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.
About the Freeman Prize
In the summer of 2019, through an internship with the Einaudi Center’s Institute for African Development, she worked as a research fellow at the Southern African Institute for Policy in Zambia. There, she collaborated with locals to design and implement a research project on political repression and women’s health. The culmination of her efforts led her to publish “Disillusionment and Fear: The Impact of Zambia’s Religio-Political Climate on Sexual and Reproductive Health Organisations,” in the Southern African Journal of Policy and Development. Of this experience, Meg said, “my time in Zambia taught me that building peace starts with the promotion of human prosperity.”
For the last two years, Meg has been an undergraduate research assistant at the Gender and Security Sector Lab, led by Prof. Sabrina Karim (PACS Faculty). She started researching international security sector assistance programs, including U.S. police assistance programs, which involved a literature review as well as combing through Congressional records. According to Professor Karim, “Meg really showed how invested she was in this research by attending optional workshops lead by the DCAF Geneva Center of Security Governance,” going on to explain she was one of few undergraduates to participate.
Finally, it is worth noting that not only has Meg worked on strengthening civil society, women’s health, and security sector reform, but she is also a Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. In the fellowship, she learned from and researched under scholars committed to making a nuclear-free world. Fellows also met with a hibakusha, a Japanese survivor of the atomic bomb, with Meg stating, “[when] he lifted his shift to show his disfigured chest, my life was forever changed. That moment reinforced the fact that war and violence, like nuclear weapons, are institutionalized.”
She went on to say in her application for the Freeman Prize: “Our world is not safer and more secure with nuclear weapons and large militaries. It's safer and more secure when the citizens are fed, taught, and healed. It’s safer when our resources are spent on peace, climate change, and vaccinating the masses.”
These interests and her dedication to the research that she does through the various experiences she has engaged in demonstrate her commitment to peace. Meg plans to take all these experiences and skills with her into the workforce after she graduates.
"Growing up in a rural town in western Colorado, coming to Cornell gave me so many opportunities to work and study that I would have never had before. I specifically cite my time studying and working in Zambia and Jordan as the two biggest experiences that taught me how to think globally. I hope to use my education to make the world a more peaceful, prosperous, and safe place for everyone. My long-term goal is to work for the State Department or USAID in the intersection of international aid and security. Diplomacy is an important tool for shaping our world, and I would strive to make it an organization that reflects our diverse and forward-thinking generation. Above all, I wouldn't be here without the support of so many people and the wonderful institution of Cornell.”
–Margaret 'Meg' Anderson, '21