"I've always wanted a career focused on fighting injustice," says Amanda Reynoso-Palley '16. As she prepares to combat intimate partner abuse and sexual violence among high school students in New York City following her graduation this May, she'll have some help achieving that goal: Reynoso-Palley has been awarded the Law School's fifth Frank H.T. Rhodes Public Interest Law Fellowship.
"The goal of my project is to support survivors of teen dating violence by ensuring their access to safe education," Reynoso-Palley says. "In recent years, the issue of sexual assault and dating violence has received a lot of national attention on college campuses, but very little attention at the high school level."
Reynoso-Palley will be partnering with Day One, a nonprofit organization that works in schools throughout the five boroughs to end dating abuse and domestic violence. Her project involves working one on one with individual student survivors to address their problems, for instance by pursuing school-based solutions, restraining orders or criminal charges. Additionally, Reynoso-Palley will be able to help her clients with issues beyond dating violence, such as by pursuing immigration status for undocumented students.
Reynoso-Palley will also be working to ensure that schools are complying with their legal requirement to have a Title IX coordinator to whom students can bring issues of dating violence. And, on a larger scale, she's aiming to change how society views teen sexual abuse and intimate partner violence, including fighting against the victim blaming that often takes place around sexting and the use of naked photos sent by former partners as blackmail material. "There's a really large stigma, especially about teenage students and their use of technology," Reynoso-Palley says.
Early in her time at Cornell, Reynoso-Palley dedicated herself to immigrants' rights, working with a project that helped Iraqis to get refugee status. However, her first-year summer job at the East Bay Sanctuary in Berkeley pushed her towards her current path. At the sanctuary, many of the asylum seekers she saw there were young victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. "I was especially drawn to their cases," she says. "The resiliency of the survivors I was working with really amazed me."
Afterward, Reynoso-Palley participated in the Law School's Global Gender Justice Clinic and pressed for reforms in the U.S. military's system for addressing sexual assault. She also worked at the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project over her 2L summer, using Title IX to fight against public school programs that segregated children by gender.
"Amanda entered law school determined to use the law as a tool to advocate for the rights of vulnerable people, especially victims of domestic abuse, women without access to education, and undocumented immigrants," says Karen Comstock, assistant dean for public service and one of the members of the Rhodes Fellowship selection committee. "She has never wavered from this goal. Her fine intellect, fierce commitment to social justice, and personal connection to the communities she will serve make her, in the words of her fellowship host, 'precisely the kind of lawyer that will enhance the next generation of leaders in the anti-violence movement.'"
The Frank H.T. Rhodes Public Interest Law Fellowship was established in 2010 with funding from the Atlantic Philanthropies, as well as support from Cornell Law School. The fellowships provide support for newly graduated Cornell Law students committed to public interest law, allowing them to provide critical legal services to children, the elderly, the homeless, and other disadvantaged populations. The fellowship was named for Cornell University President Frank Rhodes, who led the university between 1977 and 1995 and is also a former Atlantic board member and chair.