May 2015 ArticlesUncategorized

GSSWSR: Fostering LGBTQ Equality

By Jenny Pedraza

Grad_02_nb“Every individual has the best knowledge and experience about his or her own life,” says Sabina Neem, M.S.S. ’07, M.L.S.P. ’07. “People are their own best judge for what is right for them, and it’s a social worker’s job to be nonjudgmental and give people the tools to make healthy decisions. Shame is a poor motivator for long-term change.”

This philosophy has guided Neem throughout her career working with LGBTQ youth on HIV education and prevention, providing clinical services for teenage girls in a residential treatment facility, and supporting the academic activities of inner-city youth.

“In my life and in my career, I want to actively create the kind of world I want to wake up in every day—a world without all of this inequality,” says Neem.
Now the associate director in Seattle University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, Neem builds bridges across the campus community to support students of color and LGBTQ students at the private Jesuit Catholic university.

“I’m in a position to shift a larger institutional culture and build a healthy campus climate,” she explains. “We’re working to create the environment they want to be part of in an institutional setting that historically was not designed with them in mind. When I interact with the students here on campus, many of them remind me of the people I used to work with. It’s just that these are the young adults who made it.”

In the spring of 2012, Neem mentored students involved in the Diversity and Equity Education Program as they led the campus community in organizing Amplify Voices: A Queer Justice Rally. During that campaign, students asked for more resources for the LGBTQ community on campus and advocated for support for an LGBTQ resource center, gender-inclusive bathrooms and housing, and more courses focused on gender and sexuality. Letters to the university’s president, petitions, and symbolic events highlighted support for inclusion of LGBTQ students on campus, including marriage equality in a Catholic context.

“This is one of the initiatives I’ve been the most proud of,” Neem explains. “In mentoring this group of students, I encouraged them to be respectful of the university’s history and its administration. We practiced a harm reductionist approach in making voices heard through nonviolent and symbolic gestures.”

But Neem doesn’t limit her work simply to the university. She is an active presence within the larger Seattle community as well. As a co-chair of the city’s LGBT Commission, she represents the concerns of LGBTQ citizens to the mayor, city council, and city departments. In 2013, she spearheaded the effort to kick off the Seattle Pride Celebration by raising the Pride flag at city hall, showing the city’s support of the LGBTQ community. During this time, she also advocated in solidarity with workers for the Seattle Space Needle to settle a fair labor contract and fly the Pride flag.

During her time at Bryn Mawr, Neem’s commitment to social justice was very much in evidence. In 2007, she was awarded a grant from the L. Diane Bernard Fund to pursue her research on issues facing transgendered people in the detention and prison system. In 2010, she was awarded the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research’s Emerging Leadership Award in recognition of her service on the Mayor’s Advisory Board on LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia, the LGBT People of Color Coalition, and the Mayor’s Task Force on Homeless Services for Sexual and Gender Minorities.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always felt a deep sense of interconnectedness, and I’ve tried to embody the position as advocate—for individuals and communities,” Neem says. “Bryn Mawr is where I learned to articulate the difference between altruism and solidarity.”

This is the third in the Centennial Profiles series that marks the GSSWSR’s 100th annniversary by celebrating the accomplishments and diversity of its graduates.