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Sotomayor at SEFCU Arena: ‘Don’t believe gender discrimination doesn’t exist’

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Secret Service members lined the SEFCU Arena Tuesday night to protect Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor as she roamed the aisles to share her life story with University at Albany students.

The UAlbany Speaker Series featured the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court. In front of a packed crowd, the Bronx native answered questions written by students and faculty, posed to her by Paul Grondahl, the director of the New York State Writers Institute. Sotomayor focused on growing up as a diabetic, the gender discrimination she has faced throughout her career, her memoir, her early days on the Supreme Court, and her love of the Yankees.

“Eyes from around the world were on me,” Sotomayor said after being appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Barack Obama in 2009.

Sotomayor was initially scared that she would become corrupted by power during her first year as a justice.

The fear served as motivation for her to write her memoir, which was “a way to hold on to Sonia,” she said.

Copies Sotomayor’s memoir, “My Beloved World” were given out courtesy of the UAlbany Student Association during the event. In response to Sotomayor’s upcoming visit, 22 UAlbany faculty members added her memoir to their curriculum.

SA President Felix Abreu, who is a fellow Bronx native, introduced Sotomayor.

“Appreciate the beauty in the struggle,” Abreu opened with.

Sotomayor first touched on growing up in the Bronxdale Houses. Due to her diabetes, Sotomayor was told not to expect to live past 40-years-old.

“Disease taught me to value every minute of life I’m given,” she said.

However, Sotomayor reiterated that you do not need a disease to learn a motivational lesson.

The justice took a humorous approach as she relayed tales of her struggles with gender discrimination as a female lawyer and she did not let her high status impair her from interacting with the audience. Sotomayor answered questions while roaming the perimeter of the arena and touching audience member’s hands.

The justice was asked what advice she would give to women who are facing or may face gender discrimination.

“Don’t believe gender discrimination doesn’t exist. Be conscious of it, don’t naysay it, don’t believe it and navigate the world accepting that it’s a part of your challenge,” Sotomayor replied.

Incoming SA President-elect, Jerlisa Fontaine, was in the audience that night. Fontaine, who is the first female president to be elected in 17 years, said that it is important to not only see women in positions of power but minority women in positions of power.  

“When a young minority female sees someone like Sotomayor become such a powerful force, it motivates us to never set a cap on our future and to aim for the highest positions available,” Fontaine said.

Sotomayor’s interactive discussion only made one mention of politics. 

“Why is it that we’ve had an African-American as president but yet have never had a woman as president,” Sotomayor asked.

She did not touch on Neil Gorsuch, who is Trump’s choice to fill in the vacant Supreme Court seat.

Sotomayor credits her mother for ensuring that she did not fall victim to the risky behaviors that lined the streets of her childhood. Her mother always ensured that Sotomayor and her brother had a plethora of activities to occupy their time in a positive manner.

“For those kids who live in the streets there’s virtually no hope; there is no escape for idle hands,” relayed Sotomayor.

The talk was sponsored by SA, the Division of Student Affairs, Alumni Association, and University Auxiliary Services in partnership with the Writers Institute.

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