In today's post, Tess Domb Sadof, recipient of the 2012 Student Stowe Prize high school award, reflects on winning the Student Stowe Prize and how it has inspired her to continue her passion for social justice. Now a student at Columbia University in New York, she is an activist on a variety of issues including mass incarceration, workers’ justice, health disparities, housing inequality, and food and transportation access. You can read Tess' 2012 winning entry HERE.
In my junior year of high school, after months of frustration with the direction of local and statewide conversations on student bullying, I wrote an article for my local newspaper, urging my town and school to consider the power of the witness when developing intervention-based policies. Having conducted interviews with classmates the year before in the wake of student Phoebe Prince’s suicide, I was concerned with how policy conversations seemed to dismiss the experiences of ill-equipped, but well-intentioned student witnesses. Moreover, I was disappointed by the complete absence of any kind of discussion on how to empower student witnesses to transform their schools into safe, accountable, caring, and responsive spaces.
My article on the importance of active student responders helped to raise awareness in both my school and my community about the contributions students can and should make to stand up to bullying. I decided to utilize community support for student intervention to create a student-directed coalition focused on standing up against bullying and discrimination-related injustices. Through a number of dialogue-driven projects, we helped to facilitate community-wide reflection on how students can assume individual and collective responsibility to address and respond to injustice.
I am so grateful and honored to have been awarded the Student Stowe Prize for my article, and the impact my article had on inciting change in my high school and town. Since receiving the Student Stowe Prize in 2012, I’ve attended Columbia University in New York City. Here in New York, I’ve expanded my focus to the city-level, looking at how policy influences the access vulnerable communities have to fair and just social, political, and economic resources and services in urban areas. I am now particularly interested in issues of mass incarceration, workers’ justice, health disparities, housing inequality, and food and transportation access.
After reading 2013 Stowe Prize recipient Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow during my first year at Columbia University, I was compelled to take action and learn more about how mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex fracture and weaken low-income communities of color. As a member of Columbia’s social justice living-learning community, I’ve helped to coordinate discussions on the intersections between sexual violence and healing in the age of mass incarceration. This year, I joined a student campaign urging Columbia University to divest the at-least $11 million it has invested in the domestic and international private prison industry. In April, we organized a week of engagement, which consisted of teach-ins, discussions, film screenings, art installations, and other events designed to build campus awareness and solidarity around our cause. As a student-led coalition, we are committed to informing our community and gathering support against Columbia’s current financial profit from the increased policing, criminalization, incarceration, and detention of low-income people of color and immigrant communities.
As I’ve concentrated more on the conditions marginalized urban communities experience, I’ve witnessed how writing can propel meaningful conversations, and provoke necessary action. Last year, I worked as a legislative aide in New York City Council Member Gale Brewer’s office, where I was able to engage in a number of special projects. Nearly all of the service and advocacy I participated in was rooted in written work. My tasks included writing letters on behalf of constituents, drafting government testimony on citywide issues, like public housing and transit access, and analyzing a survey I conducted on the state of the New York Police Department’s language translation services. In all of these projects, I was able to trace the tangible changes implemented as a result of sharing the daily demands and concerns of those so often silenced by government officials. This summer, I’m very excited to continue to work for Gale Brewer, who now serves as Manhattan Borough President, and take on more projects that will foster citywide conversations about the pressing obstacles many low-income, nonwhite, and immigrant New Yorkers face.
Receiving the Student Stowe Prize in 2012 has made me realize and deeply appreciate the power of writing about issues you care about, and the importance of listening to and amplifying the experiences of communities who deserve to be heard. As writers and activists, we have a responsibility not to speak for others, but instead to fully process and relay individuals’ stories, as they’d like them to be articulated. I am so thankful for the Stowe Center for supporting me in 2012, and for consistently promoting writing rooted in listening and in activism. I am also very excited to continue to produce work in line with the principles of the Center, and to hear and learn from the writing, conversations, and change generated by Stowe Prize winners to come. Thank you, Stowe Center!
Welcome to the conversation!
Welcome to the conversation!
Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.
The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.
The Salons at Stowe programs are a forum to connect the challenging issues (race, gender and class) that impelled Stowe to write and act with the contemporary face of those same issues. The Salon format is based on a robust level of audience participation, with the explicit goal of promoting civic engagement. Recent topics included: Teaching Acceptance; Is Prison the New Slavery; Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North; Creativity and Change; Race, Gender and Politics Today; How to be an Advocate
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