Paola Bernal, currently a junior at Bryn Mawr College, is an example of how one person's passion, paired with action, can create true social impact. As a Student Coordinator of an after-school program serving primarily immigrant, Latina/o youth, Paola works to directly address the need for academic support, English language enrichment, and emotional encouragement of K-8 students in Norristown, PA. She is also dedicated to supporting victims of domestic violence, volunteering in Nicaragua to assist victims seeking justice. Her leadership on campus also sets her apart, serving as an example for other students of how one can effectively join academic interests with civic action. While the issues Paola works to address are serious social justice concerns, she brings optimism and joy to her work, inviting others in as collaborators and recruiting volunteers to work along side her through her outreach efforts. She is not only a valued member of the Bryn Mawr community, but she is an integral part of communities off campus as well, extending the reach of her efforts and the impact of her actions.
I come from a low-income family background; no one in my family completed an elementary level education. I am a first generation Latinx and I have had to teach myself English, try and fail several times, and ambitiously keep trying to work through the challenges of pursuing higher education. Growing up, I'd read about all of these great influential individuals defying the odds, becoming trailblazers for their own communities, but at the end of the day, hardly any of them were women, let alone women of color.
My mother was a victim of sexual and domestic abuse and like many women like her, did not have access to appropriate avenues of support. My mother, like many, was silenced, chained to her pain. I am passionate and continue to be involved and work through these social issues, because I am a product of the issues. I have experienced these social injustices first-hand and I've been able to grow and acknowledge the power of raising awareness in not only educating myself, but in engaging in critical dialogue and working towards breaking down the systematic barricades of silence and oppression.