KOKOMO, Ind. — An Indiana University Kokomo faculty member and students were honored for work upholding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision as recipients of IU awards celebrating his legacy.
Niki Weller, associate professor of sociology, and Alex Smith, a junior from Kokomo, were recipients of the Building Bridges award, while students involved with the campus Multicultural Center received an MLK Student Organization Grant to support an upcoming program.
The Building Bridges award honors faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community partners across IU’s campuses who capture King’s spirit, vision, and leadership. The grant awards $500 to a student organization for programs, event sponsorships, or efforts to support inclusivity, respect for diversity, and community service.
Sarah Sarber, IU Kokomo chief of staff, said as an Equity Ambassador, Smith has created and led diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice (DEIJ) initiatives, and has educated herself and others.
“Alex has demonstrated a passion and dedication to increasing awareness and support for DEIJ on our campus and beyond,” she said, adding that Smith participated in the Pedagogical Partner program being piloted to help faculty consider how to implement DEIJ in their classrooms.
Smith, who is majoring in sociology and psychology with a minor in social justice and community engagement, said most of her work as an Equity Ambassador is with the LGBTQ+ Center. As president of Spectrum, she’s reviving the student organization to create a safe space for any student who might need it.
“To me, winning this award shows that the work I have done has had an impact,” she said. “It means I helped someone, even if it was something small.”
Sarber noted that Weller “has committed her life’s work to creating learning experiences for her students to examine, discuss, and debate how social diversity presents different life experiences,” while integrating DEIJ into her curriculum.
Weller has worked with local nonprofits to develop and implement approaches to reduce adolescent drug use and abuse among high-risk populations. She also works with HOPE Mentoring, which pairs undergraduate students with incarcerated youth, and is co-director of the Global Institute on Juvenile Delinquency and Prevention.
She said the Building Bridges award provides “recognition of the critical importance of understanding the systematic issues that impact the lives of young people who have been historically marginalized and oppressed,” and is a nod to her deep commitment to social justice.
“It is a recognition of my efforts and accomplishments in creating positive change in the lives of these young people,” Weller said.
The Multicultural Center will use its $500 MLK grant to host an interactive trivia event about Black leaders in history. Its goal is to promote diversity and inclusion by increasing students’ knowledge and awareness of Black leaders from Indiana, the United States, and internationally.