Ames Student Wins First ACLU Youth College Scholarship

Affiliate: ACLU of Iowa
April 20, 2000 12:00 am

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AMES, IA –The American Civil Liberties Union today announced the winners of a nationwide student activist college scholarship competition, awarding eight high school students $4,000 each for outstanding contributions in the struggle for civil liberties and the rights of young people.

The first annual ACLU College Scholarship for Youth Activism Award was created to recognize the efforts of graduating seniors who have demonstrated a strong commitment to civil liberties and civil rights through some form of student activism.

when I read letters-to-the-editor of the local paper from people who say I’m going to hell, or when members of the Board of Education tell me we don’t need sexual orientation in the harassment policy because ‘kids will be kids,’ or when all but one of the fifty Spectrum posters I put up the day before have been destroyed,” said Russell in a personal statement describing the dehumanizing treatment she endured when she came out as a lesbian and began to create Spectrum.

“But I know that if only one poster stays up out of fifty, some boy who is confused about his sexuality might walk by, see it, and know that he’s not alone,” Russell said. “If any of this has saved one student from feeling the way I did when I was first coming out, or even hurting him or herself, from doing drugs, or from dropping out of school, all of the sacrifice has been worth it.”

In the midst of her local advocacy work, Russell organized the statewide Iowa Association of Gay-Straight Alliances and traveled around the state speaking at conferences about the importance of making schools safer for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students.

“Gina Russell’s accomplishments as an advocate for human rights before even graduating from high school are humbling to even the most seasoned civil rights activist,” said ACLU of Iowa executive director R. Ben Stone. “As I reflect on the perspective and status I had as a freshman in a central Iowa school of similar size, I am awestruck that she could consider attempting such an intimidating and potentially threatening undertaking.”

Student winners from California, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah, and Massachusetts were selected based on the personal statements they wrote describing their reasons for becoming civil rights/liberties activists. Some students established civil liberties clubs at their high schools, while others participated in ACLU lawsuits, or fought discrimination and censorship.

“The next generation of civil libertarians will face new challenges as part of their ongoing defense of the Bill of Rights,” said Ira Glasser, executive director of the national ACLU. “This scholarship gives the ACLU an opportunity to recognize the bravery of these students and the inspiration they provide.”

The ACLU college scholarship fund was made possible by a grant from an anonymous donor.

More information on Gay/Straight Alliances is available on the ACLU’s website at:

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