Internships fuel Fricke’s passion for civil rights activism

Amber Fricke entered Cornell determined to work for social justice, particularly related to reproductive freedom, and she created her own special studies major in politics, women’s studies, and ethnic studies. But a range of experiences in and beyond the classroom have expanded her vision of how to become an effective advocate.

Fricke and Harkin
Amber Fricke with U.S. Sentator Tom Harki

In particular, she’s now planning on law school after Cornell, a decision she reached during a summer 2007 Cornell Fellowship with the office of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.

“I thought that expertise in reproductive rights would be best developed through graduate studies with extreme specialization,” she says. “However, the fellowship allowed me to explore the greater ideological theme and I began to re-identify my concerns as broad opposition to discrimination and oppression, and an advocacy for civil rights.”

While in D.C., Fricke became deeply involved in Congressional responses to two Supreme Court rulings related to employee rights. Her immersion into the issues helped her see the complex ways that legislation, advocacy, and court rulings all interact to create policies with real-life consequences. She also used her flexible schedule to pursue independent research, attend briefings, and listen to a range of important speakers on related civil rights issues.

The fellowship also built upon her experiences as a field organizer for the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families during the 2006 election cycle.  There she helped to successfully repeal the statewide abortion ban.

“I went into the campaign with a stockpile of theory,” she says. “I soon realized that theory neither could nor should be lifted rigidly from the textbooks and applied. I began to understand that theory was a foundation to build upon.”

Fricke went on to complete a summer 2008 internship with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. On campus, she’s twice coordinated a student-led feminist academic symposium. And in 2008-09 she co-founded and chaired a Cornell chapter of Sustained Dialogue, a national organization devoted to resolving conflicts and building peace through dialogue.

Although undecided about her eventual career path, Fricke says her eyes have been opened to a wide range of possible roles. And she remains committed to her original goals.

“I am confident that my educational and on-site preparation through opportunities such as the fellowship will allow me to utilize my skills to make progress toward an equitable, fair society, free of discrimination and full of accessible, equal opportunities,” she says.