Shaya Ginsberg is deeply commited to the fight against domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. In recognition of her service and activism on campus and in the community, she received the Outstanding Student Activist Award presented by the University of Vermont Women’s Center.
"I just love the socially conscious atmosphere at UVM," she says. "People really care about each other and about this world, and they’re willing to fight for the changes they want to see. That’s exactly the kind of environment that inspires me."
Recently Shaya presented her policy proposal to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault at the UVM Student Research Conference. Last year, she and a few of her classmates established the Human Trafficking Awareness and Activism Club (HTAAC) at UVM. They have been actively involved with number community events, including recent appearances the Peace and Justice Center's Symposium for Social Justice Action Groups, and the Dismantling Rape Culture Conference. In the fall, she will be starting her senior field placement in the Children's Program at STEPS to End Domestic Violence.
As you will see in the following interview, there are many examples of Shaya's relentless commitment to advocacy and service.
What are you studying at UVM?
My major is Social Work, with a double minor in Philosophy and Psychological Science.
Why did you choose this career path?
To me, there is nothing more important than standing up for our fellow human beings. There are so many people out there in desperate need of help. Social workers work tirelessly to secure the future that we all dream of for our children, and they serve as a safety net for people who have absolutely nowhere to turn. And there's nothing more important than fighting for social justice, especially at a time when so many people are in danger of losing their rights. Human rights mean nothing if not all humans have them, and there is no justice until there is justice for all.
What project you are working on currently?
I’m working on a policy proposal that would require all middle and high schools to provide programming that educates students about dating violence and sexual assault. Not-for-profit organizations are currently filling this major gap in public education by giving presentations to schools, religious organizations, sports teams, etc. that request it. However, they can’t reach every school in the country, and all the research shows that this type of programming has the potential to cut off the cycle of domestic violence once and for all. It may even reduce college sexual assault rates, as many studies suggest that adolescent victimization puts you at greater risk of being re-victimized in college. Someday, I hope to see this legislation passed at the federal level.
What internships have you been involved with as a student?
I spent the summer after my freshman year interning for a nonprofit organization in New York called My Sister’s Place, which provides legal services, emergency shelter, counseling, child care, and more to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
Last summer, I worked as a paid intern in Bernie Sanders’ Senate Office in Burlington, right in the midst of his presidential campaign. My main jobs were to read through Vermont news every day and write up a news report summary for Bernie's staff in both Vermont and D.C., and to respond to constituent requests for assistance regarding issues such as immigration status, consumer fraud, and domestic abuse.
Currently, I'm working as a Community Outreach/Public Policy intern in the Community & Economic Development Office (CEDO) at Burlington City Hall. I've been working with them on their initiatives to promote educational opportunities among at-risk youth, and to provide much-needed public information for those directly affected by new immigration policy directives. I have also been helping them write the city's Civic Engagement Handbook, which is meant to advise city employees on best practices for promoting public participation in city projects.
Are you involved with any service organizations?
This year, a few classmates and I established the Human Trafficking Awareness and Activism Club (HTAAC) at UVM. We participated in the Red Sand Project last semester to spread awareness on campus about the realities of human trafficking, which got our club featured in the Vermont Cynic. We have a bunch of cool events planned for this semester, including movie screenings, guest speakers, clothing drives, and artwork activism projects.
I’ve been involved in Alpha Delta Pi since the spring of my freshman year, which has been an amazing way to get involved in the community at UVM and around Burlington. Our focus on philanthropy has given me so many opportunities to give back to the community, including multiple fundraisers for the UVM Children’s Hospital and for our national philanthropy, the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
I also pledged Alpha Phi Omega this semester, which is the co-ed service fraternity on campus. The group provides a platform for students to participate in numerous service activities, and to do it with others who are equally passionate about community service. It has been absolutely wonderful getting to bond with such amazing people.
How have the Social Work faculty influenced you?
No one has ever made me believe in myself like Susan Comerford has. Her passion for this field is remarkable, and her ability to challenge students to defy their comfort zones is simply extraordinary. Suzy has mentored me through my learning process countless times, and has always encouraged me to live up to my full potential.
Do you have any favorite classes so far at UVM?
Celia Cuddy’s class on Foundations of Social Work is one of the main reasons I decided to become a social worker. It was honestly such a life-changing experience. Celia has this incredible energy, and her endless positivity always brightens up your day. The depth of her wisdom knows no bounds, and her passion for social work is simply remarkable. I finally convinced a few of my friends to take her class this semester, and now they won’t stop telling me how much they love it. I highly recommend this class to anyone who is undecided in their major.
Susan Comerford’s class on Racism and Contemporary Issues dramatically changed the way I see the world. One of the major assignments for the class was a 20-page paper on pretty much everything you can think of about your identity, including your heritage and ethnic background, religious background, family history, and any other identities you hold. That assignment made me so much more aware of myself, not just of my own privileges but how each aspect of my identity intersects to make me the person I am today.
One of the most profound experiences I’ve had thus far was the class on Trafficking of Human Beings offered last spring. That class opened my eyes in a way I never thought possible. It was fascinating to hear such a diverse array of guest speakers talk about trafficking from all different perspectives, and it was a great way to learn about the many different facets of a truly complex international issue.
What are your career goals?
My core professional goal is to advocate for and empower survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. I intend to earn a Master’s degree in Social Work, although I am strongly considering a Master’s in Public Policy as well. Then I want to spend a few years working directly with victims. After gaining the hands-on experience necessary to advocate for survivors on a larger scale, I hope to enter the field of public policy and fight for societal change through activism and legislative advocacy.
Another major career goal of mine is to pass federal legislation requiring middle and high schools to educate students about sexual assault and dating violence. Since Vermont already requires this education, I plan on directing my efforts first toward my home state of New York. Then I hope to get this legislation passed at the federal level.
In the longer term, I can see myself running for office someday, or maybe starting my own nonprofit.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Dream big, and never doubt your ability to make a difference in this world!