‘Empowering young women to use their voice:’ Ellie Burger and Creating Change

Over the 2022 holiday break, the BC Law Impact blog is running a series of some of the most powerful and fascinating admissions essays from first-year students. These personal statements, submitted as part of their admissions applications, tell a variety of compelling stories, but the thread connecting them all is an example of the kind of person who is attracted to a BC Law education: one who is driven to work collaboratively with others, achieve great things and make a real difference in the world.

We want to thank the Office of Admissions, and all of the student essay writers, for agreeing to share their stories with us. For more Admissions tips and other content, check out BC Law’s new TikTok channel.

Halfway through our cruise on the Potomac River, myself and the other Prudential Spirit of Community Award recipients were told to elaborate further on what convened us there that day. We had all been selected for making meaningful contributions to our communities through volunteer service. While I was eager to share details on the organization I had founded and hear from the other participants about theirs, I was hesitant. I could not help but think that there was a ceiling of sorts, a limit to the impact that any one individual, especially an adolescent, could have on such serious matters.

That was before a young girl stood behind the make-shift podium, voice booming, to address her work in supporting victims of human trafficking. It was a jarringly sharp juxtaposition from the presentation I gave about supporting under-resourced communities with golf. After she finished speaking, the rest of the representatives shared similar speeches on the projects they had undertaken to address significant issues. With presentations ranging from gun violence prevention to refugee support, I began to realize the magnitude of the problems that other teenagers were working to address. What I learned on that Potomac River cruise from my peers enhanced my interest in issues of policy and advocacy. It became clear to me that despite my age, gender, or background—characteristics that I had previously thought of as limitations—I was capable of making an impact on important matters in my community.

It was the increased discussion around gender inequity that helped launch me towards a course of advocacy. The impetus behind this work was the testimony of Christine Blasey-Ford, a gut-wrenching reminder of how women have been silenced by those in positions of power. Watching the lone television in the conference room at the Screen Actors Guild, surrounded by coworkers, it was clear that while her voice may have wavered, her resolve never did. Although I could not change the confirmation hearing or the following results, I made a promise to myself in that moment that I would endeavor to take whatever action I could to encourage other women who had been silenced.

Intent on empowering young women to use their voice in a way they had been discouraged from, I began to immerse myself in research on student voter registration, female voter statistics and civic engagement issues. During this process, I recognized the need for additional advocacy on this subject matter and began an organization focused entirely on registering young female voters. Between internships and classwork, I developed a website, organizational plans, brought this program forth on my Elise Burger L40018420 university as a registered student organization, and campaigned across my campus. In total, six-hundred women registered to vote through this initiative. It didn’t change the world, but I now embraced a new definition of success: if I was able to encourage civic action among even a handful of young women, I would be making a difference that was worthwhile. To this day, I believe I accomplished that.

Although I was passionate about encouraging voter participation, I recognized that it was a temporary fix to a foundational problem. It was clear to me that I wanted to be an active part of the solution to the fundamental issues of voter engagement. The following year, I returned to Washington to represent the University of Southern California as a Presidential Fellow. Once again, I was surrounded by numerous gifted and talented individuals. Unlike all those years earlier, however, I felt confident in my ability to represent my community on a meaningful level and brought another vision forward.

It was alongside three other women from this fellowship that I established the Institute for Civic Organizing, a non-profit that boldly attempted to develop a civic organizing curriculum to reach every school in America. We came from vastly different backgrounds with varying beliefs, united by the desire to revolutionize how children learned civics. In this process, we brought together dozens of academics from across the nation and various fields; from backgrounds that represented the diverse student body we were aiming to serve. While we developed three hundred stand-alone courses that could be combined to form specific lesson plans, we brought the program into only a few select schools. While some may see this as a failure, I saw it as a success. Through our hard work we developed a unique program that had the potential, albeit unmet, to create real change.

Through all these endeavors, I’ve seen my interest in creating change foster into a passion for advocacy. I’ve attempted several initiatives to make a lasting difference in my community, challenging the issues I felt needed to be addressed, and have found various definitions of success along the way. Although advocacy takes many forms, it’s my view that legal and policy decisions will always be the foundation of any effort to build a more equitable and inclusive future. By combining a legal education with my interest and experience in advocacy and civic initiatives, I hope to develop skillsets which can allow me to do my part in continuing to create meaningful and consequential change. I am eager for the opportunity to embark upon this journey and expand my knowledge in an area I am passionate about.

Ellie Burger is a first-year law student at BC Law.

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