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Hailey Gifford found passion and power interning with ACLU of Ohio

After Hailey Gifford, '22, found her passion for environmental politics as an undergrad at Ohio University, her next stop was a master's in environmental studies through the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service.

Gifford said taking high school government during the 2016 Presidential election changed the course of her life, setting her on a path to earn a B.A. in Political Science from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2022. 

Gifford wants to influence policy, and she recently found a home for that passion in an internship with the organizing department for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio during her master's program. 

"My first staff meeting brought me to tears. The people I am surrounded by are the most dedicated, caring and brave individuals I have ever met. Being in that meeting where major decisions were being made about how we were going to mobilize around the issues that have shaped who I am as a person, it made me feel powerful—and I think that's the whole point of the ACLU," said Gifford, who also minored in sociology at OHIO.

"I have never felt more welcomed in a space than I have working at the ACLU of Ohio," Gifford said. "My boss, Organizing Director Elizabeth Chasteen Day and Executive Director Ben Guess, are some of the coolest and most amazing individuals I have the privilege of knowing, and working with them has been an endless opportunity for knowledge."

How did Gifford find friends, professors and organizations to help propel her academic journey and career interests?

Q&A with Hailey Gifford

Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life? 

A: My favorite professors were (and still are) Dr. Nancy Manring, Dr. John Gilliom, and Larry Hayman, Esq. All of these professors taught me invaluable lessons through coursework and in life. Dr. Manring engrained hope and positivity into her courses, which was so important as a young student learning about possibly the most catastrophic threat to my generation, climate change. Dr. Gilliom empowered me through writing in a way I had never experienced before and ensured I would credit him with the title of my future book that I have not yet written. Larry Hayman has been a mentor and a teacher from my first week of freshman year, to now as I sit here writing, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities he has given me.

Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?

A: My big ah-ha moment is more like several smaller ah-ha moments, and they still happen today. I took so many courses in undergrad that I was passionate about, but when I began taking courses in environmental politics, I knew that this is what I was supposed to be doing.

Q: What was the hardest hill you had to climb (not counting Jeff Hill) at OHIO? And how did you overcome challenges or obstacles in your path?

A: My mental health has been my biggest struggle in school and my career. Doing what I love every day is the biggest gift I could have ever been given. I know I am making a difference working with the ACLU of Ohio, and I know that I am doing everything I can to help people that need it the most.

Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?

A: My favorite OHIO memories have to be my freshman year mock trial practices and competitions. That team opened me up to friendships that will last the rest of my life, and I have never laughed harder than I have, delirious, after an eight-hour mock trial competition with my closest friends about the insanity we saw in trial.

Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?

A: Organizations. I am where I am today because my best friend took me to an ACLU-OU meeting with four people, and I met that best friend through mock trial. Student orgs are the gift that never stops giving, and I really encourage all students to look into orgs that interest them!

April 6, 2023
Staff reports