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A FORCE FOR GOOD  Human Rights Watch Student Task Force (STF) allows high schoolers in California to amplify their voices on human rights issues. The schools STF is focusing on how climate change impacts human rights on marginalized communities. LAUSD is making a change by converting their school buses to run on electricity.
A FORCE FOR GOOD Human Rights Watch Student Task Force (STF) allows high schoolers in California to amplify their voices on human rights issues. The school’s STF is focusing on how climate change impacts human rights on marginalized communities. LAUSD is making a change by converting their school buses to run on electricity.

Student Task Force fights for a greener future

The Human Rights Watch Student Task Force at the school aims to educate students and staff on how climate change disproportionately affects marginalized communities and their access to clean resources.

In the heart of the fight for human rights, student involvement is often overlooked. This was Emily Steidl’s experience.

“Thinking back to when I was in high school, I didn’t get a lot of human rights education,” Steidl said.

Having been a part of leadership and advocacy programs since she was in high school, she is passionate about empowering the new generation to make change in their communities. 

Steidl currently serves as a Human Rights Watch Student Task Force (STF) youth program assistant. Supporting student involvement in human rights advocacy, she works with seven of 25 STF schools in California to amplify youth voices on subjects relating to human rights violations and social justice.

“The program was created because they wanted students to know how to have a voice regarding these issues,” Steidl said. “They’re the future generation that’s going to be working to solve these issues and bring about change. The purpose of the creation of the STF was to give students a voice and help them to kind of understand what they can do to make change.”

Unlike other clubs which may have limited intra-school or local impacts, STF’s ambitious projects are a testament to its commitment to making tangible, reverberating impacts.

“Schools are one of the biggest energy consumers within a community, so some schools in the state are working on transitioning their entire campus to 100% renewable energy,” Steidl said. “Obviously, this is kind of a big project and that takes a lot of time. But some schools are definitely starting to work on that, with solar being one of the biggest considerations right now. It begins with working with the administration to see that they’re implementing these practices over a certain timeframe.”

The STF at this school is equally as impactful, preparing to orchestrate a tent event campaign to highlight the intersection between human rights and climate change. This in-school event will specifically address how using nonrenewable energy sources strips marginalized communities of access to basic needs by polluting air and water.

“We’re planning an event for Earth Day coming up where we’ll set up an info tent and have teachers take their students there to learn about how the climate crisis directly affects people in impoverished areas,” STF Chapter President Dwayne Famenia said.

With initiatives stretching far beyond local boundaries, some STF schools are working to make an international impact to show their commitment to global human rights. They are determined to engage in activities such as collecting signatures for their causes.

“As for the immigration situation on the southern border, some of these schools have also worked to collect petition signatures to end deadly deterrence policies on the border,” Steidl said. “They’re working to make the border crossing much safer for people who are migrants or seeking asylum. Some of those schools that have collected signatures will also be going to deliver those to their Congress members, and that’s going to be happening over the next couple of months. They’ll get to bring those in and hopefully see that those petitions are put to good use and help with enacting policies that protect immigrants.”

While the real-world results that STF clubs have outside of their campuses are imperative in the fight for human rights, Steidl states that education within schools is also a crucial step in making a difference.

“Getting this education about human rights on campuses teaches students about the world they live in, what their rights are and how to advocate for themselves,” Steidl said. “I think while their schools are doing really cool things like transitioning to renewable energy or collecting signatures for policy changes, one of the biggest impacts that can be made is just educating people and just making sure people are aware of the rights that they have and how they can be leaders and how they can be activists.”

An emphasis on education and improvement constitutes the core of STF’s approach, not only preparing young people to face worldwide obstacles but also fostering a mindset that actively seeks solutions for these challenges.

“You’re never too young to make a change and to be involved in advocacy in general,” Steidl said. “If you want to be an advocate for whatever the cause may be, it’s important that you learn the skills to be able to do it. That’s what STF does. It equips and empowers students to have those leadership skills to then be able to go and feel empowered.”

The abridged version of this article appeared in the Spring 2024 print edition. This is an uncut version.

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Baron Kim
Baron Kim, Staff
An avid korean drum player, Baron Kim is a news and features writer at The Mirror. He is a junior in his second year of journalism. He enjoys playing the drums, trying new food, and watching sci-fi shows in his free time. Outside of journalism, he is involved in JROTC and National History Day. He plans to pursue a career in cybersecurity.
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