Youth Voices Matter: The Present and Future of Human Rights

February 7, 2022

By Carrie Booth Walling

Marco Colmenares, Caitlin Cummings, Carrie Walling, and Morgan Armstrong

Left to right: Marco Colmenares, Caitlin Cummings, Carrie Walling, and Morgan Armstrong

The American Civil Rights Movement. March for Our Lives. Global Climate Justice. Youth are powerful agents of social change and have played a critical role in nearly all human rights and social justice movements. Their voices matter and must be included in debates about our most pressing rights and justice challenges and how to solve them. Young adults are not just the future of the human rights movement, they are its present. They are capable and prepared and are already serving on the frontlines of political, legal, economic, and social change. At Albion College, we believe that our students possess the passion, boldness, skills, and ideas needed to change our world for the better. Indeed, they have already started.

Youth activists take an intersectional approach. They focus on collaborative decision-making rather than individual behavior. The see the connections between all forms of injustice. They fight for equity and inclusion as part of the process of human rights change, not just its result. They know that true justice requires making room for diverse voices including people of color, indigenous peoples, poor people, people with disabilities, women, youth, queer and trans people, people in the global south, and people of marginalized ethnicities and faiths.

Youth foster creativity and innovation. They approach persistent problems with fresh eyes and bold ideas. They are not shaped by, or beholden to, the status quo. They offer novel interpretations of political problems and are open to new solutions and new languages of rights. 

Human rights change takes time. Youth have the passion and energy required to stay in the fight. They believe that a better world is possible, and they can envision that world. 

The Albion Human Rights Lab

The Albion Human Rights Lab grew out of a research collaboration with 3 Albion College students: Morgan Armstrong, Marco Colmenares, and Caitlin Cummings. As we worked together to create a human rights advocacy toolkit, they became my teachers as much as much as I have been theirs. Over time, they moved from being research assistants to co-collaborators and eventually co-authors. We learned we were more powerful and effective together than any of us on our own. As I began to work with more students interested in making tangible changes in their communities, like Niyati Kellenberg Callewaert, I realized just how much we could accomplish if we organized and institutionalized our efforts. Thus, the Albion Human Rights Lab was born – an interdisciplinary initiative that engages students and community members in generating solutions to human rights and social justice problems through research, policy, and advocacy.

Albion Human Rights Lab Values

As a community, we engage in rights and justice issues locally and globally. Our work is human rights-inspired, meaning we believe that all people are equally deserving of dignity and rights. We believe that rights are interdependent and that economic, social, and cultural rights are as important as civil and political ones. We believe that human beings and their well-being should be at the center of public decision-making. And in our lab, we embrace an empowerment model which celebrates diversity, respects local knowledge, acknowledges variations in interpretation, and elevates the interests, needs, and voices of those making rights claims. 

The Albion Advocates blog, a Human Rights Lab project, seeks to augment the voices of student advocates and their allies. Here we promote student research and advocacy projects, engage readers in dialogue about human rights and human wrongs, challenge our readers to become part of the solution to justice problems, and inspire hope for a more just and equitable future. This space is designed as a platform for student voices and their allies, including contributions from guests.

Visit us often as we engage you in new ways to think about and act on human rights.

Contact us at [email protected].

Carrie Booth Walling is the Director of the Albion Human Rights Lab. A political science professor and faculty director of the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Public Policy, Walling collaborates with Albion College students on research and advocacy projects that promote equity, human rights, and social justice. She is the author of Human Rights and Justice for All: Demanding Dignity in the United States and Around the World (Routledge, 2022).