Northwestern University: Student activists reflect on growth and change over Northwestern years

Student activists often graduate Northwestern without fanfare or recognition for their contributions to long-term campus change and growth. And while students aren’t expecting to be celebrated, four 2021 Northwestern graduates — described by peers as “humble,” “intentional” and “inspiring” — received much-deserved recognition in the form of the Jazzy Johnson Waw-jashk Student Awards.

Given annually by Northwestern’s Campus Inclusion and Community (CIC) in the Division of Student Affairs, the Jazzy Johnson Waw-jashk awards called for nominations from faculty, staff and students based on five tenets: commitment, courage, care, service and humility.

Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson, the Assistant Vice President for Inclusion and Chief of Staff in Student Affairs at Northwestern, said the award was created to recognize Northwestern’s rich history of student activism “of all kinds.”

“The Jazzy Johnson Waw-jashk Student Award was also created to honor the labor students invest to make their Northwestern community more just and inclusive; labor that often goes unrecognized and unremembered,” Brown-Henderson added.

“Waw-jashk” translates to the small, humble and tenacious “muskrat” from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the Pokagon Potawatomi Nation — a creature whose attributes and name are now associated with the annual award.

Karina Aguilar

Karina Aguilar is a 2021 sociology graduate who, despite transferring to Northwestern as a junior, left a profound impact on their community that will “live long past her enrollment as an undergraduate student,” according to Weinberg undergraduate Dori-Taylor Carter, their nominator and the co-president of Rainbow Alliance.
Aguilar served as Rainbow Alliance’s first activism chair before transferring to become a senior mentor on the executive board, where they helped move the organization to become more actively social justice-oriented and partnered with organizations like NU Community Not Cops, Knitwestern, Community Health Corps and the Evanston Public Library. They also were the health projects director for Northwestern Community Health Corps (CHC) and reimagined how CHC distributed health information to be more equitable and accessible, prioritizing low-income students.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the ways that Karina has inspired peers, colleagues and advisors,” Carter said in the nomination form. “They have pushed Rainbow alliance to be radical, unafraid to take a stand. They push us to be our best, challenging us to meet them where they stand and go far with them.”

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Coming to Northwestern as a junior-year transfer, I worried that I would not have enough time to build connections or make any positive impact on the students around me. In entering Northwestern, I was inspired by the activists I met and the dedication they had to creating fundamental change. I was reminded that while trying to create resources for communities is important, you can critically grow sustainability and impact by constantly incorporating activism into this work to address the problems necessitating these resources in the first place. ”

Karina Aguilar
Minna Ito
Minna Ito is a 2021 communication sciences and disorders and Asian American studies graduate and was nominated by co-awardee Chloe Wong, who described Ito’s presence on campus as “larger than life” and “instrumental in promoting the longevity” of her communities.

Ito was the programming chair and later president of the Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC), where she “built and maintained relationships” with organizations and other students to provide aid, discuss political issues and advocate for coalition-building with other students of color. She served as vice president, program educator and philanthropy chair of Sigma Psi Zeta and partnered with Asian American domestic violence shelters in Chicago to provide aid and support. Ito also organized as a grassroots leader of Students Organizing for Labor Rights (SOLR), where she distributed over $80,000 to more than 200 Northwestern dining staff members.

“The way that student groups like SOLR and APAC expand, adapt and shift to support Northwestern’s most marginalized reminds me of the responsibility and beauty of interdependence,” Ito reflected. “My growth as an activist is intrinsically tied to the growth of my communities. As an activist, I’ve grown in my capacity to take care of others and to allow other people to take care of me.”

Soteria Reid

Soteria Reid is a 2021 learning and organizational change graduate and filled “so many titles and roles” because of her deep commitment to equity and creating more just processes, said her nominator Qiu Fogarty, assistant director of Social Justice Education.
Fogarty said Reid brought an abundance of creativity, courage, empathy and criticality to spaces and constantly lifted voices higher than her own. She challenged her communities to think about their stated desires and values and courageously named status and power dynamics.

Reid’s activism touched many corners of the campus including in Delta and the National Pan-Hellenic Council Chapter, Campus Inclusion and Community, the Summer Academic Workshop and the Associated Student Government. She also served as the lead undergraduate student coordinator of Social Justice Education’s Peer Inclusion Education where she designed, facilitated and coordinated student workshops and trainings.

Reid, described as “too humble” by Fogarty, said she didn’t mean to get involved in activism on campus — it happened naturally out of a desire to learn and grow with others.

“My passion for social justice is rooted in a devotion to creating space for people to be able to be their full selves,” Reid said. “There is no belonging, feeling welcome or ability to be authentically yourself without the pursuit of justice and equity. During my time at Northwestern, I have learned that each organizer and learner has a different reason for getting into the work of creating an equitable society and that reason is just as important as the work that is done. It’s impossible to sustain this commitment without knowing why you are committed to it. I am grateful to have been able to meet the community of learners and resisters.”

Chloe Wong

Chloe Wong is a 2021 anthropology, global health studies and Asian American studies graduate. Wong’s dedication to interpersonal care extended beyond her connections to various leadership, community service and civic engagement roles she filled on campus, said Ito, fellow awardee and Wong’s nominator.
Wong’s contributions to Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA), the Center for Civic Engagement and the multicultural sorority Kappa Phi Lambda were “marked by the spirit of service” and connected the campus to local and global issues including the pandemic and the rise of anti-Asian violence and police brutality. In their sorority, Wong served as fundraising chair, treasurer, program educator and president and brought mutual aid and gender-based violence trainings to the space. Wong helped student organizations bring diversity and inclusion into programming through MSA and played a major role in the Jubilasian planning committee which hosts MSA’s APIDA heritage month.

“While the pandemic may encourage isolation and self-preservation, Chloe takes an active and frontline role in supporting the Chicagoland Asian American community,” Ito said in the nomination form. “Chloe contributes to a community of care and continually uplifts others.”

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Over the past four years, it has been heartwarming and empowering to see my communities become more engaged, connected and capable of claiming our power. As a queer second-generation Asian American; a first-generation, low-income college student, and an aspiring public health practitioner, I have been blessed to find spaces, peers and staff that uplift my experiences and push me to reflect. My communities question the status quo and dare to do the work of breaking down old structures while envisioning better futures.”

Chloe Wong