2021’s Top Stories From the Ms. Team of Feminist Student Journalists

The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.

They used Minecraft to fight for their reproductive rights, T-shirts to protest censorship, Instagram to bring an end to sexual assault and state law to reform environmental curricula in schools. The teen girls profiled in this year’s The Future is Ms. series dug deep into their activists toolbox to create change in their communities and make the world a better place for girls and women. Here’s a roundup of articles written by teen girl journalists.

Leading the Way

There’s no denying the leadership qualities and potential in teen girls. Whether as grantmakers, future politicians, grassroots organizers or informed community members (as seen in the Summer 2021 issue of Ms.), young women are challenging the status quo—even when it comes to social change.

In February, Raita Jinnat reported on Nicole Kim’s and Frances Leung’s efforts to unify and create an environment of community care within activism through The Nonstandard Project. As Jinnat reports, they realized “how reactionary solidarity was, where solidarity was never the default,” Kim said.

The Nonstandard Project hosts affinity spaces over Zoom called UnderSTANDing, where 15 to 20 BIPOC youth discuss issues relevant to their lives—anything from the 2020 election to mental health. (Courtesy)

Fighting for BIPOC Equality

Girls went beyond protests in the fight for social justice. Surina Venkat reported on a podcast created by Stephanie Hu to combat Asian American hate and the fetishization of Asian girls and women. As Venkat wrote, “Dear Asian Girl starts conversations about issues that play huge roles in the lives of Asian girls, empowering them by letting them know they have a community who cares about the same issues they do at a time when many feel vulnerable or powerless.”

This same fight fueled Deborah Ode’s social media campaign to expose the racism at her elite New Jersey private school and launched Jasmine Nguyen’s and Katelin Zhou’s efforts to diversify high school curricula (as seen in the Fall 2021 issue of Ms.) around the county. 

Ending Gender-Based Violence

Within days of the Piedmont Protectors Instagram account going live, more than 90 students anonymously posted their stories of sexual assault, harassment and rape in a California school district. Zenobia Pellissier Lloyd reported on how social media activism upturned the power dynamics in one town and helped boys see a clearer picture of their role in the issue. “As male-identifying students,” one student said, “all of the stories on there were things we’ve never heard,” he said. “It was like an unearthing moment.”

Just 13 miles away in the Bay Area, 100 teen girls and gender-expansive youths were part of a campaign to stop sexual harrassment on the city’s public transportation system, Esha Potharaju reported.  

And in Texas, the award for the most creative use of gaming goes to the Phan sisters who used held a protest against the state’s archaic sex ed teachings using a virtual “Minecraft” simulation of the Texas Capitol building.

Students read testimonies and engage in conversation about comprehensive sex-ed at Fort Bend SURF’s virtual Minecraft protest. (Courtesy)

A Safe Earth for Girls

Environmental issues are top concern for teens no matter what part of the country they are in. In New York, Lauren Weisberg (Spring 2021 issue) reported on Amino Castronovo and Jade Lozada who took the issue of environmental justice and BIPOC-centered environmental education all the way to the state capital.

Alexandra Collins helped shut down a factory that was spewing ethylene oxide. A known pollutant, EtO tied to breast cancer, fertility issues and brain and lung damage. Now Collins is helping girls and women make informed decisions about pollutant-free cosmetics with EtO-Free. 

Alexandra Collins created the app EtO-Free alongside friend Elyssa Chandler. It reviews products from mainstream cosmetic companies. (Courtesy)

Can’t Stop Girls Now

When adults say “No,” student journalists and t-shirt makers say “Yes!”  Whether they are supporting teens’ First Amendment rights in their Kentucky school or supporting their teacher’s right to express community empathy in Ohio, young activists are pushing back to those in power. 

Lucy McGary and her classmates wearing the shirts she designed. They read “Black lives matter, love is love, gender equality, science is real, no human is illegal, women’s rights, kindness is not political, it’s empathetic” on the back in multi-colored letters. (Photo courtesy of Lucy McGary)

As Lucy McGary says in Kyra O’Conner’s story, a “broken community” provides hope that things can change. “Just because things have been done a certain way, doesn’t mean that we can’t evolve and fix them,” she said.

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Katina Paron, MJE, a Brooklyn-based journalism educator, has been creating byline opportunities for teens for more than 25 years. She is the author of A NewsHound’s Guide to Student Journalism (McFarland), a comic book-style resource for classrooms and newsrooms.