Autumn Guillotte ’18

Autumn Guillotte graduated in 2018 after studying History and Philosophy. She then went to University College in Dublin, Ireland, where she received a M.A. in Public History. Learn how she become a Truman Scholar, and the path she’s taken after graduating to become the person she is now.

Tell us about a favorite memory from your undergrad days. What do you think of the Honors Programs and your time at URI?

When I think of my time at URI, I fondly remember the long hours I spent in the Lippitt Hall honors lounge, studying, living off of free coffee and the occasional snack, taking a quick nap or chatting with friends. It was really a place of great community.

Tell us about the work you are doing today. What is your job, title and responsibility?

I am the Field Director for the RI AFL-CIO. We are the state federation for Rhode Island’s unions, representing over 80,000 workers. In my role, I work on both political campaigns and union organizing drives. I am also the administrator of a leadership development program called Leadership for a Future. Each spring we bring in a class of union members, community organizers, and working class leaders to dive deeper into the topics of leadership, public service, advocacy and solidarity. Through my job, I also host a show called Labor Vision, where we covered the issues most important to working Rhode Islanders and their families. Outside of work, I am the President of the RI Coalition of Labor Union Women and serve on the executive board of the Rhode Island Labor History Society.

What did the path to your current role look like? What are some interesting jobs or experiences you had along the way?

In a way, I have been an organizer since my days at URI. My interest in working student issues, connected with my time as an officer at the URI College Democrats and creating community events with the Philosophy honors society. This eventually lead me to an internship with the Graduate Assistants United, which gave me a front row seat to the day-to-day operations of a union. After graduation, I worked with the Coalition for Reproductive Freedom as an organizer and researcher, studying the stories of working class women in the 1920s and 30s and their reproductive history and using that history to advocate for the passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019. This work was also part of the early days of the URI Applied History Lab. For both of my graduate degrees I was studying women and systems of forced labor. This lead to an internship with the Irish Labour Party, where I organized during their general election in 2020. COVID brought an abrupt end to organizing as I knew it. The pandemic forced me and several other post-graduate student organizers to find new ways to connect and advocate for change. We brought demands to the UCD administration for a suspension of fees during the pandemic, as we were all forced to finish our degrees virtually with limited access to resources and guidance. Before I could benefit from this organizing, I was offered a job back in Rhode Island as a union organizer. I could not resist the opportunity to return home and work in the community that made me. I have been with the RI AFL-CIO since late 2021, and still find ways to blend my organizing work with deep research, and have continued to lean on my URI community in the work that I do.

What would you like to highlight about your post-grad experience that you feel URI and the Honors Program uniquely prepared you for?

My experience with the honors program and the educators and staff that really shaped that experience taught me to chase my intellectual passions rather than simply following a pre-determined path. As an honors student, I simply needed to express an interest and the advisors and staff of the Program worked with me to get course credit, funding, and to connect work I did with future opportunities. I remember in my sophomore year I decided I wanted to spend the summer in Chicago, but didn’t find any internships that suited me. Instead, I created my own fellowship with the Illinois Labor History Society and through the URI fellowship office and the honors program, I received a Metcalf Grant to fund my summer of research and labor action. It gave me the sense that I could do anything I wanted to do, so long as I asked the right questions and found the right advocates. This uniquely prepared me for the Truman Scholarship application process. I would not have become a Truman in 2017 if it hadn’t been for the experiences and support I received as an honors student. I have taken that with me to my post-graduate studies, where I constantly chased academic and work opportunities that went beyond the scope of my degree program and never accepted “no” for an answer. I knew that if I came to URI with the same proposal that it would be a “yes” and that was enough for me. This is how I arrived at my decision to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship, while I was studying in Ireland. I knew I wanted a second masters, to apply the history I was studying to contemporary policy issues. In 2019 I was a Rhodes finalist, solely through the support of my URI community. This then gave me extra weight as I pursued new, post graduate opportunities. Because of the blind confidence instilled in me as a URI Honors Student, I was able to work in Irish government, consult on university virtual exhibits, launch a history podcast, work as a paid organizer, and present at several conferences, often as the only non-PhD in the room. I did all of this, completed two graduate degrees and endured a global pandemic.

Have you maintained connections with URI through alumni networks? Are you involved in any mentorship or outreach programs through URI? If so, please describe. If you are open to students reaching out to you, please indicate your contact preferences in your response.

I am still connected with many of my classmates from URI and am glad to stay in-touch with Kathleen Maher and help the fellowship office prepare Truman finalists for interviews and any other endeavors.

What advice do you have for current students?

It’s a gross saying, but it’s true – “there are many ways to skin a cat”. There are so many ways to get to where you want to go, in school, work, and life. Follow your passions, be flexible in your approach, and be open to new possibilities and you’ll be surprised with how easy it can be to find the places where you are supported and celebrated.