Cleo Sullivan ՚21 to serve in AmeriCorps before grad school

Cleo Sullivan, Class of 2021, stands outside Youngker Hall, home of Kimmel Theatre on the campus of Cornell College.
Cleo Sullivan, Class of 2021, stands outside Youngker Hall, home of Kimmel Theatre on the campus of Cornell College.

Monticello, Iowa

B.A. in sociology and anthropology with a minor in Spanish

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

What are your short and long-term plans after Cornell? After graduation, I plan on doing a service year with Jesuit Volunteer/AmeriCorps VISTA in Omak, Washington as a youth coordinator at the Foundation for Youth Resiliency and Engagement. I will be working to support low-income youth and their families through activities, workshops, and basic support services. After, I plan on attending graduate school to pursue a career in either academia or public service, focusing on issues of health and wellbeing for women and children of color.

How has Cornell prepared you for your future? Cornell has some amazing faculty that supported me through every challenge and triumph. The mentorship I received from the faculty in my departments helped me to believe in my potential as a scholar.

What’s the benefit of studying sociology and anthropology at Cornell? I think studying sociology and anthropology gives one a better understanding of social inequalities, globalization, and social structures. Knowing about these topics is important for working in a society that operates through systems of oppression. When we understand our own privileges, it is our duty to do the work of dismantling these oppressive structures, and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology helps introduce students to this ideology.

Can you identify people you considered to be mentors at Cornell? Director of Intercultural Life and Senior Diversity Officer Hemie Collier and Associate Director of Intercultural Life Tiyah Western have been a part of my growth as a college student since day one on campus. I got to know them as a participant in Each One Teach One, the first-year student of color orientation. Since then they have remained close mentors that I can go to with any problems I may be having. They are an essential part of this campus community.

What is the coolest topic you studied for an 18-day block? What made this block stand out to you? The coolest topic I ever studied in 18 days was all about Latinx comics. Doctora Fernanda Díaz-Basteris was able to bring forth an amazing curriculum to Cornell where we were able to explore topics around identity, belonging, race and ethnicity, and gender—and they were all in comic books!

If you could share with your high school self some words of wisdom that you’ve learned since being at Cornell, what would it be? If I could go back and tell high school Cleo something, it would be to believe in herself more, because she has no idea the kinds of things she is about to accomplish in the next four years at Cornell. I would tell her to trust her gut and remember that there are many people in her life who are there to support her when times get hard.

What’s something you learned about yourself during your time at Cornell? I’ve learned that I have the capability to do anything I want to in life. I used to let a lot of things stop me from believing in my dreams, but now I feel confident in my strengths and I know that if I commit to a goal, I can accomplish it.

What is your proudest accomplishment as a Cornellian? My proudest accomplishment at Cornell was being accepted into the ACM Graduate School Exploration Fellowship, which included a paid, summer research internship with the University of Michigan Ann-Arbor in the Latino/a Studies Department.

Was there anything you learned at Cornell that changed your perspective significantly? People’s identities are much more complex than they seem at face value. This helped me understand fellow faculty, staff, and students, as well as my own identity. We have to accept people as holistic beings that come from not just one set of cultures or beliefs, but multiple, and a group of people who share one identity in common, may have other identities that contradict each other. This understanding helps us in the classroom when we have discussions and in campus-wide conversations. We must accept our differences and respect each other as a community.

What’s one thing you did during your time at Cornell that you never thought you’d do? Coming to Cornell, I never thought I would be a student leader—in multiple capacities. I knew that I wanted to be involved on campus, but I never thought I would take on any leadership roles because I never saw myself as a natural leader. As soon as my sophomore year I was signed up to co-lead an Alternative Spring Break Trip to Cincinnati, Ohio to volunteer at a domestic violence advocacy center. It was certainly intimidating, but I was amazed at the end that I had led an entire trip across the country. Becoming the president of Gente, our school’s Latinx student organization, was an honor that I didn’t think I deserved. Over the last year as president, I discovered that I had the capability to lead important conversations on campus and to execute events that spread awareness of the Latinx culture and issues.

What is your favorite Cornell memory? My favorite Cornell memory is every study night with friends in our dorm rooms. Those nights where we laughed and cried with lots of snacks.

What’s something about Cornell that makes you smile? The quiet and peaceful campus atmosphere that grounds you when you are stressed about school and life.

Favorite spot on campus: My favorite place on campus is the spot on the Ped Mall next to the library where you can look out and see farmland that goes out for miles and the cars coming from the south on Highway 1. I always like looking out over the land because it reminds me that there is a world outside of the campus bubble, and it makes me feel better when I am overwhelmed.

What you’ll miss the most: I will miss studying topics that I am passionate about with people who are just as excited about them as I am.