Kathryn Casello is no stranger to social change. From Alaska all the way to Florida, she’s got her hands heavily involved in suicide prevention and advocating for gun control. She’s also using her social initiatives to inspire women everywhere to get engaged with issues that matter to them, and to let their voices and opinions be heard. We know it’s working on us!
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?
As a woman and a social work student, I’ve always been passionate about social issues and making a positive impact on the community. As a high school student I lived in Alaska, where there are very high rates of youth suicide. I started You Are Not Alone AK, an outreach program to raise awareness and teach suicide prevention classes. I was able to travel around the state, teaching the class to over 300 students and speaking with hundreds more. With certification I was able to bring the training to my university to offer to college students. Being a founder of the program gave me the most valuable experiences of leadership, community organizing and social engagement. YANA paved the way for my gun violence prevention work, nurturing my sense of social justice and cementing the importance of grassroots organizing.
What was the hardest part about organizing the student rally and march in Tallahassee supporting gun control?
Ultimately the most difficult part of organizing the march and rally was the time constraint. When the shooting in Parkland happened, there was so much energy around the issue and students all over the state wanted to take a stand and be heard. The most effective way to elevate the voices of students was to organize quickly and with a coherent message, so we had four days to promote the march and prepare. Classes at Florida State were still in session and we were organizing almost exclusively through social media – it was a blur of phone calls, Facebook messages and late nights, and it was absolutely worth it. There was an outpouring of students and community members who contacted us to support the rally, bring materials, spread the word and show up. Thousands of students marched from the school to the Capitol, demanding public policy action on gun violence and gun control.
What’s it like being the youngest board member of the Florida ACLU? Is it difficult?
I have served on the board of directors for 3 different statewide organizations, and I have learned so much from serving with the ACLU of Florida. The work that the ACLU does is crucial; protecting free speech, advocating for equal treatment for the LGBT community and now, in Florida, organizing around Amendment 4, a rights restoration effort that would give over one million Floridians the right to vote. The board is extremely supportive and I feel that I have many mentors and friends who are genuinely dedicated to civil liberties. I attend four board meetings a year and the experience has been formative for my own political understanding and stances, as well as helping me see the big picture of several social issues facing our communities today.
What advice do you have for college women who may be afraid to voice their opinions regarding gun control or other hot topics in today’s turbulent political climate?
I strongly believe that the voice of women in political dialogue is more important now than ever. While politics seems to be increasingly messy and sometimes hostile towards women, we have to remember that we deserve a seat at the table. Women of diverse backgrounds and experiences have access to so many platforms to express their beliefs and advocate for what they want. We have important stories to tell. I’ve learned in my advocacy to not be afraid of my own voice and to resist the pressure to make myself smaller or quieter. I know that I have something important to say and to contribute to the conversation, and so do millions of other young women. College women should trust that they are smart, capable, and worthy of being heard, and be unafraid to shine.
What was the inspiration for you to speak up about your own passions (gun control, suicide prevention, etc)?
My advocacy work has largely been inspired by personal experiences, but also by a sense of my ability to make an impact. My mom has been my biggest supporter throughout my whole life and she has always encouraged me to pursue my passions and stand up for what I think is right. I’ve had support systems in my life that helped me recognize my own power to make change and help people. In Alaska, I saw that young people, my friends and peers, were struggling with mental health issues and everyone had a connection to suicide in some way; I wanted to do anything to help youth feel less alone and more empowered to take care of themselves and each other. I have a very strong sense of justice and moral obligation, and that has driven me to get involved in so much.
The issue of gun control is very close to home. During my freshman year of college two of my close friends were shot during an incident of dating violence, and a few months later an ex-boyfriend of mine was killed in an argument at a party. We have to do so much more to protect young people and the communities we love, and students and young women have the power to make that change.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How do you plan to continue to inspire women to let their voices be heard?
I’ll be graduating in the spring of 2019 with a Bachelor’s in Social Work and I plan to get my Master’s after that. I’m strongly considering law school to further equip me with tools to advocate for my community and hopefully be a model for successful female professionals and for women everywhere who see injustice and want to make change. I want to work in public policy on issues like criminal justice reform, civil rights and economic empowerment to make broad positive impacts.
What is your favorite inspirational quote?
"I demand the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases. I demand freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood." – Emma Goldman
A 20-something-or-other with an appreciation for the following: emergency medicine, lipstick, the suburban mother wine culture, commas, musical theatre and Taylor Swift. Catch her screeching along to the radio with the windows down or buried in blankets crying over overly-dramatic television; there is no in-between.