My RISE Summer Fellowship in NYC (Recognizing Inequities and Standing for Equality)

November 21, 2023
Isis Arevalo

What do I want to do this summer? 

I kept asking myself this question over sophomore year. The past two summers I had studied abroad and worked a retail job in my hometown, but I knew, going into my junior year, that I wanted to do something explicitly related to my career. 

I want to go to law school. In a perfect world, I work as a Staff Attorney at the ACLU in their Immigrants’ Rights Unit. I am drawn to issues pertaining to detention centers and citizenship rights, and I wanted what I did over the summer to, in some capacity, address that.

This is why I chose to work for the RISE community partner CANY. CANY, or the Correctional Association of New York, is a non-profit promoting criminal justice reform. They conduct independent monitoring and oversight of all 44 New York State correctional facilities to improve transparency, identify harmful practices, and decrease incarceration across the state. With grounding values of respect, justice, and anti-racism, I was immediately drawn to CANY’s mission. 

I was on the Monitoring and Reporting Team, which organizes visits to correctional facilities, formulates standardized surveys to send out to incarcerated individuals, and is responsible for correspondence with incarcerated individuals and their loved ones. As an intern, I connected incarcerated individuals to social and legal services, conducted one-on-one interviews, and built CANY’s volunteer database to expand the facility visit program.

The environment was incredibly supportive, but the work was hard. While my supervisors were considerate of my time, communicated expectations clearly, and gave ample opportunities to ask questions, the material was heavy. Daily, I sifted through testimony about the abuses incarcerated individuals faced in facilities hundreds of miles away from their families. When working with organizations addressing issues of racial injustice and other inequalities, one can feel inundated with all the bad in the world. RISE gave me an opportunity to look at the nonprofit work I wanted to be involved in, and ask myself if I could handle it mentally and emotionally. 

This was a critical challenge to face. Through support from my co-workers, I learned to establish boundaries between myself and my work. Through generous funding from RISE, I was able to afford living in New York City with two of my best friends (also RISE fellows and PICS interns!). I learned ways to recharge – taking weekend trips to meet friends, cooking dinner with my roommates, or calling family back home. It was a summer to experience a new kind of independence, a taste of what post-grad could be, and affirmation that the service-focused professional world was where I wanted to be. 

To anyone considering the RISE program – reflect on what matters to you. Identify community organizations that align with your values, and push yourself to face the challenges that accompany new professional and personal experiences. Being a member of the Princeton community comes with the responsibility of serving communities beyond just our own. RISE gives us a unique opportunity to do just that.