When Sophia Yapalater ’13 was looking at colleges, she chose Oberlin because, “Out of all of the schools I applied to, it was the only one to holistically offer everything that I was looking for. There wasn’t a single thing I couldn’t do at Oberlin.”
Yapalater’s post-grad life has followed this trajectory of possibility: First, with a Fulbright fellowship in Turkey, then a job at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and now her decision to pursue a medical degree.
As an undergraduate, Yapalater majored in comparative American studies, a discipline she credits with giving her the interdisciplinary framework to understand social and political issues “with an eye toward always prioritizing lived experiences of individuals and communities.” With an equal interest in pursuing social justice in her academic and personal life, Yapalater’s studies at Oberlin focused primarily on health care inequality and immigration and border studies.
To expand her understanding of migration and borders, Yapalater did a yearlong Fulbright program teaching English in a small city just outside Istanbul. Upon her return to the U.S., she was hired for a paralegal position with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
“I worked primarily on litigation related to the constitutionality of immigration detention, and it was really incredible to be even a small part of a team working to expand the rights of non-citizens,” Yapalater says. One of the highlights of her time at the ACLU was when they won a detention case she had done factual research for—meaning that “as a result, families in detention were immediately receiving new bond hearings and being released.”
As rewarding as her work at the ACLU was, Yapalater recalled her experience with community health and harm reduction work, and subsequently decided to pursue a medical degree. Currently in a one-year Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program at Goucher College, she’ll be moving on to the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.
The organizations Yapalater was involved with while at Oberlin, like the Sexual Information Center (SIC), HIV Peer Testers, and teaching SexCo, to name a few, helped solidify her interest in health-related careers. Along with having Professor Gina Perez of the comparative American studies department as a mentor—whom Yapalater attests “has made me a better writer, researcher, and advocate, and I will be forever grateful for that”—Oberlin enabled Yapalater to find her passions and gave her the skills to pursue them professionally.
In addition to her post-bac at Goucher, Yapalater has been volunteering for a public health research project run by multiple departments of Johns Hopkins Hospital, which aims to increase accessibility to health resources for youth in Baltimore. “In all of the positions I have held since graduating, I have found great fulfillment in knowing that the work I do has social impact,” says Yapalater. “I’ve always felt humbled and grounded by the people I’ve worked with. It’s always important for me to remember that any advocacy and justice work I do must be with people, with their lived experiences at the forefront.”
As for her long-term goals, Yapalater ultimately plans to pursue an MD with a dual-degree in either public health, business administration, or health policy research, in order to have a medical career that combines structural and individual approaches to social change. True to her reasons for choosing Oberlin, Yapalater isn’t limiting her future to any specific outcome just yet.
And in the end, according to Yapalater, “I think that what Oberlin taught me most, in so many different ways, was how to think critically, even in the most complex or frustrating of situations, and it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
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