Joy Alferness '98

Joy graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences. She serves as a member of many human rights boards in her local community and beyond, such as San Francisco Leadership Council and Refugees International. Cornell is also very important to Joy’s philanthropic resume. Learn more about her college experience and a Cornell program that aligns with Joy’s background of acting and activism.

Favorite class / Extracurricular(s) as a student?

I was a theatre major, and my favorite class while at Cornell was around theatre as activism. This class specifically focused on Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” framework, and it was such a perfect marriage of my love for theatre and my passion for social action.

What do you do now?

Today, I work in non-profit governance in the human rights space, and I often get asked how that relates to my previous career as an actor. I always say that the two are more related than expected because both things are about empathy. As you can see in my answer to the previous question, my classes at Cornell helped me make that connection!

I am so grateful for the robust education I received, the wonderful relationships I formed, and the many opportunities I have received as a result of my time at Cornell.
—Joy Alferness ’98

Is there a Cornell program or initiative that is near and dear to your heart, and why?

That is an emphatic “yes!” During the pandemic, I learned that one of my former theatre professors, Bruce Leavitt, was running the incredible Phoenix Players at Auburn program, a theatre instruction and performance curriculum for folks incarcerated at Auburn State Prison. I do a lot of work with those incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, and I know how much programs like these can provide healing and discovery. I was so delighted to learn this was taking place, and it is so meaningful to me to know that it is being spearheaded by a professor of whom I am so fond.

What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?

I want to do everything I can to see the principles of humanity realized. Every life is equal to every other life, yet there is so much inequity and suffering in our world. I always tell my kids that we are here to leave a better world than the one we inherited, to make it a more fair and just place for those who come after us.

Why do you give back to Cornell through volunteering?

I was able to attend Cornell because I had a great deal of financial assistance. I am so grateful for the robust education I received, the wonderful relationships I formed, and the many opportunities I have received as a result of my time at Cornell. It makes so much sense to me to support the institution that gave me so much.

As a long-time annual funds volunteer, now chairing the San Francisco annual fund group, I get to meet and speak with so many interesting Cornell alumni! My role is to inspire fellow alumni to give back to the university and expand their philanthropic journey. Through peer-to-peer interaction, I learn about the many interesting things Cornellians are doing in their lives. It always makes me feel so proud to be among such a dynamic and distinguished group of people.

What are you reading these days?

I’m never just reading one thing at a time! Right now, I’m reading both Ear Hustle: Unflinching Stories of Everyday Prison Life by my dear friend, Earlonne Woods, and his podcast partner, Nigel Poor, as well as Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine in hardcover form. I’ve got Shrill by Lindy West on my kindle, and I’m listening to The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction and listen to a lot of fiction.

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