Women’s Center honors contributors, celebrates history in 30th anniversary awards ceremony


Rachel Kupfer/The Daily Northwestern

Women’s Center director Sekile Nzinga-Johnson speaks Thursday at the center’s 30th anniversary celebration. The event honored women’s contributions to the center’s mission and commemorated its history.

Anamaria Sayre, Reporter

Njoki Kamau — who attended graduate school at Northwestern and has been working at the Women’s Center for more than two decades — said she has seen major changes on campus since the center was established in the late 80s.

“There is hope because the Northwestern I arrived to in 1978 is very different from the Northwestern of 2018,” Kamau said. “It shows us that we can change, that we can transform, that nothing is hopeless.”

Kamau was one of the women honored Thursday at the center’s 30th anniversary awards dinner and celebration, which commemorated the center’s work and honored the women who have furthered its mission. More than 50 people attended the ceremony, held in the Kellogg Global Hub.

“It’s a night for us to be reflective, it’s a night for us to just be joyful and celebrate, but it’s also a night for us to center ourselves and reflect on what there is left to do,” the center’s director Sekile Nzinga-Johnson told The Daily. “Sometimes you need to just gather together and reenergize and go back out and continue the work you committed to.”

Program director Alecia Wartowski said the event was important given the timing of both the center’s life on campus and what is happening for women in the world today.

While all aspects of the event were important, Wartowski said she thought the awards were especially exciting because they gave the chance to honor “amazing women” who are “beloved” by the center, and whose work is important for supporting the mission of the center.

Christina Sanborn, who received the administrator award, spoke about the challenges she faces as a female associate vice president of Facilities Management.

“Facilities management is often a male-dominated field, so it’s a great joy to work with the women who are in our field,” Sanborn said.

In a field with what Sanborn said lacks female representation, it’s important to make sure women are supported, Sanborn added. For example, she said her department has had to rethink its uniforms to make sure they can accommodate women of all shapes and sizes.

Tracey Gibson-Jackson, who received the staff award, said she is involved with a group on campus working to create spaces for women, especially those who have not had a voice in the past.

“I fight the good fight,” said Gibson-Jackson, associate director of Student Organizations and Activities. “I look for ways to help folks whose voices aren’t heard, to be an advocate. It’s not a part of my job, but it’s something I’m passionate about.”

The final award of the night, the inaugural “Shujaa” award — which means “hero” in Swahili — went to Kamau for her many years of service dedicated to the center.

Kamau, who has been at the center for over 25 years, received multiple standing ovations and extensive praise for her dedication to the cause.

Through tears and applause, Kamau recounted some of the details of her lengthy history with the center and what it means for her to see it where it is today. She expressed to the audience the importance each individual plays in the advancement of a cause, citing her own feeling that her work acts as a building block for that of others.

“Don’t you dare, don’t you dare, I’ll say it a third time, don’t you dare give up,” Kamau said. “Because, you know what, no matter how hopeless it looks, we can change the world together.”

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