University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

The 19th Annual Josie R. Johnson Human Rights and Social Justice Award Winner: Nasreen Mohamed

Nasreen Mohamed

Reading only the four recommendation letters nominating Nasreen Mohamed for the Josie R. Johnson Human Rights and Social Justice Award Award, it is easy to see how Mohamed’s passion for promoting inclusivity manifests itself into his daily work and relationships.

“Nasreen has been an amazing mentor to myself and others. Social justice and human rights are ingrained in his professional ethos,” one colleague writes.

“Nasreen takes risks, becomes vulnerable, and goes over and above in order to be a changemaker,” writes another.

According to his recommenders, Mohamed was a natural choice for the award, which was established in recognition of former University of Minnesota Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and the first African American Board of Regents member, Dr. Josie R. Johnson.   

Mohamed and Johnson’s careers have noted similarities: as leaders in social justice and human rights, both have been outspoken about diversity issues both on and off campus, often taking risks in order to advocate for change. While Johnson made strides in civil rights as director of the Minneapolis Urban League and a professor of African American studies at the University, Mohamed’s work has been primarily focused on gender and racial inclusivity.

In Mohamed’s role as Director of Student Engagement in the University’s International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), he guides incoming international students through the process of transitioning to and beginning college. In this role, Mohamed is a leader and mentor, but perhaps most of all, an advocate for student rights. Mohamed works with students on an individual level, encouraging them to pursue leadership opportunities, share their unique perspectives with departments, and be confident in their identities. A Queer Muslim who moved to the United States after growing up in Tanzania, Mohamed is particularly passionate about addressing concerns specific to international LGBT students.

“The part of my professional work that keeps me on my path is my students. They guide me through their stories and their struggles as they navigate institutions of higher education. These are complex issues, and confronting them means being willing to have difficult conversations,” Mohamed said.

Nasreen Mohammed (bottom row, second from the right) is smiling and holds a framed award certificate and is flanked by colleagues at the 9th Annual Equity and Diversity Breakfast on November 17, 2016.
Nasreen Mohammed (bottom row, second from the right) is
smiling and holds a framed award certificate and is flanked by
colleagues at the 9th Annual Equity and Diversity Breakfast.

Mohamed dedicates much of his free time to these difficult conversations; his calendar is often full of meetings for a variety of organizations such as the University’s Bias Response and Referral Network (previously called the Bias Response Team), Campus Climate Engagement Team, Art of Participatory Leadership community, and the Welcome Week Respect U committee. Mohamed also works to fill gaps he sees on campus by establishing new initiatives such as the GLBTA International program within the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life.

Although his schedule may be busy, Mohamed recognizes conversation and involvement are integral to the bettering of the University and community.

“Having a commitment to social justice and human rights, in my mind, means understanding that speaking out about injustice is not a choice, but a core part of our calling as educators,” Mohamed said.

In a recommendation letter for the Josie R. Johnson Award, Minneapolis Community and Technical College’s former Vice President and Chief Diversity officer, Dr. Joi Lewis, commends his former colleague on utilizing his talents as an intellectual and individual to speak out on a myriad of politically and racially-charged topics.

“Nasreen is one of those rare individuals who has built and maintains so many authentic relationships across all kinds of differences, but he lives with those sometimes challenging relationships as if they are a comfortable sweater,” Dr. Joi wrote.

It’s a position Mohamed finds himself in often: stepping out of his comfort zone in order to ensure that no one else feels they do not have somewhere to belong. Beth Isensee, ISSS Assistant Director for Student Engagement and Intercultural Initiatives, perhaps sums it up best as she recalls a recent conversation she had about Mohamed:

“I recently asked an international student leader why he liked working with Nasreen,” Beth recalls. “He said, ‘He is authentic about his identity. He wants me to be authentic about my identity too.’ Nasreen inspires.”

Nasreen recently wrote an editorial about Islamophobia and what it is like to be a Muslim in the United States. You can read it on the Campus Climate website.

Date Published: December 2016