Rhodes Scholar Finalist Now Fighting Human Trafficking

Posted on April 3rd, 2015 by

Julia Tindell '13

Julia Tindell ’13

Finding one’s vocation is a process. Just ask Gustavus Adolphus College alumna Julia Tindell ’13. After four fruitful and rewarding years at Gustavus and completing the rigorous process associated with being a Rhodes Scholar finalist, Tindell has found her calling at a non-profit organization in St. Paul that serves women and girls involved in systems of abuse, exploitation, prostitution, and sex trafficking.

After graduating from Gustavus with a degree in English, Tindell was nominated by Gustavus to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship—one of the most prestigious academic scholarships in the world as only 32 are awarded in the United States per year. Throughout the process, Tindell was able to lean on the Gustavus Fellowships Office and other faculty members.

Tindell says that Eric Vrooman, who coordinated the Fellowships Office in 2013, was her ally throughout the process: assisting her with elements of the application, helping to develop her writing process as she put together her personal statement, working on her endorsement letter for the college, and scheduling mock interviews.

“Most importantly, he was my friend and my supporter,” Tindell said. “He helped me to recognize my potential, and worked alongside me every step of the way. I received similar support from Amanda Nienow. Despite just stepping into the role of fellowships coordinator, and not having met during my four years at Gustavus, Amanda and I had a wonderful partnership.”

Tindell said she was also constantly supported by other faculty members including Henry MacCarthy (Theatre & Dance), Amy Seham (Theatre & Dance), Michele Rusinko (Theatre & Dance), Lisa Heldke (Philosophy), Elizabeth Baer (English), Florence Amamoto (English), and Rob Kendrick (English).

“The faculty at Gustavus is incredible,” Tindell said. “I could write volumes about how much I love and appreciate all of these people.”

From an initial pool of 877 candidates, Tindell’s application made it through the district selection committee. She then flew to Chicago along with other finalists for an interview process, but was ultimately not one of the 32 candidates selected for the scholarship.

“It was disappointing at first—to work so hard for something and have it end so quickly is sort of naturally dramatic. Now looking back at the process, I’m just really thankful that I had that experience,” Tindell said. “It took me at least another six months or so to realize that fighting human trafficking was my vocation. It’s not to say that Oxford wouldn’t have been spectacular; I just don’t think it’s where I was supposed to be.”

Julia Tindell 2Today you will find Tindell in the offices at Breaking Free, an organization founded in 1996 by Vednita Carter. Every year, the non-profit helps an average of more than 500 women and girls escape systems of prostitution and sexual exploitation through advocacy, direct services, housing, and education.

Tindell is employed as Breaking Free’s Volunteer and Events Specialist. She is responsible for training volunteers and then connecting them with specific opportunities that align with their skills and passions. She also plans the organization’s special events including its Candlelight Vigil in October and its annual Benefit Breakfast in November. She is currently focused on the organization’s Demand Change Conference, which is scheduled for May 28-30 in St. Paul.

“My favorite thing about Breaking Free is that it is survivor-led, which means that we are receiving direction from women who have escaped the life of sex trafficking and prostitution, and know what it takes to provide programs that are really going to have an impact on our community,” Tindell said. “I think our survivor leadership is what makes Breaking Free such a powerful and effective agent for change in our community.”

Tindell says that her passion for the issue of human trafficking and social justice issues in general grew over time while attending Gustavus and participating in the College’s social justice theatre troupe, I Am We Are.

“I believe that my time at Gustavus set the stage for the work I’m doing today. When I started college in 2009, I knew little to nothing about social justice. I knew that I believed in radical love, but I didn’t know what it looked like,” Tindell said. “My time with I Am We Are—both the organization as an entity and the people in involved in it—taught me that social justice meant value and respect for individuals and communities, and I think it is this understanding that opened my heart up to hurting people around the world, and opened my eyes up to see the people hurting in my backyard.”

Julia Tindell was chosen as the College’s commencement speaker in 2013. During her four years at Gustavus she was involved in a number of theatre productions, the Crossroads Program, and Study Buddies. She studied abroad in England at the University of Oxford during her senior year, served as a tutor in the Gustavus Writing Center, as an academic assistant for the English Department, had several pieces published in the College’s literary magazine Firethorne, and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.


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