Harrop and Ruth Freeman Prize in Peace Studies
The 2022-23 Freeman Prize goes to a Cornell senior who has demonstrated a commitment to working for world peace. This year’s winner is Vanessa Olguin, for her achievements and continuing work in peace activities. Vanessa is an interdisciplinary College Scholar and a government major in the College of Arts & Sciences at Cornell. She is interested in migrations and international affairs.
In the summer of 2021, Vanessa was awarded the Freeman Fellowship to serve as a Protections Intern at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to aid asylum seekers at the U.S. southern border. This experience taught her the need for networks of aid abroad. According to Vanessa, migrants face a vast array of challenges when arriving in a new country, most predominantly the lack of access to basic living necessities, the labor market, financial security, and healthcare. While many countries throughout the Americas have provided refuge in their migration policies, protection for migrants is still limited and subject to change. Through her internship, Vanessa realized how global problems such as the displacement of indigenous peoples in South America due to deforestation, migration from Central America due to droughts, and the inundation of low-lying Pacific islands are interlinked.
As an Undergraduate Migrations Scholar, Vanessa worked with the Migrations Initiative and organized a campus-wide research symposium in May 2021. She presented her research on the role of community aid and advocacy in reframing the migration narrative on the U.S. southern border. Additionally, Vanessa served as an undergraduate researcher for the Cornell Law School’s Xenophobia Meter Project, where she investigated xenophobic sentiment on social media towards migrants during the Coronavirus pandemic, with an interdisciplinary team of lawyers, linguists, and computer scientists.
Vanessa also worked with the local community through Ithaca Welcomes Refugees.
“When I first arrived in Ithaca, I knew that I wanted to get involved with the local community in the ways I could. In my first semester, I acted on this goal and was compelled to work locally in human rights with Ithaca Welcomes Refugees (IWR). I witnessed the effects of the Trump administration's lowered refugee caps’ impact on community aid. I realized the importance of government institutions in both coordinating and sustaining successful resettlement and migrant assimilation. Creating a new home does not just happen at the snap of a finger and with the appropriation of funds. Instead, I realized that one’s ability to settle relies on the dedication, preparation, and support of the surrounding community. Volunteering with IWR and interning with the UNHCR taught me the importance of civil society, and networks of aid in asserting and ensuring the rights of migrants. Communities often and consistently step out, creating organizations that administer legal aid, translation help, counseling, and ultimately care for individuals that find themselves unprotected by nation-states."—Vanessa Olguin, '22
Vanessa will be traveling to Peru on a Fulbright Grant to conduct research with the Institute of Democracy and Human Rights at the Pontificia Universidad Catholica Peru to understand more about international migrant rights.