The ACLU of Illinois welcomes Kayla Higgins as an intern. She will be blogging about her work with the ACLU over the next few months:

Hi, my name is Kayla and I am a Jewish-Irish redhead from New York City entering my third year at the University of Chicago. I have many and varied interests, including modern dance, okra, running, "Simply Decadent" Vegan Cookie-Dough Ice-Cream, crossword puzzles, Kashi bars, and listening to "This American Life" on NPR. But above of all, I'm interested in promoting positive social change.

Social justice emerged as one of my top two interests when I was about three years old, at which time I announced to my parents that when I grew up I wanted either to be a rockstar, or a "helper." But as time went on and my rockstar ambition seemed like a less and less a feasible option (I was cast in my high school musicals repeatedly as dancing piece of foliage), as well as a less and less appealing one (the "Behind the Music" specials are always so depressing!), the "helper" option moved more and more to the forefront. But I'd be misleading if I made it sound like becoming involved in social justice was mostly a logistical choice. I have, in fact, many personal reasons why social justice and human rights work has become one of my central missions in life.

One issue that I care deeply about is equal rights and respect for LGBTQ people. Two of my best friends from childhood are gay, I have gained many more LGBTQ friends since then, and I have several gay family members. I have faith that, after seeing some big steps forward in America in recent years (more openness and acceptance in the media, as well as some legislative wins), that progress can be made. Thus, promoting equal rights for LGBTQ's and promoting general openness about sexuality are two of the main issues I have in mind when I talk about creating positive social change.

Another issue that acutely resonates with me is women's rights, and in particular women's reproductive rights. I care about this issue not only because I and about half of the people I know and love happen to be women, but also because a woman in my extended family secretly had to travel to Mexico to get an abortion when she was just out of college, risking death in the process. This makes the dreadfully common story much more than a cliche for me, and the plight of young girls today that much more personally significant.

But there are many routes to take to achieve social justice for LGBTQ people and young women. The reason I decided that working with the ACLU this summer would be my preferred way of tackling these issues has to do with a class I took last year as a Law, Letters, & Society major at the University of Chicago. The class was called "The Political Nature of the American Judicial System," and the take-home message of the course was that changing society and public opinion is what changes the law and court decisions, not the other way around. For that reason, I wanted to work for an organization that focused not only on legal advocacy, but also on spreading the word about civil liberties issues in the public sphere and educating the public. And given I was already familiar with the ACLU through seeing its name in news articles, blogs, twitters, sidewalk handouts, and at parades, I knew that the ACLU was this type of organization.

Thus, I already had familiarity with the ACLU when I attended a Social Justice Law Panel assembled by UChicago's Career Advisement and Planning Services office. And, as luck would have it, one of the lawyers on the panel, Khadine Bennett, was an employee at the ACLU of Illinois. By talking with Khadine over coffee a few weeks after the panel, I was able to find out about summer internship and volunteer opportunities at the ACLU, and felt very lucky to find a volunteer opportunity with the ACLU's Senior Field Manager, Allie Carter, who focuses on the very type of public outreach that I have learned from my classes is so important to enacting social change. I feel very fortunate to be able to work with the ACLU this summer on issues I care so deeply about, and in a way that I think will really cause significant social change.