By Olivia Klein
On April 12, the Youth Advocacy & Policy Lab (Y-Lab) celebrated the ten graduating students from the inaugural class of the Youth Advocacy Fellows Program. The Program began this year as an immersive experience for second- and third-year students wishing to gain deep expertise in child advocacy through legal clinics and coursework.
“It is exciting to be part of a growing movement of likeminded people on campus who are seeking to positively impact the lives of children and young people,” says Liz Walsh ‘23, a member of the graduating class of Fellows. “As a former teacher and education policy maker, I’m so glad I found a place where I could discuss important systemic issues, policy ideas, and pathways toward change with people who are as invested as I am in improving student lives.”
The Fellows Program requires students to complete three semesters of clinical work, which they may do through the Child Advocacy Clinic or any of the three Education Law Clinics. These clinics, in addition to the Program’s selected courses and its writing program, give students knowledge of the complex and intersecting harms that result from inequitable youth-facing legal and social systems. By designing a path through HLS for students with an emphasis on hands-on practice, the Program aims to give students the skills necessary to launch their futures as leaders and change-makers in system transformation efforts on behalf of young people.
Walsh spent semesters at both the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Attorney General, Children’s Justice Unit through the Child Advocacy Clinic. “In the clinic, I was able to work directly with policy makers and litigators seeking to protect the rights of children in Massachusetts,” she says. “I had the opportunity to experience important child-centered work firsthand and to more deeply understand the overlapping nature of how our legal systems impact young people.”
Walsh’s experiences are just one example of the immersive experience the Fellows are offered in the program—which is also characterized by individual advising and a vibrant social community.
For some, the Fellows Program is a perfect encapsulation of their motivations and hopes for their law degree. Rachel Niegelberg ‘23 came to Harvard Law School with the intention of soaking up all the knowledge she could about education law—and she has done just that, participating in the Education Law Clinic during every semester of her 2L and 3L years. During the Fellows Program’s inception, she was thrilled to work on its Student Advisory Group with Professor Michael Gregory to shape the program.
“Prior to law school, I was a teacher in New York public schools for ten years. As a 1L, and particularly in a fully remote year, it was more challenging than I expected to find like-minded law students who were also interested in education and youth rights. Once I was able to engage in the Education Law Clinic, I became a part of an incredible and robust community of law students with similar interests and passions. The Fellows Program proves to students and the HLS community at large that the rights and interests of young people are important, valuable, and of interest to future Harvard lawyers.”
“I am incredibly proud to be part of the first graduating class of the Y-Lab Fellows,” Niegelberg adds. “For me, the most valuable lesson learned about youth advocacy and avenues for change making in youth-facing legal systems is the pivotal and consequential role of youth voice. Young people are incredible advocates for their own needs and by listening, uplifting, and emphasizing their voices, we as adult allies can work to advance their rights in a way that is meaningful and impactful for them. Young people are at the center of these systems and should be empowered to lead the way in their design and implementation to ensure that we are supporting their right to justice.”
As she heads into her career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Children’s Law Center in Washington D.C., Niegelberg is certain that the Fellows Program has prepared her for her next steps.
“The lawyering skills and values that I’ve learned in my time with the Education Law Clinic, as a Y-Lab Fellow, and from my incredible peers in these programs, will surely help me to provide robust and meaningful legal services to my future clients, and I am so grateful.”
The 2023 graduating Youth Advocacy Fellows are Christina Breitbeil, Molly Crane, Brian Dezurick, Rowan Hong, Elbert Liang, Graham Lowder, Katie Martinez, Alyssa Milstead, Rachel Niegelberg, and Liz Walsh. Ten second-year students make up the rest of the inaugural class; they are: Vanessa Agudelo, Luna Floyd, Kristen Gourrier, Fatema Jaffer, Kelly Lew, Michel Li, Brenna Phillips, Nikki Santos, Becca Suh, and Katelyn Turner.
View the photos from the graduation ceremony:
Y-Lab is accepting applications for the next cohort of Fellows until May 24, 2023. Rising second- and third-year students can apply at https://ylab.law.harvard.edu. Students may direct questions to Y-Lab Faculty Director Mike Gregory (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Y-Lab Associate Director Crisanne Hazen (email@example.com).