We the People: Athalia Haughton

We the People is a blog series that features the stories of members, supporters, volunteers, and allies of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota. Together we are accomplishing critical work in our state to protect and advance civil liberties across the midwest and beyond.

Athalia Haughton is a junior at Century High School in Bismarck and president of the Student Advocates of North Dakota.

The student activist – who is also involved in debate, theater, and student council – wants to make a difference in her community.

You might even see her run for office someday! But until then, she’s doing what she can to make North Dakota better for her friends and neighbors, which is why she helped organize the recent protest against House Bill 1298, discriminatory legislation targeting transgender student athletes.

QUESTION: Why are you involved in Student Advocates of North Dakota (SAND)?

ANSWER: I’ve always wanted to serve the community around me. I would say that one of my best characteristics is the ability to empathize with people and I feel for others’ struggles and I want to help them as much as possible. I think about every time I’ve struggled with a system that wants to push me out and I think about how much I wish someone would’ve been there to help me. Although I can’t change the past, I can be there for others – even if it’s just a little, I can help ease their burden. A lot of times, the biggest thing is just showing someone you’re in their corner. That’s why I created SAND.

Q: Why do you think it’s important for young people to be involved in their communities?

A: Because no one is going to represent us if not us. The best advocate for this younger generation is ourselves, and we have so much potential if only we would tap into it. We often hear that “we are the future,” but we seldom realize the power that gives us. We seldom act like it. Being the future is not a passive act – it is a role we should be actively taking. We should be learning how to function in this society that we will one day run.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in getting more politically involved in their community?

A: Start now! It is never too early to start, and truthfully I wish I would’ve started sooner. The conversation and depth of character that you will gain from participating in the world around you is indescribably wonderful. I would also say that the best way to start is a Google search. Look at a bunch of different sources, not just one, and do your research about what’s going on. I know this is a little cliché, but you want to be informed, not influenced.

Q: When did you first hear about the ACLU?

A: I actually first heard about the ACLU in one of my history classes at school. I then came into clearer contact with the ACLU this past year through SAND.

Q: Which of the Constitution’s Amendments are most important to you and why?

A: The Ninth Amendment is one that I find to be super important. As our government expands with little chance of contraction, it is very important and comforting to know that my rights are not limited to those explicitly written down and that as time progresses, no infringements can be pressed on my rights.

Q: What issues do you think are most important for the North Dakota Legislature?

A: I think the North Dakota Legislature should be focused on clean energy and finding a way to move forward once the oil starts to run out (although one could argue that it has already). I also think that they should focus more energy and attention on schools and making sure that they promote mental health. I know that they are working out having therapists in school, so I think that’s a great first step that should be accompanied by others.

Q: Which of the ACLU’s issue areas are you particularly passionate about and why?

A: I love the work that the ACLU is doing to protect trans people and trans athletes! I love that they’re tackling this because I’m friends with so many people in the LGBTQ+ community and it is so demoralizing to see how they are treated in North Dakota. Seeing legislative attacks against them is abhorrent.

I know that the ACLU also works with racial justice, and although I haven’t worked with them on this yet I would love to in the future. As a Black girl who has faced so much racism, I want to help fight the system and make America a better place for future little girls so they never have to go through what I’ve been through.

Q: What plans do you have after high school?

A: Currently, I’m planning on going to Howard University. I want to get my law degree and then hopefully run for office. Even if I’m not elected, I would like to write policy and impact my community in any way possible.