 

One of the texts recommended by my FWS professor.

My studies actually made the process of adjusting to the social space of Cornell much easier for me. I’m currently double majoring in Government and Philosophy, and I often find the content of my courses to be incredibly relevant to my own life. Thanks to the freedom with which I am able to choose my classes, I often knowingly or unknowingly choose courses that help me think about the many dimensions of identity in new and exciting ways. For example, my second Freshman Writing Seminar, which focused on representations of marginalized groups in literature, was extremely impactful in this sense. After becoming intrigued by an essay on queer theory by Adrienne Rich, I asked my professor if she could recommend similar texts to me. She referred me to two collections of essays, one by Audre Lorde and one by Adrienne Rich. Especially in the midst of a hefty Cornell semester, it was valuable to read and discuss texts which not only validated my experience but also helped to examine it.

Socially, I found the college of Arts and Sciences in particular to be a really valuable space. While every college at Cornell is intellectually diverse, it’s my belief that the abstract nature of many Arts and Sciences courses attracts a certain type of thinker. Further, the highly collaborative nature of many Arts and Sciences courses creates opportunities to discuss course material and individual viewpoints with impressive groups of creative and driven people. While this interactive model of learning spans many subjects, I have a particular affinity for those which pertain to everyday existence within structures of power. Usually, during such discussions, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized peoples are mentioned fairly quickly. To discuss my experiences in a setting which is simultaneously academic, personal, and respectful has been incredibly valuable.

The experience of being queer anywhere is complicated. For better or worse, you will be perceived differently in different spaces. To manage that, it’s important to keep a fully stocked arsenal of ways to validate and examine your experience. Personally, I’ve found that my classes and my work do this job handily; the College of Arts and Sciences provides incredible academic and personal resources. However, even if you don’t have the chance to incorporate these resources into your daily life, the sheer size of Cornell ensures that there’ll never be a shortage of creative and open-minded people to connect with. While being out at Cornell may seem daunting at first, I found my adjustment to the Cornell Community to be very rewarding.

Biochemistry Research and Honors Thesis

This week, senior Solveig writes about her excitement over being able to produce a physical proof of her two years worth of biochemistry research – an honors thesis.

By Solveig van der Vegt ’18, Biological Sciences major, Mathematics minor

One of the greatest opportunities available to students at Cornell is to do research under a faculty supervisor. For the past two years, I have worked in the Fromme Lab in the Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology, learning how to do research and getting a glimpse into what it’s like to be in graduate school. The culmination of all my work will come this semester when I write my honors thesis.

A view of the Weill Hall, where the Fromme Lab is housed, on a warm February afternoon!

An honors thesis in the Biological Sciences gives you a lot of freedom. You apply during your Junior Spring semester and are admitted during the summer. Your Junior Spring semester is also the time when you would start your research at the latest, but many students will have started in their second year or before. There are no classes you are required to take, although you do meet with your research and honors group supervisors to discuss your progress and the expectations of completing the thesis. At the end of the semester, there is a symposium where all honors thesis candidates in Biological Sciences will present their research in poster presentations.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my research over the past few years and being able to write and submit an honors thesis is the icing on the cake. Although I might not be able to publish my research before I graduate, my honors thesis will be a proper replacement for that. I look forward to having something physical to hold that represents all the work I have put in over the past two years. Research can often feel like you’re throwing your results into a void, especially if you are part of a project that will continue after you graduate. Writing and presenting an honors thesis is a great way to show that you have contributed to the general pool of knowledge in your field.

Psychology Honors Thesis: Proactively Contributing to Issues that Matter

Happy March! This month, ambassadors will be writing about academic research they conduct on campus. For the first post of the month, I am sharing a little bit about my experience completing a psychology honors thesis!

By Suzy Park ’18, Economics and Psychology double major, Law & Society minor

One of the biggest decisions I made as a senior was to participate in the psychology honors program. As an underclassman, I had heard a number of upperclassmen talk about how writing a thesis is very stressful and can, at times, take over one’s life. However, the same people had also mentioned that being able to start and finish a research project in a year is an incredibly unique opportunity. As a student whose honors project is well underway, I can attest to both statements.

During sophomore and junior years, I had worked as a research assistant in Dr. Stephen Ceci’s Child Witness and Cognition Lab, contributing to projects examining intergroup relations in children and linguistic analyses of juror deliberations. Three semesters spent as a research assistant were undoubtedly exciting and meaningful, but I found myself wanting to gain experience in all parts of research – not just running experiments and coding data, but also helping shape the research question and interpreting results.

The Krosch Lab space in Uris Hall, where research assistants can hang out and do work!

In the spring semester of my junior year, I took PSYCH 3820: Prejudice and Stereotyping, taught by Professor Amy Krosch. The psychology of race and ethnic relations was a topic I had become very interested in after moving from Korea – a relatively more ethnically homogenous country in which I was the racial majority – to the United States for college. Having found the class’ discussions of stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination as a function of group membership tremendously intriguing, I formally asked Professor Krosch if she would be able to advise my thesis project. She was very kind to say yes and together with her and other researchers in her lab, I finalized my research question: How does the perception of minority advancement influence White Americans’ perception of and behaviors toward Black Americans?

Currently, I am actively collecting data (participants come into the lab to take a computer-based survey) and a draft of the thesis will be written by early April. In May, I will defend and officially submit my thesis, as well as presenting the project and its outcomes to the public at a poster session. And during graduation weekend, I will find out whether I have earned latin honors.

The dark-colored building in the back is Uris Hall, where the Krosch Lab is located.

Having been an honors thesis student for a few months, I can definitely agree with the upperclassmen who said that completing a thesis is very stressful. As exciting as designing, conducting, and analyzing one’s own study sounds, there are many – big and small – hurdles to overcome. Sometimes, research can be a daily grind, and things may not always work out the way you would like them to. However, I am more than glad that I have chosen to partake in the honors program because I get to work face-to-face with Professor Krosch, PhD students, and other researchers, each of whom bring a unique perspective on a topic of common interest. In psychology classes over the years, I had read and learned about dozens of studies, but often felt that these experiments were not immediately personally relevant. Being able to choose and work on a research question that I am incredibly passionate about, however, provided me the opportunity to build on what has already been studied in the field and make a tangible impact on issues that matter.

There is still a long way to go until I can print and submit my thesis to the psychology department, but I am extremely excited for all the adventures that await – interpreting the study results, making sense of it in the context of existing literature, and presenting it to people who care about the issue. I am also deeply grateful to the College of Arts and Sciences and to Cornell for providing me – a humble undergrad – this valuable opportunity to work alongside world-class researchers.

My Zumba Instructor Journey: Dancing my way from California to Cornell!

In our last post of the month, senior Hadassa writes about her journey of becoming a veteran Zumba instructor at Cornell. 

By Hadassa Jakher ’18, Government and Spanish double major, International Relations and Law & Society double minor

Smiling after an intense (and sweaty!) class with my Zumba mentors at my hometown studio.

One of my all-time favorite things to do is dance! Growing up Latina, I would always be jamming out to salsa and merengue tunes with my family. So when I found out that there was a Zumba studio in my hometown in California, I was ecstatic. I fell in love with the “fitness party” atmosphere of the classes and decided to become a certified Zumba instructor. When I got to Cornell, I was excited to see that Cornell Fitness Centers hired students as group fitness instructors. I took extra PE classes at Cornell in Latin Dance and Salsa to ensure that my skills were up to par for my upcoming audition with CFC. Thanks to all of the preparation by taking classes in my hometown and refining my techniques, I aced my audition and I was hired! I began teaching my own Zumba classes the spring semester of my freshman year.


Participants rocking out at one of our Zumba classes in Noyes gym hosted by Cornell Fitness Centers.

I love my job as a Zumba instructor. Since my freshman year until now (my final year!), I have taught a diverse range of classes. The participants in my classes included both students and faculty, and I taught across different gyms – from Helen Newman to Bartels Hall to Noyes. I started teaching with some of my favorite songs that I had learned from the awesome instructors from my hometown studio. As I became more experienced, I even began to choreograph my own moves to new songs. Participating in Zumba in my hometown in California and being able to teach here at Cornell has been such a wonderful experience. In both places, there has been a great sense of community that allowed me to grow as an instructor and as a dancer. I am so grateful that I have a job where my participants come to have fun and work out, all while doing what I love – dancing!

Swimming with Skittles and Dancing through San Fran!

This week, sophomore Shoshana shows us how she spent her winter break training (and delivering candies) in Arizona as well as dancing in San Francisco!

By Shoshana Swell ’20, Performance & Media Arts and Information Science double major

This winter break, I travelled to Arizona for winter training with my Varsity Swim Team. I created this video to highlight the team’s training, adventures, and candy deliveries during practice. Let’s be real, we all know the feeling of panic when you get hungry in the middle of a workout. You might be craving Oreo cheesecake, chicken nuggets, or a full pie of pizza. When two swimmers on the team craved Skittles, our divers delivered them right to their lane. If that is not teamwork, I don’t know what is.

If you are looking for a sequel to my video abroad, Why Walk When You Can Dancehere it is! Aside from Arizona, I travelled to San Francisco, California to reunite with the friend I studied (and danced) with in Prague. We toured San Fransisco the only way we know how… dancing!


A post shared by Shoshana Swell (@shoshanaswell) on

Work, Work, Work (By Zoee D’Costa, Not Rihanna)

This week, junior Zoee shares with us what she loves about being a student tutor and a resident advisor on campus.

By Zoee D’Costa ’19, Biology & Society Major, Psychology Minor

When I came to Cornell I knew I was going to be working hard. But I didn’t know I was going to be working hard at something other than school. During my first two years at Cornell, I was a varsity athlete and was able to receive free tutoring through the athletic department in all my classes. I learned so much from these passionate student-tutors, and in my second semester, I became one. The following semester I also got hired as a Resident Advisor (RA). So my Cornell work became work, work, work.

A large poster depicting all of my 42 residents from last year was made to welcome all the students to the floor and hung in our floor lounge throughout the year. It says “High Rise 5 Floor 3’s Big Happy Family!”

Me with a sunflower I picked during our RA team-building retreat at Indian Creek Farm in August.

I love working both of my jobs on campus because much like being an Ambassador, they allow me to work directly with younger students and help them navigate all the opportunities and challenges the Cornell campus has to offer. As a tutor, I am able to help student-athletes with difficult courses of study and help them along the same path I took (as a pre-med student-athlete). This job also has allowed me to stay fresh on the subjects that I have taken at Cornell, which is very helpful for MCAT studying.

Me and some of my RA coworkers at CU Downtown, a large-scale program to introduce Ithaca to incoming freshmen during their first few weeks at Cornell.

This year, I am working as a Senior Resident Advisor (SRA) in the Mary Donlon community and through my job, I am able to work with other RAs and students, as well as serve as a supervisor in our community library. While it is a lot to juggle, I have found so many opportunities to grow from working on campus. Being an RA and having the opportunity to impact people every day has been a wonderful leadership experience for me, and allowed me to understand what it means to be responsible for people other than myself. I have gained confidence in my public speaking abilities as well as my ability to go up to new people and start a conversation (it is a lot harder than it looks, and it is something that you have to do A LOT at Cornell). The job has educated me in practical areas as well, teaching me how to remain calm in a stressful situation, how to handle medical emergencies, and how to be a good listener and friend. Being an RA has also helped me find some of my strongest interests and passions: discussing sexual misconduct and inequality in RA training propelled me to seek out organizations where I could help educate others, including Consent Ed, an organization in which I serve on the Executive Board. More than anything, it has given me the invaluable opportunity to grow into a better version of myself, learning to face challenges and be persistent.

All of the door decorations I made for the Donlon RAs this year to welcome them back to the building.

Canoeing on Beebe Lake with my residents!

I am grateful to have been given the opportunities I have during my time at Cornell, and I know that through them I’ve been able to develop into a stronger person. While balancing all of this has been somewhat stressful, I know that I am prepared to handle any of the work that the real world throws at me after college. No wonder Rihanna was complaining about all of her work, work, work – she never went to Cornell!

Hospital Shadowing in Kerala, India

Welcome back! This month, we have two themes – “Work and Community Service” and “Winter Adventures.” Ambassadors will be sharing with us what they did over the winter break and also about jobs or volunteer positions on campus that they love. Junior Nitya starts the month off by telling us about her warm winter break shadowing in Kerala, India.

By Nitya Deshmukh ’19, Biology and Society major

When the fall 2017 semester finished, I was ready to escape the cold of Ithaca and travel somewhere warmer. Two weeks after my last final, I got on a plane to India.

The drive to the hospital.

Around 16 hours later, I was in Kerala, a state in South India. I showered, ate dinner, and went to sleep, full of excitement for the next two weeks I would spend shadowing at a local rural hospital.The Government Tribal Specialty Hospital in Kottathara, Kerala, had four floors, was open air, and packed everyday with patients coming in with issues ranging from diabetes or blood pressure, to snake bites and scabies. I was lucky enough to be allowed to watch so many physician-patient interactions, and even was able to sit in on several surgeries, something I had never done. The first surgery I observed was a cesarean (or C-section). The doctors were kind enough to explain some of the things they were doing, such as using spinal anesthesia instead of local, and how horizontal cuts were preferred over the old-school lateral cuts.

Taking the train!

As they began to cut, I got nervous. What if I can’t handle the blood? What if I faint, or vomit? What if I really dont have what it takes to become a doctor after all?

Luckily, none of this happened. I watched that C-section, and was rewarded by seeing a baby born. When the baby didn’t cry at first, I and the other nurses became nervous, but soon, the baby did and the whole operating room sighed collectively.

I sat in the OP ward, or the walk-in primary care, for around 4 days, and within that time, I saw what I believe to be around 400 patients. This is not an exaggeration – the doctors were so efficient and cut right to it, and I couldn’t get my head around how they didn’t get tired or worn out. In fact, I was always struck with how all of the employees were so calm all the time. When a code blue (signaling a heart attack) would sound, they wouldn’t rush. The patient would be saved, obviously, but the important goal was to make sure that everyone kept their head.

A part of the hospital’s complex outside.

I was also interested by how the hospital was run, as a rural government hospital. I took a population health class last semester at Cornell in which we spent a lot of time discussing rural healthcare, and it was intriguing to see how many of the same issues and actions were present in an American rural hospital and an Indian one.

Eventually, I left Kerala, spent a few days in Mumbai, flew home, and drove back to Ithaca. I couldn’t bring the weather, but I definitely brought the experience with me.

London, England: Looking Forward

In the last post of the year, junior Meredith guides us through how she came to decide to study abroad in London next semester. Thank you all for following our blog this year, and happy holidays!

By Meredith Chagares ’19, History major, Business and Law & Society double minor

Next semester, I will be studying abroad in London through the Hansard Scholars Program. This program consists of two classes taken through the London School of Economics and an internship at the Parliament. As a history major interested in politics and international relations, and their influence on the economy, I am extremely excited to begin the program in January!

I chose to study in London primarily because of my great interest in England’s history. In addition, I was attracted by London’s role as a financial and political hub of not only England, but also Europe and the world. My decision to study in London was ultimately confirmed after I spoke with upperclassmen and alumni about their experiences in London and the different programs through which they studied. Hearing their stories helped me to make an educated decision about where I would be able to enrich my education the most effectively.

While abroad, I will be visiting Edinburgh, Scotland and Cardiff, Wales with the Hansard Scholars Program. I also plan on taking research trips to other parts of Europe, such as Berlin, to begin research for my senior honors thesis. After I created a list of places that would be helpful to visit for the thesis, the Cornell Abroad office guided me toward the safest and the most financially effective ways to get around Europe.

Although I am a little nervous to travel and live in Europe on my own, the Cornell Abroad office has made me feel extremely comfortable with my upcoming adventure. They provided me with opportunities to meet and communicate with other Cornell students studying abroad in the United Kingdom. Additionally, the Resident Advisor for Cornell, who lives in London and acts as support for students, visited Cornell and gave a helpful presentation on tips and tricks for studying abroad. I know that I will miss Cornell next semester, but I am extremely grateful that the College of Arts and Sciences has given me the opportunity and support to immerse myself in a different culture and have an adventure of a lifetime!

Sevile, Spain: No me ha dejado

This week, senior Samantha tells us about her challenging yet incredibly rewarding five months in Sevile, Spain, through which she learned to embrace the uncomfortable. 

By Samantha Cohen ’18, Sociology major, Business minor

Learning a new language is difficult. And for deaf people, it is very difficult. That is why it was a bit surprising to my parents, and even myself, when I officially decided to spend the Spring semester of my Junior year studying abroad in Seville, Spain.

Me, my roommate and my host-mom Rosario.

For hearing people, learning a new language can be like learning the lyrics to a new song that you hear on the radio. For the hearing-impaired, we have to pause the music and practice the words one by one. We are always struggling to capture the words while they run away from us. It requires a lot of time and energy. To say the least, it is a complex process, and on occasions, very frustrating.


The students of CASA Sevilla program.

I had been studying Spanish for six years throughout my middle- and high-school years. However, when I came to Cornell as a student in Arts and Sciences, studying the language became less of a chore and more of a skill of which I could be proud. In just three semesters, I saw more progress in my language development and understanding than I had seen in the past six years combined. I was scared yet ready to take the ultimate leap of faith: to study and live with a family in Spain.

Me and my friend Liza (also Cornell ’18) in front of the aqueducts of Segovia.

Along with ten other Cornell students, I arrived at the city of Seville and started what would become five months of classes at the Universidad de Sevilla. This entailed meeting with new friends for a mid-day “café con leche,” watching Spanish Jeopardy with my host-mom Rosario, taking long bike rides through Parque María Luisa, and eating more oranges than you could possibly imagine (Seville is known for its orange trees!). I travelled to other cities in Spain to see the aqueducts of Segovia and the famous Gothic cathedral in Toledo, which I had learned about during the first week of my Spanish Art class. I spent three days on my own in the Northern Basque country and then flew out to meet up with three Cornell friends from my program to relax and eat paella on the beaches of Valencia.

Me during the Feria de Abril festival. ¡Olé!

I won’t say my semester was an easy one. I had my fair share of awkward moments with the host-mom because I couldn’t understand her jokes. I spent countless hours hungry waiting for the clock to read 9:30pm – the typical dinner time in Spain – to eat dinner. I failed my first exam. I got lost navigating winding cobblestone streets with no access to Google Maps.

But all in all, I would not change any of the experiences I had during my semester abroad. It was the challenges, both academic and emotional, that made those five months incredibly rewarding. I gained a new family. I learned to laugh when I mishear something. I learned to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Although I’m happy to be back on Cornell campus for my senior year, I routinely browse through my photos and keep up WhatsApp conversations with my Spanish family. As the people of Seville would say, “No me ha dejado” (It has not left me).

Oxford, England: Cultivating Knowledge for the Sake of Knowledge

This week, senior Arlinda takes us to England, where she was able to expand her study of philosophy through courses and professors at the University of Oxford.

By Arlinda Shehu ’18, Philosophy and Psychology double major

Punting on a sunny afternoon at Cherwell River.

During the Fall 2017 semester, I was a visiting student at St. Anne’s College at the University of Oxford. As a philosophy major, there were two reasons why I wanted to study abroad at Oxford. First, boasting a long and rich history, Oxford is an unparalleled institution at which to study philosophy. Second, Oxford is home to a unique teaching system called the tutorial system. Tutorials are generally one-to-one, and at most three-to-one, weekly meetings with your tutor (professor) during which you discuss assigned readings and your essays in a relaxed setting (I met with my teachers in their home office at times). This system, unique to the University of Oxford and only a small handful of other schools, meant that I would have the chance to engage in more in-depth and personal conversations and debates with professors – an experience different from those common at American universities. My utmost wishes came alive thanks to Cornell’s long and strong relationship with Oxford.

A view of the Radcliffe Camera library atop the St. Mary’s tower.

Studying at Oxford – and more broadly in England – for 6 months meant that all of Europe was at my feet to explore easily and cheaply. However, even if I had never left Oxford, there would have been enough to keep me occupied for months: from college formal halls (fancy dinners where everyone dresses up), punting on the river and rowing events inter-college balls, 99 libraries to explore, pubs that Bill Clinton and J.R.R Tolkien had visited, and finally to Harry Potter filming locations.

Me and other visiting students pose for a group photo before heading off to St. Anne’s Specturm ball. I am in the red dress!

Oxford was undoubtedly a fun place to be, but it came with its fair share of hard work. Tutorials were intense and our reading lists were long. The focus was on self-directed and self-motivated studying. Since students do not get graded and none of the exam grades actually count (only ones taken during the final year do), the focus was less on grades and GPAs, but rather on cultivating knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I could study as much or as little as I liked, which was both a freeing and dangerous situation. I learned that I like working on my own, doing my own research, and do not need a lot of supervision to do well. Six months in this intellectually stimulating environment in which I had to keep my own self in check – a preview of graduate school work – helped me realize that I could thrive in such an environment and that I would like to pursue a PhD in philosophy.