Gabriel Morillo '24 Selected for Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress Presidential Fellows Program
The Haverford Political Science Major plans to use the fellowship to initiate a career in legal advocacy, social justice, and activism.
A year ago, Gabriel Morillo ’24 was a community college student in his native Bronx, navigating through a narrow window of opportunity made possible by his diligence, and the sacrifices made by his parents.
Since then, that window has flown wide open, thanks in part to a scholarship that landed him on Haverford’s campus last fall, and now, as Haverford’s 2023-2024 fellow for the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress (CSPC) Presidential Fellows Program.
“What interested me most was the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. and meet and build relationships with government officials, media figures, policy makers, policy experts, et cetera,” says Morillo. “I feel like this opportunity is a great complement to my passion for social justice.”
That passion is rooted not just in his experiences and observations as a Latinx man, he says, but also in his experience with a learning disability, and seeing the challenges faced by a younger brother with autism.
Created in 1970 by The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress (CSPC) to inspire college students to become the public servants that will guide our nation’s future, the Presidential Fellows Program offers students the opportunity to learn about leadership and governance, conduct original research, and explore careers in public service through monthly virtual sessions and an in-person policy conference in Washington, D.C.
Thanks to an endowment established by Goldman Sachs in honor of John C. Whitehead ’43, Haverford has, since 2003, nominated one student annually to participate in the program. Urged on by his political science advisor Zachary Oberfield and Associate Dean James Keane, Morillo was nominated by his “Federalism and Constitutional Law” professor, Alisa Klein—a senior appellate attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
“They believed that I would be the right fit for the program,” he says. “And the fact that [Professor Klein] believed that I was ready for it was a really great boost of confidence. She got me to really consider this opportunity and take it more seriously, do more research on it, apply, and eventually get nominated.”
Last year’s fellow, Maria Reyes Pacheco ’24, is a classmate of Morillo’s, and was, he says, a great resource for what to expect from the program.
“Some of the advice that I gave him was to just own his project,” says Pacheco, who switched her major from history to sociology after studying and writing about the role of the Peace Corps in Bolivia. “And to make use of other professors on campus because it is a virtual program. They provide you with a mentor from another university who works within the program, but I found my experience was a lot smoother by talking to professors on campus that I might not have been taking a class with, but who knew something about my topic.”
As a CSPC Presidential Fellow, Morillo will attend monthly virtual sessions, write a 10- to 15-page research paper, author an op-ed based on research, and engage with CSPC Presidential Fellows, policy experts, government officials, media figures, and business leaders. That research will be presented to national policy experts and CSPC Presidential peers during a multi-day leadership conference in Washington, D.C.
One of his possible areas of research will be on what he perceives to be a disparity between how the Department of Homeland Security treats Haitian refugees as compared to how Ukrainian refugees are processed. “But I also hope to do research on what Congress can do to address gun violence,” says Morillo. “Specifically, how does a lack of gun restriction laws disproportionately harm the black community?”
During the interview process for the Fellowship, Morillo was asked where he hoped to be in five years. His answer: law school, working for a non-profit such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which works to exonerate wrongly imprisoned individuals through post-conviction DNA testing.
Says Morillo about the fellowship, “I hope to look back at this and say, ‘Yeah, I learned so much from so many students who are like me, and from students with different ideas.’ I want to be open minded and see what the other arguments are. I think we all want to make this country a better place for all people—people from this country, people outside this country who want to have a better future here. It’s exciting. Just talking about it gives me goosebumps.”
Gabriel Morillo ’24 Awarded Cooke Foundation Scholarship
The Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship is a highly selective scholarship for the nation’s top community college students seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees at four-year colleges or universities. Morillo ’24 was awarded the scholarship and began attending Haverford in Fall 2022. We caught up with him earlier in the year to learn more about his experience.
How did you connect with the Cooke scholarship people/organization?
Before transferring to Haverford College, I was a proud Bronx Community College (BCC) student. BCC’s point person to the Jack Kent Cooke (JKC) Scholarship Foundation, Dr. Yvonne Erazo, and the community college’s recent winner held a workshop promoting the scholarship to BCC students aiming to transfer by the fall semester. Listening to my community college’s JKC winner speak about how he persistently applied for the JKC Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship despite being rejected twice inspired me to apply. Despite the immense challenge, I thought applying for the JKC Scholarship award was worth a shot. I felt that my community college experience of dreaming bigger than myself via displaying my allyship to other marginalized communities (e.g., LGBTQIA+) while promoting my own (e.g., Disabled, Black) showed that I belonged with the JKC community. After writing intensive essays demonstrating my leadership skills and my potential contribution to the community, I was one of the 100 scholars selected from a pool of more than 1,200 applicants attending 180 community colleges in 35 states.
What appealed to you about Haverford?
Based on what I’ve heard from Haverford’s staff members during my campus visit, the student body's “socially awkward, intellectually curious, and thoughtfulness” appealed to me the most. I also find myself socially awkward around people (including my closest friends on campus), intellectually curious as I struggle to merely skim readings instead of reading them in their entirety, and I’m a compassionate social justice activist. I treated my decision as a Tinder date, and I must say, I feel that it was the best match for me. I wouldn’t trade away my experience at the college for any other educational institution.
Tell me about your Haverford experience so far: what you are studying...extracurriculars...things that have surprised you?
As a Junior transfer of color, my Haverford experience is rushed as I attempt to maximize the academic and extracurricular opportunities. As soon as I committed to Haverford College, I declared my major in Political Science, and soon after, I declared my concentration in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. I intend to use the critical thinking, writing, analytical, and research skills that come with my major and concentration to become an effective Constitutional Lawyer representing marginalized communities. Outside of my courses, I successfully ran and was elected into the Honor Council as a Junior Representative. Additionally, I applied and became a Residential Education and Student Engagement (RESE) intern due to my prior experience as a social justice activist at my community college. In addition to helping the RESE office with errands, I intend to launch a campaign bringing awareness to the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi with the assistance of my supervisor. I aim to collaborate with the Ardmore and Haverford College community to economically and politically support the state of Mississippi’s Black community.
Where do you see yourself focusing your time and studies over the course of your time at Haverford?
Throughout my time studying at Haverford, I find the Lutnick Library (specifically the carrels), Music Library’s quiet space, Campus Center’s second floor, and the comfort of my dorm to be the best spaces to study. Whenever one of the spaces is occupied, I tend to head over to the three other options. If the second option is occupied again, I simply rinse and repeat.
What would you like people to know about what it's like to transfer into college, that they might not understand or see?
To my fellow and future transfer students: in my experience, there will be moments when you’ll feel out of place in the community. You’ll find that there are established friendships, and it may feel that student members of the community aren’t interested in getting acquainted with you. With that being said, we should strive to integrate into the community. We should make our presence known and felt. Before enrolling at my community college, I enjoyed the privilege of being an introverted introvert. However, I discovered that I wouldn’t grow if I didn’t feel healthily uncomfortable. Since I enrolled at BCC, I have made it my mission to come out of the box to meet new people, build relationships, and participate in as many activities as possible before I graduate. This is especially true at Haverford College. To strive and perform socially and academically well at this college, I pleasantly have no other option but to try new activities: travel to Philadelphia, socialize at large gatherings with student peers outside of classes and forming an intramural basketball team named after my favorite cereal brand.
What field do you see yourself going into after graduation?
Did you know that employers are legally allowed to pay their employees sub-minimum wage if that person has a disability? The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 is just one example of an outdated law that needs to be changed in this country. I know firsthand the impact of legal jurisdiction in the fight for equality of marginalized groups; it’s why I want to pursue politics & law. Laws can normalize new societal standards, I want to use that to create positive and tangible change. As a Constitutional lawyer, I plan to primarily focus on serving and representing the interests of marginalized communities, especially in cases that attempt to strip them of civil rights and liberties. I’ll take a top-down approach and use the power of improved legislation to normalize equal treatment of all groups in this country, especially the disabled. Applying the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, I’ll contribute to the eventual repeal of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Love yourself! Practice self-care! I can’t stress enough how important that is to me at this point in my life. Do things to help you so that you can help others. Remember that your feelings are valid. It’s okay to brag humbly, just ensure not to be arrogant. Be proud of who you are.