Humans of Harker: Ellen Minkin campaigns for change, one conversation at a time


“[Education is] just lagging right now,” Ellen Minkin (12) said. “Sexual education, or just learning about the world. We live in a progressive era, but even we aren’t being informed of a lot of things. We live in ignorance. I was put on this earth, and I feel like if I don’t do anything, it’s just such a waste of a life. I actually want to make an impact, or else my life is pointless. I’m just a snowflake in a huge storm, and I want to make a change.”

by Heidi Zhang, Humans of Harker Videographer

After years of driving to Lake Tahoe for weekly skiing competitions, Ellen Minkin (12) has earned the right to the nickname “weekend warrior.”

“The thing about skiing is, you’re all alone and it’s dangerous going down the ice,” she said. “The course is really rutted and you’re literally being thrown out of your path; it’s so terrifying. One race, I was sick, but I did the best I’ve ever done even though there was a blizzard. There were parts of the race where I thought I was not going to make it down. No one else finished the course, but I pushed through and it was the proudest moment of my life. A lot of people quit, but I kept thinking in my head, ‘Keep going—I’m not going to quit.’ I just wanted to prove to myself and my coach that I could do it.”

Like her “weekend warrior” nickname suggests, Ellen tackles other physical challenges—from hiking to rock climbing—with the same spirit of adventure. She notes how activities like rock climbing helped her overcome her initial fear of heights.

“Recently, I’ve noticed I’m not as scared anymore,” she said. “Now, I can climb to the skies. I start out going slow and get better.”

Recently, Ellen channelled her tenacity from sports into another interest: activism. After reading Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein for Harker’s ReCreate Reading program, she was inspired to start conversations about women’s sexual health.

“I just started realizing how big of a problem sexual education is in this country,” she said. “I believe it’s the root cause of so many issues, and not enough attention is being brought to it. I’m talking about addressing the hookup culture, dealing with misogyny, safe sex resources. When I think about who’s making decisions for women’s health, it’s white males in the government. It’s so frustrating, and the expression ‘get your laws off my body’ really resonates with me. My life is so affected by these legislators, and I literally feel like I’m not in control of my own health or my own decisions.”

One of Ellen’s best friends, Neeraj Aggarwal (12), explains the transformation he observed in Ellen from a shy girl into an outspoken, unapologetic feminist.

“It’s been interesting to see how she used to be really timid and less outgoing, but now she’s very energetic and passionate about what she does,” Neeraj said. “During lunch or just in conversation sometimes, someone will make a comment that could be considered offensive. Ellen will always be sure to step in and call them out on what they said.”

Despite others’ doubts or trepidation, Ellen stands up for her values.

“In my conversations with people, I’m sometimes referred to as an ‘SJW’ [social justice warrior],” she said. “I don’t really care if people call me that, because I want to pursue things that are important to me. I’ve literally initiated so many intellectual debates with a lot of people. I’m really glad that I got them thinking and I opened the conversation up.”

Ellen hopes to further the progress of women’s sexual health by studying to become an OB-GYN. Over the summer, she interned at the University of California, San Francisco and shadowed a doctor specializing in prenatal strokes.

“She really knows how to put her head down and ignore the distractions. She was always the girl that worked hard throughout high school and she really tries,” her close friend Alisa Su (12) said. “When she started engaging with her interest with feminism, she really found a subject she could connect her hard work with.”

Ellen advocates for issues that she feels are undercovered or ignored. For example, as a self-described “avid cultural Jew,” she connects with her heritage by spreading awareness about the Holocaust in order to prevent future genocides.

“I’m taking Holocaust Studies right now, and we’re learning about the history of anti-Semitism, and it just really got me thinking about how these people are my family. I’m literally so lucky to be alive right now. Genocide is happening right now. We’re always like, “Oh my God, the Holocaust,” but in present time, we’re not doing anything. I’m not doing enough, and it just hurts. I could be doing something, but all I do is just I know about it. Everyone needs to know about genocide because it could possibly happen again. The Holocaust happened 80 years ago, 20 years before my parents were born, and that’s really scary. It could 100 percent happen again if we’re not educated about it.”

From feminism to human rights awareness, activism has given Ellen a sense of purpose.

“We live in a progressive era, but even we aren’t being informed of a lot of things,” she said. “We live in ignorance. I was put on this earth, and I feel like if I don’t do anything its just such a waste of a life. I actually want to make an impact or else my life is pointless,” Ellen said. “I’m just a snowflake in a huge storm, and I want to make a change.”