Njoki Kamau, associate director of the Women’s Center at Northwestern University, has been named the 2020 Jean E. Shedd University Citizenship Award winner.
Kamau will receive the award in the fall at the Staff Service Recognition Reception, which was originally scheduled for May 14 but was postponed due to the ongoing stay-at-home order. No date has yet been set for the rescheduled reception, but it will be held sometime in the upcoming academic year.
In all, 90 staff members will be honored at the reception, which will recognize staff who have served Northwestern for 25 years or more.
Kamau, who has been at Northwestern for 28 years, was the first Black woman to pursue a Ph.D. at the Kellogg School of Management. She has been a community leader and expert on gender-based violence and has spoken on the topic at numerous University events. A survivor of intimate partner violence, she has helped educate the community on these issues by sharing her expertise and her story.
“Njoki is the embodiment of what we all have come to call a ‘model citizen,’” said Sekile Nzinga, Northwestern’s interim chief diversity officer, interim associate provost of diversity and inclusion and director of the Women’s Center. “She was a model citizen of her homeland Kenya, when she prevailed against British colonial rule as a little girl. She became a model citizen of our graduate student community as she pursued her doctorate in business management at Kellogg. And she continues to be a model citizen, a feminist leader and catalyst for change as she tirelessly supports women and other marginalized people at Northwestern and beyond.
“I may be Njoki’s supervisor, but she has been — and continues to be — my role model,” Nzinga said. “I am delighted she is receiving the recognition she deserves.”
During her nearly three decades at Northwestern, Kamau has impacted University policy, programming and structure by advocating for women, people of color, immigrants and LGBTQ community members. She has helped create numerous Northwestern policies and procedures, including the University’s first harassment and civility policies. Her advocacy for survivors of sexual violence and discrimination led to the creation of CARE (the Center for Awareness, Response and Education) and laid the foundation for the Office of Equity, as it stands now.
Kamau was a member of the team that created Changemakers, a dialogue-based diversity program that brought together faculty and staff from a wide range of backgrounds to foster inclusivity on campus. She is a strong believer in the idea that everyone belongs at the table.
“This award has completely taken me by surprise, especially because the work I do is so low key, a lot of it away from the limelight,” Kamau said. “There is nothing that gives me greater joy than to see someone believe in their ability to realize their potential and reach for their dreams.”
The Jean E. Shedd University Citizenship Award was created in honor of Jean Shedd, who retired in 2018. Shedd served Northwestern with distinction for more than 41 years. Shedd served at department, school and University-wide levels, on committees and governance groups, and she served as a mentor and advisor to countless faculty, staff, students and alumni.
The award is designed to honor staff members with at least five years of service to the University, who have a record of sustained high performance, have made outstanding contributions to Northwestern, have demonstrated transformative leadership and exemplify the University’s values, among other criteria.