Student spotlight: Rossella Gabriele, ‘19

“I was happiest when I stopped trying to fit in.”


Rossella Gabriele, ’19. Photo by Hannah Denham, ’20.

Jin Ni

When Rossella Gabriele, ‘19, was a first-year student at Washington and Lee, she remembers speaking with a senior, a fellow physics major who, looking back, was disappointed with his four years. He wasn’t in a fraternity and often felt bored without social connections.

Three years later, Gabriele finds herself in the same position, reflecting back on her time on campus. But, despite also being unaffiliated with Greek life, she says she feels completely differently.

“I was happiest when I stopped trying to fit in,” she said. “Embracing the part of each person that is unique and finding groups that can celebrate that uniqueness is better than desperately trying to find a social group to fit in with.”

She said in the past few years she’s seen a growth in groups that cultivate connection and even friendship with students looking to improve campus life, such as groups like Washingtonian Society, Student Association for Black Unity and the Vigil.

“[These organizations] provide spaces of connection for people who really care and are intimately and personally involved in social justice and first-generation, low-income issues,” she said. “You gain a friend group within activism circles.”

As a co-president for Amnesty International, Gabriele has seen firsthand how student organizations can become a second family. She was there when Mohini Tangri, ‘19, formed a chapter of Amnesty International on campus their first year. Gabriele said she thinks it’s grown from personally investing in people and their friends.

“We call it a Famnesty,” she said, laughing.

Tangri and Gabriele bonded over their shared interest in sparking conversation on campus about human rights.

“Rossella is confident, outspoken, sharp, witty and compassionate,” Tangri said. “She’s an exceptional leader who is able to connect with members on an individual basis and inspire them to work hard to fight against human rights abuses.”

If she’s not in an Amnesty meeting, Gabriele is frequenting the halls of the Science Center or Huntley Hall classrooms as a double physics and politics major.

She’s currently talking intelligence and national security with politics professor Seth Cantey.

“She’s someone who is always focused,” Cantey said, “which contributes to her ability to navigate both hard sciences and mathematics and social sciences that engage the challenging terrain of human decision.”

Chemistry professor Erich Uffelman has never had Gabriele in a class, but he knows her well enough to admire her for fighting for those who can’t fight.

“She has the capacity and strength to advocate for those who are silent,” he said, “but she also has the gentleness and warmth of spirit to befriend a rather silly chemist who is 35 years her senior.”

Gabriele’s path to campus started when she received an email about the Johnson scholarship. After visiting campus for Johnson weekend, she said it was an easy decision.

Now, she’s also Omicron Delta Kappa president, the physics chair of Women in Technology and Science and a Resident Advisor.

Gabriele said she wanted to be a RA to support first-year students during their transition to college. Cassandra Sobieski, ‘22, is one of her residents on the third floor of Gaines, themed Harry Potter.

“As a RA, she loves our hall and you can tell,” she said. “But she’s also not afraid to act as an authority figure when she needs to, which contributes to the feeling of this hall being a fun space and a safe space.”

As for after graduation, Gabriele plans to take a gap year to allow time for a fellowship, like one that Amnesty International offers.

And after that? She said it’s a toss up between human rights or space law.

But before she leaves the bricks paths of Washington and Lee, Gabriele said she just wants to live life: enjoy a nap, read a good biography or science-fiction book. She said she hopes that when she leaves, the groups that have shaped her Washington and Lee experience will continue to blossom.

Have a suggestion for a student feature? Contact Hannah Denham at [email protected]