10 Questions for a Student Activist

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Sophia Kortchmar, a 4th year American History major in the College, is one many civically active students at the University of Chicago.  Including her current work tutoring at Kenwood Academy and volunteering at the Michael Barlow Center, the Hyde Park resident and native New Yorker has also done work with  a variety of community organizations, like Southside Solidarity Network and the Transformative Justice Law Project.  It's safe to say that she's a pretty busy body and this work is definitely a part of what defines her.  But what's great is that there's more to learn!  We asked Sophia to let us learn a little more about her--behind the student activist:


What inspires you and why?

Other people. All kinds of people - the people I read about, the people I work with, the people I teach and learn from. I am incredibly inspired, at this moment, by the collaboration and organizing going on with Fearless Leading by the Youth and Students for Health Equity; I am totally bowled over on a regular basis by the absolute fierceness of my adult students, I'm really stoked about a conference USAS and MEChA are having this weekend; I'm inspired by people talking about income inequality in ways that push on my imagination; I'm inspired by the people I know who are struggling right now and get up and try to just do the best they can anyway,  - and by the everyday manifestations of passion and compassion and vision rolling out all over the place.  I'm a lucky lady I guess - I get inspired at least 10 times a day.


If your life had a sound track what song would you pick for it?

I only get one song? That's no good - my life has too many parts too it! That's why I listen to the radio. Actually, 95.5 is sort of the soundtrack to my life right now, not gonna lie. Ostensibly it helps me keep up my Spanish; actually, its more like it just makes me get up and dance around the living room sometimes.


What's your favorite place in Hyde Park/Woodlawn/Washington Park? Why?

The 57th street beach, always - when its full of people and energy and a million degrees in the middle of August, or when it is a quiet winter morning and you crunch through the ice to see the sunrise, or when it is May and not quite warm enough for swimming, but you do anyway, and are so so glad. 63rd street pier is a close second though.


Tell us something unexpected about yourself.

I dunno, I'm pretty predictable- maybe the last painfully unexpected thing I did was to spend about 5 minutes unconscious after I got my last flu shot. I definitely wasn't expecting that - but apparently I am the kind of person who read enough Victorian novels as a child to keel over when needles are involved.  Also, I like anchovies quite a lot, which many people find odd. Only people who haven't had spaghetti and anchovies how I make it, though.


If you could have a drink with someone from Chicago's history (alive or deceased) who would it be?

See that's tricky, too, because I actually would really like to have a drink with a bunch of people working on the reform of the Cook County Jail in the 1920s - that would make writing a history thesis about them so much easier! But then I wonder if they were all prohibitionists - probably, right? So that makes that harder...


What makes you laugh?

This one time, my dearly beloved rooomate and I had to clean out my grandmother's fridge - she (my grandma), who is a terrible hoarder, had been away for 3 weeks and the power in the fridge had been off for at least 2..and oh my word.  I have never before or since seen such extraordinary mold formations, never encounted so many half-consumed decaying pickles, never lobbed green fuzzy grapefruits  down a garbage shoot with such glee, never laughed so hard in my life.

I mean, there are lots of things to laugh about. You just have to have someone to laugh about them with.


What would your ideal weekend look like?

This one is shaping up to be pretty good- it is thoroughly suffused with good friends, lecture at the CSRPC this evening, giant margaritas, an organizing workshop, a new archive to dig around in, some letter writing, some salsa dancing, reading for class I'm actually excited about, and leftover squash risotto.  Drizzle some sunshine on top of that and I can't complain, really. 

The most most ideal though? That would probably have a poetry slam in it. And maybe an adventure to a neighborhood I've never been. And probably a picnic by the lake. In a month that was not November. But so it goes.


Favorite community service project.

I don't know if I think about "community service" projects much - because I think that "service" and "activism" are tied together, and because I think about "social justice work" more than I think of either of those. 

But you know what was absolutely great? Coordinating Summer Links. That might not count, but it was in the UCSC, so its related to Community Service at least. And wow, was it a project. In the best possible way.


Most fun thing you've done this Fall.

Good lord, I have no idea. I think fun is a sort of secondary category, and not a super useful one: things are valuable in a thousand different ways, and there are a million different kinds of joy to get out of them.


Best advice you've ever received.

My mom always says to me, "Everyone is their own universe. Remember that." That's pretty good advice.

 A good friend told me once that the best organizers are not always the people who work themselves into a state of ragged sleep-deprivation and insanity, but also people who take good enough care of themselves to have something to give, sustainably, and joyfully. And I think that's true. 

And there is a line in a Lucille Clifton poem I like, which asks, "What have you ever traveled towards/ more than your own safely?" - which is not exactly advice, but more like a prodding reminder to challenge myself. And I value that immensely.



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