ILR Junior Named Newman Fellow
Growing up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Sherell Farmer ’22, named this month by Campus Compact as Cornell’s 2021-22 Newman Civic Fellow, was well aware of the inequalities so sharply juxtaposed in New York City.
“It was everywhere,” said Farmer, whose activism for building equality was first nurtured in quiet ways in her family’s home. Every day, she was expected to read a page from a Black history book on a living room table. “My dad would say, ‘OK, tell me what you learned today,’ and I would sit down and recite it back.”
In school, Farmer saw her classmates – primarily students of color – kicked out of class for days, despite the fact that would worsen problems, but heard from her father about wealthy students in Manhattan traveling the world and receiving private tutoring.
“Something about that is uncool,” she remembers thinking.
“Hearing and witnessing the experiences of my neighbors, I came to Cornell committed to fighting these ills,” Farmer said in her Campus Compact statement. “Taking classes on various social issues, I have learned that no issue truly exists in a vacuum. This knowledge has grounded me in my belief that relationship building is the true work of social change.”
“As a result, I have made efforts to immerse myself in the Ithaca community. Recently, I did this by spending a summer interning for two Ithaca public defense attorneys to maximize their capacities to provide effective counsel for our most marginalized community members,” said Farmer, who is the undergraduate coordinator of a weekly free legal clinic at Ithaca’s Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen.
Farmer is a co-founder of Cornell Students 4 Black Lives, which raised over $110,000 in support of national, state, and local anti-racist social justice organizations.
The Newman Civic Fellowship, in its 11th year, honors students who engage with others to create long-term social change, take action to address issues of inequality and demonstrate a potential for civic engagement.
“Sherell is a wonderful example of a student engaging with the community and making a difference," said Alexander J.S. Colvin, ILR's Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and Martin F. Scheinman ’75, MS ’76 Professor. "Being named a Newman Civic Fellow is a great honor and we are very proud of her accomplishments.”
As a Campus Compact member institution, Cornell can nominate one student to be a Newman Civic Fellow each year. Units in the Engaged Cornell Hub organized the nomination process, and Cornell President Martha Pollack nominated Farmer.
In her nomination letter, Pollack said Farmer “knows that meaningful change requires more than academic study – it requires direct engagement with communities. Through Cornell’s High Road Fellowship, Sherell worked with the Center for Employment Opportunities in Buffalo, New York, where she analyzed barriers that keep formerly incarcerated individuals from completing job readiness programs and created workshop materials to better serve them.”
ILR was a great fit for her to build a future dedicated to equity, she said, and High Road, based in ILR’s Buffalo Co-Lab, brought together the components of effective activism by synthesizing skills for mobilizing and energizing people to make changes in their communities. “High Road sharpened my ability to advocate for others,” said Farmer, who has minors in inequality studies, law and society, and history.
Campus Compact, the only national higher education association dedicated solely to campus-based civic engagement, named 212 community-committed students from 39 states, Washington, D.C., and Mexico to serve as fellows during the 2021-2022 academic year. Fellows have learning opportunities, including a national conference, throughout the year, and exclusive scholarship and post-graduate opportunities.