Truman scholar seeks career advocating for criminal justice reform

Third-year Soreti Teshome has been awarded a Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a nationally competitive award that supports exceptional students pursuing careers in public service.

Teshome was one of 62 students selected from a pool of 768 undergraduate candidates nationwide to win the prestigious award, which provides up to $30,000 toward graduate education. The news was announced April 12.

A double major in public policy and comparative race and ethnic studies, Teshome plans to pursue a law degree with a focus on public policy that will enable her to provide legal representation to those from marginalized communities.

“From arrest, to court processing, to sentencing, the justice system is primed to dole out the harshest outcomes to low-income minorities,” she said, citing a Sentencing Project statistic stating that 60 percent of the more than 2.2 million incarcerated individuals in the United States are people of color. “Legal advocacy is essential to challenging mass incarceration, but these efforts are limited by aspects of the justice system—such as plea bargaining and racially codified sentencing practices—that predispose people of color to incarceration. This is ultimately why my long-term interest is in policy reform.”

“Soreti’s selection as a Truman Scholar is evidence of her genuine commitment to public service, to the broader Chicago community and as an acknowledgement of her potential for success at the graduate level,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “She exemplifies the best our College students have to offer as scholars and citizens.”

In 2015 Teshome was the recipient of the Pozen New Leaders Scholarship, which enabled her to work with the Illinois Justice Project, advocating for stronger training requirements for Illinois attorneys practicing in juvenile court. That internship led to her joining the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission’s youth advisory board, for which she works to address the underutilization of juvenile record expungement in Illinois.

“Juvenile records are not as confidential as many people believe and can limit access to employment, housing and education,” Teshome said. “In Chicago, there are legal resources to help people navigate the expungement process. My work has involved trying to identify why these resources are underutilized and how they can become more accessible to the people who need them.”

Currently Teshome assists in the development and implementation of student programming and events at UChicago’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. She also serves on the OMSA student advisory council and as a mentor for the Institute of Politics’ Leaders of Color program. This summer the Pozen Human Rights Internship Program will fund her work as an investigative intern at the Brooklyn Defender Services in New York.

“Soreti is a uniquely passionate young person who already has a sound understanding of the impact that systems can have on individual lives,” said Era Laudermilk, deputy director of the Illinois Justice Project, who mentored Teshome during her internship. “She will no doubt use the scholarship to launch what will be an inevitably dynamic and successful career advocating for effective criminal justice reform.”

She was supported throughout her application process by the College Center for Scholarly Advancement, which supports undergraduates and College alumni through the highly competitive application processes for prestigious national scholarships and fellowships.