Director of the Women’s Center Sekile Nzinga receives award from YMCA Evanston/North Shore


Evan Robinson-Jonhson/Daily Senior Staffer

Sekile Nzinga has served as the director of the Women’s Center since Sept. 2017. She’s also a faculty member at the department of Gender and Sexuality Studies and co-chair of Gender-Queer, Non-Binary and Trans Task Force.

Yunkyo Kim, Reporter

By all accounts, Sekile Nzinga is a ubiquitous presence at Northwestern.

Since she entered her role as the director of the Women’s Center in September 2017, Nzinga has served as a faculty member in the department of Gender and Sexuality Studies and as the co-chair of the Gender-Queer, Non-Binary and Trans Task Force. On the side, she also volunteers for the Chicago Abortion Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance for people seeking abortions.

This September, Nzinga was honored by the YMCA Evanston/North Shore’s YWomen Leadership Awards for her work advancing gender equality at Northwestern.

Looking back on her two years at the Women’s Center, Nzinga recalled many memorable moments. In her first year, the former public school social worker organized a “critical intersections” symposium to celebrate the Center’s 30th anniversary, which engaged professors, administrators and other campus leaders in communication with Chicago-based feminist activists and alumni in the non-profit sector.

Another notable memory, Nzinga said, was when she spoke earlier this year at Lavender Graduation, a commencement ceremony for students in the LGBTQ community. At the time, she had just come out as queer a year earlier.

“I was not sure if I should be on the microphone, I just came out,” Nzinga said. “I was feeling a bit anxious and a little bit shy but I found my voice… there are still new ways for me to think and interact and engage with the world that I hadn’t ever done before.”

As Nzinga gave her speech, she said she wanted to let her students know that there were new aspects of themselves that were always unfolding. This view reflects on her work with the University’s task force, an 80-person committee that compiled recommendations to create a safe campus for transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming individuals in the last year.

Even before she came to Northwestern, Nzinga put her efforts into supporting girls and women of color. After receiving a degree in social work from Morgan State University in Baltimore, she worked as an intern at Girl Scouts Behind Bars a Girl Scouts program for girls whose mothers and grandmothers are incarcerated. She then completed a clinical internship in a mental health center before receiving a master’s degree and becoming a director of women and gender studies program at Nazareth College in Pittsford, New York. By the time she came to Northwestern, Nzinga had served on the board of directors at Chicago Abortion Fund.

Megan Jeyifo, the organization’s executive director, said Nzinga’s leadership at the fund steered its purpose more toward reproductive justice and access for all people.

“She is brilliant and very generous with her brilliance,” Jeyifo said. “She’s obviously a professor, you know, like you can tell that she’s a teacher … She really affirms people’s humanity through the educating that she does.”

And not just that, Jeyifo noted. Nzinga is funny, fashion-forward and a great mother. When working toward increased abortion access, it is vital to lift up mothers within the movement, Jeyifo said, and Nzinga works on behalf of all people’s reproductive rights.

Nzinga continues to do such work at Northwestern. A self-described collaborator and “thought-partner,” she convened a working group of people that advocates for more lactation rooms in the University.

“I try to be a benefit,” Nzinga said. “But I also try to be a champion of the women and gender issues on the campus and the writer, just show up around these issues … I try to blur the lines between the University life and the public life.”

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