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Scholar Profiles

Priya Sridhar

Campus: UNC
Hometown: Apex, NC
High School: Enloe High School

The spring of my freshman year, I watched as my high school made news headlines for a ‘school prank gone wrong’; this chaotic incident resulted in seven arrests for disorderly conduct and the protest of a school-to-prison pipeline. The event opened my eyes to a dire need of both legislative and systemic reform for juveniles in the state of North Carolina. Through research, I discovered that my state was one of two states in the country to try 16 and 17-year-olds as adults in the courts. This policy opened doors to a number of conditions in state prisons, such as solitary confinement of young people from the general population and early effects on mental health. Driven by faith in the possibility of redemption for these youth and in local rehabilitative efforts, I embarked on a mission to help dismantle this ‘pipeline’ through service, leadership, and outreach opportunities.

I first endeavored to expand my knowledge of the devastating school-to-prison pipeline by volunteering at the Raleigh Capital Area Teen Court, a diversion program for first-time youth offenders in my community.  As I transitioned from jury member to youth attorney, I spent most of my time prosecuting and defending youth in misdemeanor cases such as simple assault, affray, and drug possession. Teen Court peaked my interest in juvenile diversion services, so much so that in my sophomore year I took on an internship at Haven House Services, a non-profit organization providing comprehensive services to at-risk youth through diversion programs, counseling, and more. The next year, I applied to the Bezos Scholars Program, a leadership development program at the Aspen Institute. For one week in June, I experienced ‘the nation’s premier, public gathering place for leaders from around the globe’, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and returned to my hometown with the challenge of creating my own local ideas festival on a current topic. Armed with funding from the Bezos Scholars Program and partnerships with second-chance organizations, a team of students and I launched the first-ever ‘Beyond the Bars’ Local Ideas Festival and Inmate Art Gallery at the NC State Bar Association. From showcasing monologue performances and a documentary on North Carolina’s school to prison pipeline to presenting panel discussions and informational booths on mental health in the prison system, my team and I were honored to share inquisitive discourses, prisoner artwork, and legislative reforms with our community on this day.  At UNC, I hope to broaden the scope of our initiative in the years to come, study public policy and chemistry, and partake in service and campus ministry.

What drew you to the Robertson Program? Upon arriving at the Robertson Finalist Weekend, I was fascinated by the program’s mission to promote community service, leadership development, and intellectual curiosity.  I am confident that the tools and resources provided to students by this program will enable me to continue building on scientific research efforts and advocacy initiatives like ‘Beyond the Bars’ during my four years at Carolina. Moreover, the program’s push to step outside one’s comfort zone through opportunities at a sister college campus and abroad fueled my more adventurous side. The Robertson Program offers incredible ways for students to delve into their passions, and I am continuously amazed by the testimonials of past and current scholars.

20190909 Sridhar Priya
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