Empowering Advocacy: My Path to Policy Work with the ACLU

Advocacy Intern Kerrigan Clark reflects on pivotal moments, insights, and her evolving role in shaping policy for equity in Mississippi.

One of my first accounts of learning about the ACLU was during my time as the Life and Entertainment Editor for the Reflector at Mississippi State University. My team was developing a series called “Mississippi Today” that discussed race, politics, and art within the state. In my article on race and politics, I interviewed Maisie Brown, an incredible advocate for civil and human rights, and she spoke very highly of the ACLU and the work that the nonprofit was doing for the state. Her spark and interest propelled me to do my own research on the ACLU and I continued to follow ACLU throughout my undergraduate and graduate career.

Having now transitioned into a full-time career in higher education, I felt inspired to continue my advocacy work outside of my higher-ed institution. An end goal of mine is to work within a nonprofit focused on policy, specifically education, and the ACLU aligned well with that goal after graduating with my master’s in public policy in December of 2023. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to pinpoint a specific bill or policy that really drew me to advocate for educational equity. Throughout my educational career, I was awarded lots of opportunities and advantages that propelled me to where I am today and I wanted to ensure that other children, specifically black and brown kids, could receive the same or better opportunities.

I desired experience with experts in the field who could really teach me how advocacy work operates during the legislative session, and I have enjoyed it so far. Dr. Ashley McLaughlin is such a knowledgeable supervisor and I have gotten valuable insight on what all goes into researching and lobbying for or against bills. I hope to use this experience with the ACLU to prepare me to handle the tough conversations that are happening within higher education in the South. Advocates have left the South in droves because it is so hard to do this work here but knowing that there are black and brown kids here who need help, encourages me to stay. I think about my institution and how we are currently having tough conversations about the banning of DEI and what that would mean for the office and the school. And it’s important to be equipped with the correct tools and language to advocate for the students.

Two of my favorite things so far are writing policy briefs and updating the ACLU bill tracker. Even though a lot of people might find it a repetitive task to research bills and check the tracker every day, I have enjoyed listening in on conversations about bills and following its progression every couple of days. I’ve written policy briefs on ballot harvesting and early voting so far. I have had previous experience creating briefs in the past and I enjoyed how I was given freedom to conduct my own research and showcase my writing style while in a sense telling a story and advocating for a policy. Even though I did have to make several edits per recommendations from my supervisor, I took those suggestions as a learning experience that I was able to implement in the next brief.

I’ve truly enjoyed my experience so far with the ACLU of Mississippi and I’m looking forward to learning even more over the next couple of weeks!