Youth Leadership

Protesters marching on a sunny street with their backs to the camera and holding a "We The People" sign that features an illustration of a woman wearing the American flag as a headscarf
Washington, DC, October 17, 2020: Count On Us Women’s March. Photo: Julian Leshay /

Young people across the United States are leading movements to fight inequality, protect our planet, and support the rights of marginalized communities. Harvard Radcliffe Institute is committed to leveraging our resources to educate, support, and inspire the next generation of leaders at Harvard and beyond.

Harvard Radcliffe Institute is committed to creating unique opportunities for Harvard undergraduates and youth in our local communities. As part of our strategic plan, Radcliffe Engaged, we have launched the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), a new youth leadership development and mentoring program focused on the theme of gender and leadership. The program partners current Harvard undergraduates with high school students who aspire to activism and civic leadership. 

In framing the significance of this effort, Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of the Institute, explains, “the Emerging Leaders Program is an outgrowth of Radcliffe’s history of educating and supporting generations of women scholars and civic leaders, and it aims to meet a pressing need in our current moment. We have a responsibility to ensure that students here at Harvard and beyond our campus have opportunities for mentorship—which is critical to meaningful inclusion in education—and to build the knowledge and skills for effective civic and community engagement.”

Drawing on Radcliffe’s unique history—including the holdings of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America—and on partnerships with greater Boston-area schools, the ELP curriculum focuses on leadership training, the history of social movements, and skill development for community and civic engagement. Through this curriculum, the program engages and empowers high school students from historically marginalized communities who may not already hold leadership roles. The program is designed to help these students build knowledge and skills to lead meaningful change and address social problems important to them. The learning in the ELP, however, goes both ways; this is also an opportunity for college undergraduates to hone their own leadership skills—not only by serving as advisors to high school students, but also by training other Harvard undergraduates.

"The Emerging Leaders Program is an outgrowth of Radcliffe’s history of educating and supporting generations of women scholars and civic leaders, and it aims to meet a pressing need in our current moment."

Launching in spring 2021, the ELP brings together Harvard undergraduates and local high school students to explore the history, theory, and practice of civic engagement and social movements. Starting with a cohort of 15 undergraduate mentors and up to 30 high school students, ELP teams will explore the archival resources of Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America and conduct research for capstone projects that identify and address urgent needs in the community.

The Harvard College student Shivani Aggarwal ’21 is one of the ELP program's lead mentors and was instrumental in helping to shape the program.

The goal of the program is to encourage young people to see themselves as leaders and to build the skills and confidence to inspire others and pursue meaningful change. The Harvard College students Shivani Aggarwal ’21 and Lauren Fadiman ’21 were inspired to take on the role of lead mentors and help shape the initiative from the beginning. “I loved the idea that Radcliffe—with its mission and legacy, and the resources collected in the Schlesinger Library—was experimenting with new programs and trying to rethink how it can bridge different communities,” says Aggarwal.

Advice for young activists featuring Robin Bernstein, Naomi Wadler, and Yara Shahidi

In this clip from the 2019 "Vision & Justice" convening, Harvard professor Robin Bernstein moderates a discussion with the youth activists Yara Shahidi and Naomi Wadler about civic engagement. The two-day creative convening considered the role of the arts in understanding the nexus of art, race, and justice.