Rhodes Scholar finalist Louisa Kornblatt blends passion with compassion

WUSTL alum helps survivors of gender-based violence reclaim their ‘voice’


It takes many qualities to make it as a finalist for one of the world’s most prestigious academic awards — fully-funded post-graduate study at the University of Oxford in England via the Rhodes Scholarship — and Washington University alumna Louisa Kornblatt has them in spades.

Kornblatt earned a bachelor’s degree this year in women, gender and sexuality studies in Arts & Sciences, with minors in drama and Spanish, at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Quite simply, Louisa is one of the most impressive students I have worked with in 20 years of teaching at the university level, including 14 years at Washington University,” said her mentor, Jami Ake, PhD, assistant dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and senior lecturer.

“Her impressive intellect is matched only by her passion for social justice, much of which is focused on addressing gender-based violence as a social problem in a number of contexts, from the individual to the political,” Ake said.

When she arrived in St. Louis from Madison, Wis., Kornblatt hit the ground running. Her academic career, extracurricular activities and jobs merged her varied interests and talents. These included working as a mentor at The Writing Center and Cornerstone’s Writing Help Desk; performing and directing student shows; and organizing special events for Greek Women’s Health and Wellness Honorary.

She also found inspiring faculty, advisers and mentors who nurtured her interests and goals. In the summer after her freshman year, she obtained an external grant from the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel and Repair the World and began contemplating ways to bring creative writing to shelter residents.

The following spring, as a student in a course taught by Ake, “Service Learning: Projects in Domestic Violence,” she began working with a local women’s shelter to launch what would become known as The Writing Shelter, a mentoring program designed to build self-confidence and create outlets for self-expression.

The goal, she says, was to “empower these women who had been silenced by their intimate partners and larger systems — women who felt that if they spoke no one would hear them. I wanted to help them find their voices and let them know what they have to say is important.”

Three years later, The Writing Shelter continues to flourish. Meanwhile, her growing interest in legal and policy approaches to reduce intimate partner violence also led her to the St. Louis County Domestic Violence Court, where she volunteered as a court advocate for three years — an experience that would later inspire her senior thesis.

During the fall of her sophomore year, Kornblatt led a university digital humanities project to build a database for resources related to gender violence, which she continued until graduation. As a senior, she led a weekly discussion group for the “Violence Against Women” course.

After graduation in May 2014, Kornblatt headed to Israel, where she is helping African asylum-seekers from Eritrea apply for refuge status. She is also part of a small women’s theater company; approximately half the group’s members come from the world of prostitution.

Kornblatt will stay in Israel and continue working with the African refugee and asylum seeking population, as well as studying Gaga—a dance technique developed by the artistic director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company.

As for long-term plans, Kornblatt may be headed for academia, a place where she could fulfill her goals as an artist, activist, writer and scholar. No matter where she ends up, her university mentors and friends are certain she will forge an extraordinary career, using her voice for intellectual discovery and for social change.