Laura Cordes ’91, Distinguished Humanitarian
- Carlos Barron
Laura Cordes’ work toward ending sexual violence and expanding the rights and services for victims and survivors of these crimes has helped thousands of people. She has dedicated her career to change the world for the better—both through her own efforts and by inspiring people to work together to do the same. A 1991 graduate of Southwestern University, Cordes is Executive Director of the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
In addition to striving to end sexual abuse through education, training, and advocacy, in her personal life, Cordes is constantly working to build and support her community. For example, her work to expand commuter train access to southeastern Connecticut means more people now have access to public transportation.
“Laura is so deserving of this award because she not only identified areas of our lives that can be improved and supports causes to overcome injustices—she does the time consuming and sometimes tedious work of affecting change. And she does it over and over again, in so many areas of her life,” says Cordes’ longtime friend and Southwestern classmate Laura Wilson Larkin ’91. Cordes majored in History and minored in English at Southwestern.
During her time at Southwestern University, Cordes made many lifelong friends. Her classmate Samara Bel ’91 relates the story of how Cordes inspired her through their work at the Progressive Student Alliance and English Society to collaborate on the first Coffeehouse.
“I was nervous. I had interacted with Laura over the past two years, but I didn’t know her well and was frankly a little intimidated by her. Our first meeting dispelled all of my fears and initiated the beginning of a long and close friendship. Together we began planning to include numerous other organizers… culminating in the first of many amazing coffeehouse experiences at SU, with students from all sectors of campus coming together to revel in creativity.”
Cordes is known for her tireless efforts and drive to be the voice for victims by speaking on their behalf to the media and to lawmakers, and her effectiveness in improving policies, and establishing and expanding prevention and service programs. Last year after her work led to the identification of hundreds of untested sexual assault kits and changes in the law to ensure the testing of all future kits collected, the Governor of Connecticut appointed Cordes chair of his new Sexual Assault Kit Working Group to further address the problem.
Not only is Cordes an effective agent of advocacy and change, she’s known for her ability to empower her friends and colleagues to be their best selves and achieve what they’re truly capable of. She engages people, elicits and encourages their own ideas and strengths, is willing to gently challenge their assumptions and doubts, and help them find their personal path.
Friend and colleague Elizabeth Conklin has known Cordes in two different capacities and at two stages of her career. Now an Associate Vice President and Title IX coordinator at the University of Connecticut she was an undergraduate student when she first met Laura who was organizing students around environmental issues. “She challenged me (and all students with whom she worked) to think globally but act locally, and to develop other student leaders and pay it forward along the way.” recalled Conklin, “Any conversation with Laura undoubtedly leaves me feeling inspired to be a better, stronger and smarter version of a leader on campus, just as when I was a student. And she provides this support now just as she did 16 years ago, firmly, yet quietly and graciously, without need for recognition or fanfare.”
A continuous thread running through Cordes’ life is the esteem her family, friends, neighbors and fellow advocates have for her and her approach and how that reverberates far beyond her own efforts.
“Laura is an inspiration to myself and to many others, reminding us all that there are those that not only need our help, but deserve our help,” says her brother, Scott Cordes.
Lisa Sementilli, who first met Cordes in the early ’90s when they were both working on social justice issues, sums up how Cordes has affected the lives of others: “Laura puts victims and survivors of sexual violence at the core of every act. Thanks to her leadership and dedication, thousands more students are safer on campuses; thousands more victims have an advocate to help them heal and navigate the criminal justice system; many more public official and law enforcement personnel are able to deliver person-centered, trauma-informed care.”
For advocating for the rights of sexual assault victims, the Southwestern University Alumni Association proudly presents Laura Cordes with the 2016 Distinguished Humanitarian Award.