ACLU Announces 2003 Youth Activism College Scholarship Recipients

March 28, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–The American Civil Liberties Union today announced the names of 14 high school seniors selected to receive $4,000 college scholarships in recognition of their activist work in civil liberties.

“”I am inspired and impressed by the courage and commitment of our scholarship winners,”” said Nadine Strossen, President of the National ACLU. “”It is a comfort to know that the next generation of civil libertarians is so promising.””

The ACLU’s Youth Activist Scholarship Award was created in 2000 to recognize the efforts of graduating high school seniors who have demonstrated a strong commitment to civil liberties. The award, which is given annually, was made possible by a generous grant from an anonymous donor.

Scholarship candidates are nominated by their local ACLU affiliates. Each of the ACLU’s 53 affiliates is allowed to nominate one student for the award; the nominations are then presented to the ACLU’s national scholarship selection board, which selects the year’s winners.

The 14 winners were judged on the strength and depth of their contributions to civil liberties and the rights of young people, the likelihood of their continuing commitment in the future, and the obstacles they had to overcome in their activist work.

Many of this year’s recipients stood up for the rights of their peers by challenging school officials who violated their rights. Four of this year’s winners overcame obstacles of hostility when seeking to promote tolerance and understanding among gay and lesbian students at their respective high schools. Some of this year’s other outspoken recipients have led health initiatives for young mothers, highlighted the plight of migrant workers and fought for the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.

This year’s winners are:

  • Damian Ball, Puyallup, WA, Emerald Ridge High School
  • Josin Chin-Sang, Miami, FL, Coral Reef Senior High School
  • Laura Dalzell, Hackensack, NJ, Bergen County Academy
  • Matthew Erard, Beverly Hills, MI, Wylie E. Groves High School
  • Maylean Kauwe, Meridian, ID, Centennial High School
  • Tamar Malloy, New York, NY, Hunter High School
  • Tyler McClelland, Cannonsburg, KY, Boyd County High School
  • Audrey Catherine Peer, Springfield, MO, Glendale High School
  • Caitlin Prendiville, Mill Valley, CA, The Marin School
  • Andy Sampson, Neenah, WI, Neenah High School
  • Rachel Shatten, Shaker Heights, OH, Shaker Heights High School
  • Benjamin Waxman, Erdenheim, PA, Springfield Township High School
  • Ginelle Weber, Oakridge, OR, Oakridge High School
  • Matt Wynn, Omaha, NE, Central High School

“”I cringe at the thought of what might happen to our country if people don’t stand up for what is right, even if they are standing alone,”” said Damian Ball, a senior at Emerald Ridge High School in Puyallup, Washington. Ball, who heads the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, led efforts to participate in a National Day of Silence to raise awareness about intolerance, despite pressures by several dozen parents who opposed recognizing the day. “”I stand firmly resolved to do my best to make sure that ideas that promote human rights and civil liberties, regardless of their popularity, are not suppressed.””

Josin Chin-Sang is a senior at Coral Reef Senior High in Miami, Florida and has for a long time been involved in fighting racial prejudice and intolerance. At the age of 16, Chin-Sang wrote a children’s book about diversity among animals at the zoo and used the book in his outreach work as a member of the Red Cross Youth Corps. He also organized a book drive at his high school to collect children’s books for hospital patients and secured the funding necessary for a mural project to encourage students to express their views about racism and violence.

“”When I used my book with the Youth Corps, I realized that the simple story of a young boy’s trip to the zoo was able to open young minds and stimulate within them the simple idea of equality,”” said Chin-Sang.

Laura Dalzell is a senior at Bergen County Academy in Hackensack, New Jersey. As a sophomore, Laura was appalled at the hostility shown to her and other lesbian and gay students. She was determined to create a school climate that fostered equal treatment and a safe learning environment for all. Laura organized a Gay-Straight Alliance. Although it was denied formal recognition by her school, she did achieve the right to meet at its facilities outside of school hours. Laura also organized a forum for Gay-Straight Alliance leaders throughout the state.

“”Throughout a portion of high school I was harassed in class and called anti-gay slurs,”” Dalzell said. “”I will always remain active, fighting for what I believe in, and will only truly be happy when there is no longer a need to work towards civil rights.””

Matthew Erard is a senior at Wylie E. Groves High School in Beverly Hills, Michigan. Erard has been involved in a myriad of activities, from hosting a website on censorship issues to writing on civil liberties for his school newspaper to chairing the Socialist Party of Michigan. He has fought the school district’s installation of Internet blocking software on school computers and championed the need for student representation on the school board. As a result of his activism, Matthew has been interviewed on both French and American television.

“”There will never be a true labor movement, environmental movement, or anti-globalization movement in this country if those who advocate them are silenced through censorship, intimidated into inaction by government spying, imprisoned arbitrarily, denied the vote, or divided through government sponsored discrimination,”” Erard said. “”Without civil liberties, there is no more room for any other form of dissent.””

Maylean Kauwe is a senior at Centennial High School in Meridian, Idaho who has devoted much of her time in high school to working for human rights. Kauwe led a fundraising effort to repair damage caused by vandals at the local Islamic Center. She has worked at the Anne Frank Human Rights Center and participated in workshops at the Idaho Inclusiveness Symposium, a statewide organization that promotes human rights.

“”In the past year, it has become my mission to inform people about the diversity our world holds, and to embrace it instead of fear it,”” said Kauwe. “”I am tired of seeing people separated because of their backgrounds. We all feel, love, and hurt because we all have emotions. Once we all see and realize that, then we can truly appreciate what makes each human unique.””

As a senior at Hunter High School in New York City, Tamar Malloy has worked as a peer educator and mentor for the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Teen Health Initiative. She has written articles for the organization’s newsletter and scripted an educational skit that highlights the rights of minors to confidential health and reproductive care. Tamar has also written a script and conducted the interviews for a documentary that profiles a day in the life of a teen mother, which will air on a New York public education television station.

“”I feel that by teaching young people about their rights it is possible to change their perception of the world around them,”” said Malloy. “”Giving young people concrete, substantiated information about their rights can be the key to enabling people to take care of themselves.””

Tyler McClelland is a senior at Boyd County High School in Cannonsburg, Kentucky. Boyd County is an isolated area on the West Virginia border that has been extremely hostile to attempts to create Gay-Straight Alliances in the school. Under threat of litigation, the school council eventually voted to allow a club to be formed, but local ministers protested and organized an anti-gay rally. Despite continuous slurs, McClelland persevered, and has gone on to lead a movement to provide for student representation on all of the state’s high school councils.

“”Being a resident of a strictly religious and intolerant community, daily harassment is commonplace. There isn’t a day that I do not hear some form of verbal harassment in the hallway,”” said McClelland. “”I am solidly committed to my fight for the rights of those like and different from myself. I strongly believe that only through understanding and acceptance of one another can we ever hope to achieve a community, region, or world of peace.””

Audrey Catherine Peer is a senior at Glendale High School in Springfield, Missouri. She first showed an interest in civil rights in grade school, when she protested her school’s failure to close for Martin Luther King Day. Peer began her participation in the National Organization for Women in fourth grade and continued her activism in high school, where she founded a chapter of Amnesty International.

“”The United States needs to begin to change many of its own practices, along with its focus on the human rights violations of other nations,”” said Peer. “”Without courageous individuals willing to stand up for their beliefs, most of the rights enjoyed by Americans today would not exist.””

During the summer preceding her senior year at The Marin School in Mill Valley, California, Caitlin Prendiville took part in a seven-day bus trip organized by the ACLU of Northern California to investigate conditions of immigrants and farm workers throughout California. She proved to be a natural leader and has since put together a publication about the trip and organized a conference for high school students throughout Northern California on the state of immigrant rights. Prendiville is president of her school’s student body and has raised funds for the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in San Francisco.

“”Activists are persons who have a strong sense of right and wrong, and who set out to undo the wrongs in this world,”” said Prendiville. “”In my trek toward being a better activist, I realize that actions are not about individualism, but about the idea that we are all part of one being, one spirit.””

Andy Sampson is a senior at Neenah High School in Neenah, Wisconsin, a small city in that state’s Fox River Valley. When students at the school sought to establish their Gay-Straight Alliance as an official school club, school administrators denied their request. Sampson, who served as the group’s president in 2001, and Nick Ross, president in 2002, asked the ACLU for help. The school acquiesced under threat of a lawsuit, making it the first Gay-Straight Alliance to achieve official status in the Fox Cities area. The battle to win recognition brought its own problems. Gay students at the school reported continual harassment and taunting with homophobic epithets throughout the school day.

“”These epithets are socially acceptable words, words like ‘fag’, ‘queer’, or ‘homo,'”” said Sampson. “”They are the words that make any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person feel less than human; they are words meant to make these people feel less than human. For me, being a gay high school student meant either dealing with the words, or doing something about them. These words drove me to be a student activist.””

Rachel Shatten is a senior at Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Rachel became involved in the battle for racial justice as an intern in the ACLU’s summer program and proved herself a natural leader. She was invited to present information on student rights at a local conference of parents, teachers and students. Shatten continued that work in her own high school where she led a student group that fosters race relations through education in the lower grades.

“”I never imagined that I would find a work environment were everyone was so passionate about what he or she believed,”” said Shatten. “”Before this I had little practical knowledge about my rights in school and in the world, but I now know much more and am able to bring awareness to my friends and peers in school.””

Benjamin Waxman has been active in the anti-death penalty movement as well as a variety of peace and justice issues for the past three years. He began as a volunteer with a Pennsylvania death penalty abolition group while a student at Springfield Township High School in Erdenheim, Pennsylvania. His organizational and leadership skills were so outstanding that he was invited to become a member of the organization’s board of directors. Waxman worked with the ACLU to organize a statewide tour featuring two Pennsylvania men who had been exonerated after spending years on death row. Following the attacks of September 11, Waxman helped plan a memorial event that called for the preservation of civil liberties and opposed the targeting of Arab-Americans in the war on terror.

“”I learned a great deal about various problems in the prison system, such as the disproportionate representation of people of color and poor people in our nation’s jails,”” said Waxman. “”I have come to view the current correctional system as an ineffective and overly violent way to deal with offenders, creating more problems than it solves.””

Ginelle Weber’s courageous stand against her school district’s random drug testing policy of student athletes has put her in the national spotlight. Weber, a resident of Oakridge, Oregon, has been featured in newspaper and magazine articles and appeared most recently on the national television show Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. All the publicity has come at a steep price, however: Weber was forced off the Oakridge High School varsity volleyball team when she refused random urinalysis on the basis of her right to privacy. She was fiercely criticized by her classmates and teachers after the ACLU of Oregon filed a lawsuit on her behalf. Weber eventually left school and is finishing her studies at home. The ACLU petition for review in the Oregon Supreme Court is currently awaiting a decision.

“”While my act of standing up for civil liberties has denied me any athletic scholarships I might have received, I feel I have gained something more important,”” said Weber. “”In these perilous times, I have learned I can defend others and myself from future civil liberties injustices. Despite having been publicly ridiculed by teachers, harassed by friends, and having my beliefs insulted by strangers, I still feel I would have made the same decisions.””

During his stint as editor-in-chief of his school newspaper at Central High School in Omaha, Nebraska, Matt Wynn learned that a starting linebacker was being allowed to play football despite having been arrested for assault. This was a flagrant violation of school district policy. Wynn ignored pressure from the school administration and published the story, which led to retaliation against Wynn and the paper, the oldest student publication west of the Mississippi River. The resulting controversy was reported by national print and broadcast media. The Society of Professional Journalists lent support, and a First Amendment principle was ultimately upheld.

“”I did it because I had a good story and because everything that America is based on supported my decision to publish. The First Amendment guarantees the right to a free press, and I honestly believe that a free press is integral to the well being of a society,”” said Wynn. “”Newspapers should be allowed to publish the truth. Am I an activist? No, I don’t think so. But if I am aware of someone trying to limit my ability to receive or share ideas, then the activist inside of me kicks into gear.””

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