IMPACT

15 Times We Made Progress In 2015 On Issues That Matter Most

From improved Internet access to gay marriage rights, 2015 marked lots of steps in the right direction.

At times, 2015 felt like a never-ending stream of negative headlines. Your news feed might have felt like we’re not making any progress, or maybe even taking steps back. But despite all that -- and the fact that there's still much more work to be done -- here are 15 examples that show we are making headway on critical issues. 

  • More People Than Ever Are Now On The Internet
    While&nbsp;<a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/digital-divide-brookings-institute_5674586be4b014efe0d55041">millions of p
    Bloomberg via Getty Images
    While millions of people still aren't online in the U.S. and billions have yet to log on worldwide, 2015 was the year when more of humanity joined the Internet than ever before. We're doing it using our smartphones, which keeps us constantly connected to work, play and everything in-between. But the increasing digitization of everything is revealing inequalities in digital skills that must be closed in the years ahead if everyone is going to have the opportunity to make the most of that access.
  • Some College Students Got A Break From Crushing Debt
    Student loan debt hit an all-time staggering high of <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2014/09/10/pf/college/student-loans/" targ
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Student loan debt hit an all-time staggering high of $1.2 trillion last year. That translates into 40 million Americans having at least one outstanding student loan, CNN reported. But some lawmakers this year laid the groundwork to ease the financial burden students and graduates face. In December, 10 Democratic state lawmakers joined 99 members of Congress in announcing their support for debt-free colleges. The Obama administration got involved in the movement when it announced in December that the U.S. Department of Education would cancel $27.8 million in federal student loans owed by former students of defunct for-profit school chain Corinthian Colleges Inc. who were duped into taking on the debt.
  • Supreme Court Legalized Gay Marriage Nationwide
    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that it is legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to mar
    David McNew via Getty Images
    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that it is legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry. The justices backed up their opinion saying, "decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make." Views on same-sex marriage in the U.S. continue to evolve since 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay couples to wed.
  • The World Reached A Historic Climate Deal
    For the first time, rich and poor countries across the world have agreed to take steps to limit and <a href="https://www.huff
    FRANCOIS GUILLOT via Getty Images
    For the first time, rich and poor countries across the world have agreed to take steps to limit and adapt to climate change, a milestone reached this month in Paris at the Conference of the Parties, or COP21. They agreed to a number of actions, including reducing their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and helping one another adapt to rising seas, devastating droughts, food shortages and other impacts of global warming.
  • Campuses Protested Racism -- And They Were Heard
    It could be said that events at the University of Missouri, where two top leaders were let go because of how they dealt with
    Michael B. Thomas via Getty Images
    It could be said that events at the University of Missouri, where two top leaders were let go because of how they dealt with campus racism, catalyzed the country. Protestors at Yale University, Ithaca College, the University of Kansas and other schools spoke out about issues of inequality and administrative responses to racism. And their voices rose to the surface. "What we are seeing is the beginning of a movement where students and student groups across campuses are finding the courage to speak up about what they have been experiencing," Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, a scholar of Latino and black male students, at Columbia University, told HuffPost.

  • The U.S. Military Opened All Combat Roles To Women
    All combat jobs will be open to women in 2016, which Obama declared as being a major step forward. He said the <a href="https
    Jessica McGowan via Getty Images
    All combat jobs will be open to women in 2016, which Obama declared as being a major step forward. He said the military will be made stronger as a result. "Together, we're going to make sure our military remains the finest fighting force in the history of the world, worthy of all our patriots who serve -- men and women," he said. 
  • More Men Came Out As Feminists
    High-profile men, like actor Matt McGorry from “Orange Is the New Black” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” have been outspoken on social media about why men should be feminists. McGorry’s broken down the basic logic and blazed a trail for other men with statements like the one above. 
  • Television Got Way More Diverse
    Television became a more relatable space this year mostly because networks opened up their shows to actors of varying backgro
    Jason LaVeris via Getty Images
    Television became a more relatable space this year mostly because networks opened up their shows to actors of varying backgrounds.  

    ABC became the first network in history to air three shows simultaneously with Asian leads. “Jane the Virgin" portrays colorful Latino characters without relying on tired stereotypes. “Empire” introduced us to a new kind of black woman -- "a fearless businesswoman who isn't Claire Huxtable,” Zeba Blay, HuffPost Voices culture writer, wrote.

    And, Viola Davis won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. 

    But advocates are still pushing for more diversity behind the scenes. People of color, for example, made up only 5 percent of executive producers in the 2014-2015 season.  “The sheer amount of conversation around the idea alone is a sign that we're moving forward,” Blay wrote in another post this year. “But do a handful of shows with POC leads (the majority of them black, and straight) really mean progress?”
  • High School Graduation Rates Hit Record High
    The U.S. high school graduation rate has steadily increased for the past four consecutive years, and hit a record high in the
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The U.S. high school graduation rate has steadily increased for the past four consecutive years, and hit a record high in the 2013-14 school year. Teens graduated at 82 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education.Graduation rates have also increased across the board for the past several years for such subgroups as low-income students, students with disabilities and English language learners. And, the achievement gap in graduation rates between black and white students and white and Hispanic students continues to narrow. 
  • Black Twitter Helped Take Down The Confederate Flag
    On the night Dylan Roof killed nine people in Charleston, South Carolina, a black activist tweeted #TakeItDown with a photo o
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    On the night Dylan Roof killed nine people in Charleston, South Carolina, a black activist tweeted #TakeItDown with a photo of the confederate flag. The tweet proliferated across Black Twitter and the next day everyone from Chris Hayes to Mitt Romney was using the hashtag. “Symbols alone won’t change the dynamics,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of social justice organization Color of Change, told HuffPost. "But it’s important that if we are going to change the landscape that we change the symbols that people have to live under.” The flag came down at the South Carolina courthouse after 54 years
  • Tech, Finance Companies Started Caring About Working Moms
    America is the <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/2015-paid-parental-leave_56780dade4b06fa6887dd638" target="_blank">onl
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    America is the only developed country without a paid maternity leave policy. Recognizing the need to take care of its new moms, a number of tech companies and banks took matters into their own hands this year to help shake up the system. Netflix, for example, announced in August that it would give its salaried employees up to 12 months of paid parental leave to take at their own discretion. Credit Suisse announced in November that it would offer all of its U.S. employees 20 weeks of paid maternity leave. And Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a bold statement for moms and dads everywhere when he announced he’d be taking two months off after the birth of this daughter.
  • We’ve Made Paradigm Shifts In Understanding And Treating Mental Health Issues
    From mindfulness to psychedelic drugs, new research and treatments are creating waves. Researchers have found, for example, t
    Glow Wellness via Getty Images
    From mindfulness to psychedelic drugs, new research and treatments are creating waves. Researchers have found, for example, that mindfulness-based relapse prevention targets the foundation of addictive behavior. And a review of existing research reveals that substances such as LSD, psilocybin (hallucinogenic mushrooms) and MDMA (the active ingredient in Ecstasy) could be effective for treating issues including, PTSD, addiction, depression and more.
  • Churches Took A Stand For Marriage Equality
    Following years of debate, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted an LGBT-inclusive definition of marriage in March, and th
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Following years of debate, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted an LGBT-inclusive definition of marriage in March, and the Episcopal Church approved religious weddings for gay couples in July. “Today we are rejoicing!" the Rev. Robin White, co-moderator of the LGBT advocacy group More Light Presbyterians told HuffPost. "So many families headed by LGBTQ couples have been waiting for decades to enter this space created for their families within their church communities.”
  • Ebola Actually Helped Change U.S. Hospitals For The Better
    Following the Ebola outbreak, the lessons from affected countries along with the few U.S. cases have <a href="https://www.huf
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Following the Ebola outbreak, the lessons from affected countries along with the few U.S. cases have helped improve U.S. healthcare in large-scale ways. Hospitals established new intake procedures and an improve tiered system for responding to emerging infectious diseases. Outbreak response also led to positive changes in nurses' rights and the way we handle community outreach.
  • And Animal Protection Laws Got Better Across The Country
    An increasing number of states are making it a felony to commit animal cruelty. Lora Dunn, staff attorney for ALDF&rsquo;s cr
    Troy Klebey via Getty Images
    An increasing number of states are making it a felony to commit animal cruelty. Lora Dunn, staff attorney for ALDF’s criminal justice program, told HuffPost that advocacy has helped transform passion into laws. "These advancements show just how important animals are in our society," she said

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