Crystal Letona '19 of Los Angeles, a communication and rhetorical studies major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and a policy studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School, has been named as a 2018 finalist for the prestigious Truman Scholarship.
The Truman Scholarship is awarded to approximately 55-65 college juniors each year in recognition of community service, academic accomplishment and commitment to a career of public service. This year, 194 finalists were selected from more than 750 nominated by schools and colleges from around the country.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to President Harry S. Truman. Since its creation, the Truman award has become one of the most prestigious national scholarships in the United States. The scholarship seeks to fund students who possess the leadership skills, intellect and passion that will make them “change agents” for the public good in any field. Recipients receive $30,000 to fund up to three years of graduate education leading to a career in public service. Winners also benefit from a network of other scholars and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for careers in public service leadership.
Letona worked with the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) on her application and in preparing for her interview. She will interview on March 18 in San Francisco.
Letona applied for the Truman Scholarship because she wants to address the racial and class disparities in reproductive and sexual health, particularly among low-income women of color. “To do this, I plan to pursue a dual degree program in law and public policy or administration; eventually, I want to run for City Council of Los Angeles,” she says. “With the Truman Scholarship, I could focus and achieve my career goals without the financial burden.”
Growing up in a predominantly Latino community in Los Angeles with her single mother and sister, Letona says she never really considered a job in public service, especially because there weren’t many people who looked like her holding public office. She worked on Wendy Greuel’s campaign for mayor of Los Angeles, and was inspired by her efforts.
Letona has volunteered within the Syracuse community through different organizations on and off campus, such as Students Advocating for Sexual Safety and Empowerment (SASSE) and Planned Parenthood. “I knew, however, that volunteering was not enough, which is why I started thinking about how I could enact change through policies and legislation,” she says. During the summer of her freshman year, she interned in the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney, working with the diverse residents of Los Angeles through community engagement and outreach.
“My public sector experiences, along with my time at Syracuse University, cemented my decision to pursue a career in public service,” Letona says.
Letona is extremely passionate about promoting sexual health, family planning and reproductive rights. “I come from a culture where not talking about our bodies and sex is the norm. Many people within my community do not have access to education about their sexual health and body. Latinos and other communities of color continue to face reproductive obstacles as a result of systematic barriers, including poverty, racism and lack of insurance,” she says. “I want to make comprehensive sex education and quality healthcare available to all women, especially Latinas within low-income communities, because they need the ability to exercise self-determination, including making decisions about their reproductive lives.”