2023 ACLU National Advocacy Institute

The Future We Dare to Create

High School Program
(Ages 15-18) *including graduating seniors

The ACLU National Advocacy Institute’s High School Program will convene in Washington, D.C. for an in-person gathering of high school students (ages 15-18) from across the United States to participate in a week-long learning experience for the next generation of social justice advocates.


  • “I went to the Institute to learn and navigate how to create a greater impact through my activism on my college campus. Not only did I grow as a organizer, activist, and person, but I found a community of people at the Institute who have become some of my closest friends, supporters, and allies." - Priscilla Takyi


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High School Program

The ACLU National Advocacy Institute’s High School Program will convene a virtual gathering of high school students (ages 15-18) from across the United States to participate in a week-long learning experience for the next generation of social justice advocates.

Students will engage directly with ACLU lawyers, lobbyists, community activists, and other experts working to defend the civil rights and civil liberties that are critical to a free and open society. Through classroom sessions, lectures, site visits, and policy discussions, students will explore the complex nature of issue advocacy, legal strategy, and real-world political decision making in Washington, D.C. as well as return home with advocacy tools to make change in their community.

Covid-19 Considerations

We are excited to return to in-person programming in 2023, even as we continue to monitor the pandemic. Our first priority is the health and safety

of all participants and our program will adhere to all local vaccination requirements. All ACLU and program staff will be fully vaccinated. Any changes to the program will be announced ASAP, and, if we’re forced to cancel the in-person component, all student payments will be eligible for a full refund. In the event of in-person cancelation, we anticipate offering a virtual program (for a reduced fee!) that participants can elect to join. Student payments can be applied to a virtual program and the difference in price will be refunded.

Key program elements will include:

  • Electives covering the ACLU’s wide array of issue areas, taught by communications experts, organizers, lawyers, policy advocates, and other professional staff from the ACLU and partner organizations.
  • Daily seminars in small groups to explore social justice and civil liberties issues.
  • Life-long connections and support structures with other young activists from across the country.
  • A Day of Action -- collective advocacy on Capitol Hill to move the needle on one or more pressing civil liberties issues before legislators at that very moment! In the past we’ve conducted lobby visits with members of Congress, held rallies at the Capitol, and conducted phone/text banking and Letter to the Editor (LTE) writing campaigns, etc., -- covering topics like immigration, systemic equality and anti-racism, ending censorship in education, regulating facial recognition technology, and the equitable distribution of Covid-19 response resources. This is not an exercise but a real opportunity to make your voices heard!
  • Boosting political knowledge and campaign abilities, learn more about mobilizing issue-based advocacy campaigns, growing a team, identifying a strategy for engaging with policy-makers, and maximizing impact for the issues that drive you.

High school-aged students who are 15-18* years old are welcome to apply. (*You must have completed one year of high school by July 2022 to be eligible. The graduating class of 2022 is encouraged to apply, too!)

The ACLU Advocacy Institute is looking for students who demonstrate a keen interest in civil liberties issues and social justice advocacy. Students are not required to have previous familiarity with civil liberties issues or advocacy methodologies. However, students who are already deeply immersed in civil liberties issues and or advocacy will have the opportunity to deepen their skill-set and expand their organizing network.

The ACLU values a diverse Institute audience and strives to build an inclusive culture of belonging. We encourage applications from all qualified individuals without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, national origin, citizenship, disability, and record of arrest or conviction, or any other personal identity characteristic. We are committed to providing reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities. If you are a person with a disability and have any questions or need assistance applying online, please email institute@aclu.org.

Students are required to complete the following requirements before the application deadline for the admissions committee to consider the student for the program.

  1. Submit a completed online application
  2. Submit letter of recommendation

The admissions process for the program is built around three application deadlines: Early Decision, Priority Decision, and Regular Decision. Preference will be given to students who submit their applications during the Early Decision and Priority Decision deadlines. Students will hear from the admissions committee within three weeks after the deadline. Once students are accepted, they will be required to complete a registration form and submit a non-refundable deposit approximately two weeks after notification of the admissions decision (students receiving scholarships must complete the enrollment form within this two week period). 

  • Early Decision: February 20th 2023
  • Priority Decision: April 10th 2023
  • Regular Decision: May 15th 2023

The ACLU is committed to providing scholarship opportunities for students who qualify based on family income. A limited supply of full and partial scholarships are available. Financial aid awards are based on need. Students must apply for Financial Aid at the same time as the Program Application. Students will receive their program admissions decision and financial aid decision at the same time.

Please complete the separate financial aid application and include your application number.

Tuition for the In-person Program is $2,500 per student. This fee covers lodging and food in a Washington, D.C. hotel, as well as all experiential learning activities, and social events.

Our full FAQ can be found here.

More Speakers:

Marti Gould Cummings (They, Them)
Producer, The Fight

Marti Gould is a NYC based drag artist as well as a candidate for the NYC Council. They produced and starred in the Fusion television hit Shade Queens of NYC, are the host of Logos The Marti Report, and they host the hit Yahoo! Show Dragged. They serve on the board of The Ali Forney Center, Equality New York, The NYC Nightlife Council, Drag Out the Vote, and Community Board 9 in Upper Manhattan.

Merrie Cherry
Producer, The Fight

Merrie Cherry is a driving force in the Brooklyn drag scene. Titled the mother of Brooklyn Drag she has truly earned that name with her activism and uplifting her community. Cherry hosts the monthly drag competition DragNET, the oldest drag event in Brooklyn, at the legendary Metropolitan Bar in Williamsburg, and she is a firm fixture at Bushwig, Brooklyn’s premier drag and performance international festival. Cherry's short documentary “Queen of Hearts.”, has made its way through the film festival circuit including, New Fest and Transformations Film Festival Berlin to name a few. Regardless what she does, this cherry is always on top.

Cristina Jiménez
United We Dream Network’s Co-Founder and Executive Director

Cristina Jiménez is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the United We Dream Network, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country. The organization, which is made up of over 100,000 immigrant youth and allies, has been a critical force in addressing immigration inequities across the country. Originally from Ecuador, Cristina came to the U.S. with her family at the age of 13, attending high school and college as an undocumented student. She was recently named among Forbes' “30 under 30 in Law and Policy,” one of “21 immigration reform power players” and one of 5 non-profit leaders who will influence public policy by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. READ MORE

Gara LaMarche
President of the Democracy Alliance

Gara LaMarche is President of The Democracy Alliance, a group of donors and movement leaders who provide millions of dollars to strengthen progressive organizations, causes and campaigns. A longtime advocate for human rights and social justice, from 2007 to 2011, he was President and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlantic Philanthropies, an international foundation focused on aging, children and youth, health, and human rights operating in Australia, Bermuda, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States, and Viet Nam. During his tenure at Atlantic, the foundation made the largest grant ever made by a foundation for an advocacy campaign – over $25 million – to press for comprehensive health care reform in the U.S.

Dr. Tommie Smith
Civil Rights Activist

During the 1968 Olympic medal ceremony for the record breaking men's 200m dash, both 1st place (gold) and 3rd place (bronze) medalists held up a black-gloved fist during the playing of their home national anthem. A silent gesture in protest of the ongoing civil rights injustices, primarily back home in America. Dr. Tommie Smith, as the first place and record-breaking medalist, has been asked numerous times, what he was doing and/or thinking in that moment. His response - “Praying.”

Today, Dr. Smith continues to travel throughout various European and Asian nations, conducting seminars, clinics and delivering speeches in those locations, as well as on domestic college campuses. READ MORE

Edward Snowden

As a whistleblower of illegal government activity that was sanctioned and kept secret by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government for years, he undertook great personal risk for the public good. And he has single-handedly reignited a global debate about the extent and nature of government surveillance and our most fundamental rights as individuals.

Sasheer Zamata
ACLU Celebrity Ambassador

Actress and comedian Sasheer Zamata, known for her breakout role on the cast of Saturday Night Live, is the ACLU celebrity ambassador for women's rights. In her role as an ambassador, Zamata will elevate the ACLU’s work to fight gender inequality and structural discrimination against women in employment, education, healthcare, housing, and criminal justice through advocacy and public education. The ACLU Women’s Rights Project was co-founded in 1972 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who called women’s rights “an essential part of the overall human rights agenda.” Though strides have been made in the past several decades to advance and protect the rights of women and girls, there’s a lot left to do.

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project

She is currently litigating numerous cases, including leading the Jane Doe case, challenging the Trump administration’s ban on abortion for unaccompanied immigrant minors. She also represents the last abortion clinic in Kentucky, and went to trial last year after the governor threatened to close the clinic’s doors. READ MORE

David D. Cole,
ACLU National Legal Director

David D. Cole is the National Legal Director of the ACLU and directs a program that includes approximately 1,400 state and federal lawsuits on a broad range of civil liberties issues. Cole has litigated several significant First Amendment cases in the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as a number of influential cases concerning civil rights and national security. READ MORE

Lee Gelernt
Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants' Rights Project

Lee is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading public interest lawyers and has argued dozens of important civil rights cases during his career, including in the U.S. Supreme Court and virtually every federal court of appeals in the country. He has also testified as a legal expert before both houses of Congress. His recent work is featured in the documentary “The Fight.” READ MORE

Dale Ho
Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project

His work includes litigation to combat voter suppression and legislative advocacy to open new opportunities for participation for the historically disenfranchised. Dale supervises the ACLU's voting rights litigation nationwide, with active cases in over a dozen states throughout the country. He has litigated cases under the federal Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act. Dale has testified on election reforms in various state legislatures around the country, and is a frequent commentator on voting rights issues. He is an adjunct professor of law at NYU School of Law, and is widely published on redistricting and voting rights in journals including Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, the Florida Law Review, and the University of Richmond Law Review. READ MORE

Louise Melling
ACLU Deputy Legal Director & 
Director of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty

Louise Melling is a Deputy Legal Director and the Director of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty, which encompasses the ACLU’s work on reproductive freedom, women’s rights, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, freedom of religion and belief, and disability rights. In this role, she leads the work of the ACLU to address the intersection of religious freedom and equal treatment, among their issues. READ MORE

Alanah Odoms
Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana

Alanah Odoms is a civil rights leader, mother, and a professional and spiritual support to countless activists across Louisiana and beyond. As the first Black woman to lead the ACLU of Louisiana in its 65 year history, she has answered the call to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by challenging systemic racial and gender injustice – vestiges of slavery displayed most prominently in Louisiana’s epidemic of mass incarceration, immigrant detention and deportation, and racist policing across the state. READ MORE

Hina Shamsi
Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project

Hina Shamsi is the Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, which is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights. She has litigated cases upholding the freedoms of speech and association, and challenging targeted killing, torture, unlawful detention, and post-9/11 discrimination against racial and religious minorities. READ MORE

Cecillia Wang,
ACLU Deputy Legal Director & Director of Center for Democracy 

Cecillia Wang is a Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU and directs the Center for Democracy, which encompasses the ACLU’s work on immigrants’ rights, voting rights, national security, human rights, and speech, privacy and technology. READ MORE

Ben Wizner
Director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project

For nearly fifteen years, he has worked at the intersection of civil liberties and national security, litigating numerous cases involving airport security policies, government watch lists, surveillance practices, targeted killing, and torture. He appears regularly in the global media, has testified before Congress, and is an adjunct professor at NYU School of Law. Since July of 2013, he has been the principal legal advisor to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Ben is a graduate of Harvard College and New York University School of Law and was a law clerk to the Hon. Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. READ MORE

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