“Being at SESP has given me the opportunity to develop my problem-solving skills and understand the relationships between communities and the policies that affect them.”
Civ\activist Qiddist Hammerly Champions Juvenile Justice, Education Reform
“Civic involvement has been important to me since childhood—it is in my blood, in my ancestors, in my upbringing,” says senior Qiddist Hammerly. The social policy major has received accolades for her innovative work to combat wrongs in the juvenile justice system and racial disparities in education.
Hammerly says SESP has helped her to develop the tools she needs to make progress on these two issues that have become her passions— as she seeks to create fairer systems of education and justice for American youth. “Being at SESP has given me the opportunity to develop my problem-solving skills and understand the relationships between communities and the policies that affect them.”
From the beginning, SESP appealed to her for its multidisciplinary approach to complex problems, especially by integrating history, sociology, gender and ethnic studies, economics and political science into the understanding of policy. “I’ve had opportunities in and out of the classroom to learn about the connections between education, mass incarceration, health and the environment, which is very important to how I participate in the world and how I understand all oppression to be connected,” says Hammerly.
Because of her outstanding achievements and her commitment to public service, Hammerly received a prestigious Truman Fellowship in 2015. As a Truman Fellow, this summer she will pursue an internship in Washington, D.C., as she learns about policy. It’s not the first national fellowship that Hammerly has won. As a sophomore, she was named a Presidential Fellow with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
In the community, Hammerly has embraced community organizing in various contexts, including working on campaigns against mass incarceration, for climate justice and for raising the minimum wage.
As her inventive capstone project in SESP’s Civic Engagement Certificate Program, Hammerly helped to found Liberation Library, which provides books and community contact to youth in Illinois prisons. She and several other students spent a year working on this project with Project NIA, an advocacy and education center with a goal of ending youth incarceration. Advisers at SESP praise Hammerly’s dedication and her “amazing sustainability effort” for Liberation Library, which she describes as “a beautiful organization at the intersection of education and the criminal injustice system, my two passions.”
On campus, Hammerly says her most meaningful extracurricular activity has been serving on the board of Northwestern’s Black Student Alliance. “Working alongside my peers, I gained perspective on the logistics, politics and relationships involved in managing a large organization. I saw what solidarity looks like, and what it doesn’t. I learned strategies for how to operate and organize successfully in a predominately white institution,” she says. Through the Center for Civic Engagement, Hammerly has also volunteered in a music program at Chicago’s Temporary Juvenile Detention Center and with NU Votes, a group seeking to increase student political participation.
In the field of education, Hammerly started early as an activist for education reform. In her hometown of Portland, Oregon, she was involved in starting a charter school with the goal of eliminating the racial achievement gap. Then during college, she continued to volunteer to teach first graders, and after graduation she plans to complete her master’s degree in education at SESP.
After teaching for a few years, Hammerly’s goal is to earn a master’s degree in public policy and work on education policy at the city or state level. “While I love teaching, I am also a big-picture person and want to be involved in systematic solutions that provide a meaningful education to our most marginalized children,” she says.
Hammerly’s adviser Ken Powers echoes the comments of many at Northwestern who have been impressed with Hammerly’s commitment and leadership. “Qiddist is an exceptional leader when it comes to positively impacting the lives of different sectors of society. … Her ability to assess problems quickly and devise solutions creatively is a powerful tool for success. Add to that her genuine drive to make a difference in people’s lives, and Qiddist has unlimited potential.”