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Valeria Valencia ’23

Meet Cornell’s Student Assembly President

Driving positive change has never been a question for Valeria Valencia ’23. 

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in Los Angeles, California, Valencia said Ithaca was the last place she thought she would end up for college. However, she was drawn to the ILR School. 

“What attracted me to ILR is how human it feels. We’re directly working with other people and learning their stories, through our education about unions and labor history. It allows you to do so much good as a college student.” 

Valencia’s attraction to the human element of labor justice stemmed from her experiences around teachers’ unions. When she was a senior in high school, the teachers in her school district went on strike. Valencia and her classmates marched with them in solidarity. 

“It was pretty significant. I just remember being with my teachers and marching alongside them. I got to see how collective work and unions were able to be so powerful and my teachers were able to bargain for better contracts.” Valencia wanted to cultivate her passion for labor and ILR’s mission spoke to her.

At Cornell, she experienced feeling like an “outsider,” as the community was very different from the large Hispanic population that she grew up with at home. “Coming to Cornell, there were times when I was the only student of color in a huge class. It can be easy to feel really small here.”

It was through student government that Valencia felt she could use her voice to create change. During her sophomore year, she was elected minority students’ representative. In May, she was elected president of the Cornell Student Assembly, Cornell’s body of student representatives. As president, she oversees everything that the assembly does from enacting legislation to financial responsibilities. 

“I realized that through leadership positions, I could help students make Cornell a little easier to navigate,” she said. For example, Valencia spearheaded and is continuing to fight for free laundry services for students living on campus. 

Collectivism, which she has studied at ILR, Valencia said, is the key to improving the Cornell student experience.  “I think that if we take the time to reach out to different pockets of people, collectively, we can improve the campus for everyone.”