“There is always a way, even if you feel overwhelmed and small.”
Alexis Kallen is a Yale Law student on a mission to increase opportunities for young women and advocate for marginalized communities.
She’s a Bullhead City native who interned at the US Supreme Court, Human Rights Watch, and helped light Scary Path at Stanford University.
Scary Path is a man-made trail on the south side of campus near the fraternity houses that earned that moniker from students due to the lack of lights or safety features.
Kallen worked with school administrators to make the path safer by lighting it up.
Kallen tells The Copper Courier that having learned to live with a physical disability, losing her mother, and undergoing economic struggles allowed Kallen to gain an understanding of what it’s like to feel vulnerable from a young age.
She explains, “As I learned to understand my own experience and locate it within the larger context of groups imperiled by systematic violence and prejudice, I began to become an advocate for the rights that empowered me but are imperfectly applied and often inaccessible, especially to people with overlapping marginalized identities.”
When it comes to disability rights, Kallen — who is disabled herself — hopes for advancements in disability-based asylum, increasing police training on disability to reduce police brutality against disabled people (particularly disabled people of color), and improving access to voting for people with disabilities.
On a global scale, Kallen hopes that the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries continue to improve. One specific issue she cares deeply about is shackling, which is a practice where people with disabilities are chained to trees or concrete blocks or kept in sheds for most of their lives due to a misunderstanding of their disability.
“This practice is so horrible, yet so prevalent, and it’s hard to know where to even start to try to make things better,” she said.
Standing Up to Sexual Assault
Kallen led the Scary Path initiative at Stanford University, following the highly-publicized Brock Turner rape trial. It paved and lit up a path on campus where many sexual assaults had taken place. That project is the thing Kallen is most proud of during her undergraduate career at Stanford.
“I learned so much from working with Stanford on sexual assault issues, something most universities are failing to handle and hesitant to even discuss,” she said. The project was very important to her as she said many of her loved ones, best friends, and mentors have experienced this form of violence.
There’s also the Girl Up campaign, which Kallen was a part of as a teen advisor throughout high school and some college. The organization focused on raising funds for girls’ education in developing countries.
“For example, we would raise money to pay for bikes to get girls to school, or to fund community-led girls leadership programs,” she explains.
Kallen represented Girl Up at many events and offered feedback on how the organization was reaching girls in the U.S. She would go on to advise Girl Up university chapters on how to better reach college-aged women.
“Girl Up was my first big leadership role and taught me so much about international human rights and the power of advocacy.”
Committed to Making a Difference
With all her accomplishments thus far, Kallen is motivated by her belief that the world can change for the better. She admits that working in the field of human rights can sometimes be difficult since many of the issues are so deeply entrenched in societies across the globe and need so much coordination and passion to improve.
Nevertheless, she said it has been important for her to hold tight to her belief that the world can improve on human rights issues, as it has continued to do throughout history. “There is always a way, even if you feel overwhelmed and small,” Kallen explains. “We are not individuals trying to do this work alone, but there are powerful communities of people out there that are already working hard to make change.”
Now Kallen is one step closer to achieving her dream of fighting for marginalized communities thanks to a significant financial boost to help her get her law degree from Yale.
She is extremely grateful to be one of four $20,000 recipients from Sallie Mae’s Bridging the Dream Scholarship Program.
“Law school is very expensive, yet there are very few large scholarships to fund law school,” Kallen told The Copper Courier. “Moreover, unlike many undergraduate programs, law schools rarely offer full need-based aid, forcing low-income graduate students to take on significant debt.”
Kallen admits she was “absolutely elated” when she found out she was one of the winners of the Sallie Mae scholarship.
“I immediately felt a big wave of gratefulness and relief because this scholarship will significantly help me in reducing my law school debt and partially supporting my father throughout law school,” Kallen said.
From Stanford to Yale
Applicants for the Bridging the Dream Scholarship Program were asked to write a creative essay describing the uniqueness of their journey to graduate school, and their dreams. Kallen said that opportunity gave her space to reflect on what her journey has meant to her, and she learned how to tell her story creatively.
A few months after submitting her essay, Kallen was told she was a finalist. During a phone interview that followed, she was asked about her aspirations, motivations, and loved ones.
She admits, “I have never had an interview that made me feel so warm and inspired afterward, as the interview felt like more of a conversation on how to move forward with social justice issues that I really care about.”
After that, Kallen was told she would be having one final interview via Zoom. But when she joined the Zoom call — the Sallie Mae representatives greeted her with a video full of smiling faces congratulating her on being one of the grant recipients. She was speechless.
Now that she can count on this financial help for law school, Kallen said she hopes that the U.S. continues to move forward with progress on criminal justice reform, immigration reform, and improving how we treat asylum-seekers, women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and the rights of other marginalized communities.
Believing that the world can improve and that more people are working to improve human rights than to violate them motivates Kallen to keep going deeper into human rights work and dreaming of a better, more just world that is within reach.