Two students in HRC granted voting rights


Evan Frank

Mira Lee Prabhu (left) and Julia Appel (right) smile for the camera. The two seniors were recently granted the right to vote on the Human Relations Commission.

The village board recently granted the two high school student members on the Human Relations Commission (HRC), Julia Appel and Mira Lee Prabhu, seniors, voting rights. 

The Human Relations Commission (HRC) is a volunteer committee that focuses on issues affecting the community. 

“The Human Relations Commission for the Village of Shorewood is a board responsible mainly for dealing with issues in the village that affect minorities, like people of color, LGBT, immigrants,” Prabhu said, “So that can be anything from reviewing outdated policy or creating policy that doesn’t exist. It can be educating the public on certain issues or collecting data on things going on in the village.”

For anyone looking to bring up an issue or topic of conversation topic with the village, the HRC might be the place to go.

“If you do have an issue you are passionate to talk about, regardless of whether it’s on the agenda or not, we will hear your statement and take it seriously,” Prabhu said. “A lot of youth in Shorewood is really empowered about politics, and being activists for things they think matter, and so this is the place where we want to hear you”

The commission is composed of nine members, including the two student representatives. 

“The student positions were originally created to be two non-voting seats, but the village board recently approved adding us as full term members, with the same voting rights,” Appel said.

While the commission was worried that the student members would not be as committed as the adults, Appel and Prabhu proved them wrong. 

“Originally, the student representatives didn’t have voting rights because they were concerned that busy students wouldn’t be able to show up as much, and then it would get in the way of having a quorum, like the number of members needed for them to vote on a decision,” Appel said. “But we showed up as much as the adult members, and so they figured there wasn’t any reason we shouldn’t be able to vote.”

Appel and Prabhu were also valuable members in discussions, which further supported the idea that they should be able to vote.

“I think with some of the recent developments with the Human Relations Commission and some of the items or policies they are discussing, I think a lot of the members felt that they should be able to have voting rights, especially because a lot of the policy that they’re either developing or recommending, the students have been some of the most involved members,” said Tyler Burkart, Assistant Village Manager.

Appel and Prabhu work to make sure that student perspective is taken into account when discussing matters that affect the entire village. 

“As student representatives, we mainly try to bring a perspective of youth to the board,” Prabhu said. “The high school really is a center for the village. A lot of the town passes through here [who] aren’t students, and a lot of the town has children that go here.”

As student representatives, we mainly try to bring a perspective of youth to the board.

— Mira Lee Prabhu, senior

Some of the topics that Appel and Prabhu were very involved with included To Kill a Mockingbird and vandalized art.

“Especially last year, it was very important for us to bring up issues that were affecting youth in the village, mainly our perspective on things that happened with To Kill a Mockingbird, vandalized art, and just all these different things that have affected student lives,” Prabhu said.

They have also advocated for improved bathrooms for non-binary and trans students. 

Recently, they have been working hard on changing the village policy regarding holiday decorations. 

“In the recent discussion on holiday decorations they’ve been pivotal, because they both serve on the policy subcommittee, which was the subcommittee that ended up making the recommendation for the HRC to recommend,” Burkart said. “They’ve been involved with that since day one, so that’s just another example.”

Before the student representatives could be allowed to vote, the HRC had to rewrite some of its own policy, as the original rules stated that voting members had to be residents of Shorewood, which Prabhu, who lives on the East Side in Milwaukee, was not. The amended policy allows for more leeway in student requirements. 

“If you are going to Shorewood and you live in Milwaukee, or you live somewhere else, you are allowed to have those voting rights,” said Prabhu. “Or, alternatively, if you live in Shorewood but you go to school at Nicolet or in Milwaukee, you still are able to have those voting rights for the board.”

For Appel and Prabhu, having the ability to vote doesn’t change their responsibilities or outlook.

“We spend a lot of time in thoughtful discussion trying to make thoughtful decisions,” Appel said. “And that part really remains the same whether you get to vote on the final decision or not.”

“Despite the fact that we couldn’t vote, we still in some ways voted by trying to persuade people to vote in the direction that we thought was right,” Prabhu said. 

Yet, being able to vote still affects people in a positive way.

“I definitely feel more empowered by it,” Appel said. “A vote is a very physical voice, and that’s very important.”

A vote is a very physical voice, and that’s very important.

— Julia Appel, senior

“Because we are youth and because you know, we have this position that is literally called “high school member”, when we do the same thing as everyone else, it is nice to know that we are officially on the same level, that we aren’t the kid representatives,” Prabhu said. “We are voting board members with the same rights and powers as everyone else at the table.”

With Appel and Prabhu being granted the right to vote, students on two boards, the HRC and the conservation committee, can now vote. The village is looking to allow for more student involvement in the village.

“The village is going to continue to explore how to incorporate students in the volunteer committees,” Burkart said. “As I mentioned, right now it’s just two, the HRC and the conservation committee, but I think there’s a lot more room to have students involved.”