UI graduate student wins Iowa City Human Rights award

Graduate student Jocelyn Williams was awarded the Kenneth Cmiel Award for her work in housing equity and advocacy.


Contributed photo of Jocelyn Williams.

Kufre Ituk, News Reporter

Jocelyn Williams, a graduate student at the University of Iowa’s School of Planning and Public Affairs, is the newest recipient of the Kenneth Cmiel Human Rights Award from the City of Iowa City Human Rights Award Commission.

Williams is being awarded for her internship work at the Housing Fellowship of Iowa City during the summer of 2022. Williams’ contributions to the fellowship consisted of research to further housing equity and funding the greater Johnson County area.

The contributions of Williams toward bettering human rights in Iowa City mirror those of Cmiel, the man whom her awarded is named after.  Cmiel was a University of Iowa Scholar who was appointed as director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Human Rights.

“The Kenneth Cmiel award is designed to recognize a college student and/or graduate student who has followed up on their interest in and knowledge of human rights by actively working in the field in the dedicated and determined way that Ken Cmiel advocated during his lifetime,” the award announcement reads.

Williams worked with the Housing Fellowship of Iowa City as an intern in summer 2022. While a part of the fellowship, she researched and advised projects for the fellowship and wrote grants to apply for state government funding for the fellowship’s projects.

The Housing Fellowship of Iowa City was founded in the 1960s by the Consultation of Religious Communities in Iowa City, which is a network of local religious communities, social service agencies, and advocacy groups that regularly involve themselves in advocacy for social and economic justice.

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Williams was honored with the Cmiel award during the 38th Annual Human Rights Award Ceremony by the City of Iowa City Human Rights Commission. The ceremony was hosted at 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 26 over Zoom.

“I feel like human rights is one of those fields that people don’t really know what it is,” Williams said.  “I think it’s important because all humans have rights.”

For Williams, human rights have always been important.

“I’m really interested in topics like equity, efficiency, and effectiveness,” she said. “If we can improve equity, efficiency, [and] effectiveness of our policies, then it’s going to be better for all humans.”

Williams thinks there needs to be an improvement in how we deliver help to those who need it most, especially when it comes to housing equity.

“Social services, they’re disconnected. Trying to figure out how to simplify and how to make a better system for people that really need it.” Williams said.

Williams, while at the fellowship, did research on policy and policy compliance when applying for the Housing Fellowship to receive grants and funds.

Mark Pries, a member of Iowa City’s Human Rights Commission, said he contributed to the decision of choosing Williams as a recipient of the award.

“There are [seven] Human Rights Awards awarded each year. Each of the awards are descriptive of a particular action or activity recognized within the community,” Pries said.

The Housing Fellowship has been continued by community members as a private nonprofit organization that provides rental properties to residents of Johnson County.

Simon Andrew, executive director of the Housing Fellowship of Iowa City, said the fellowship’s mission is to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing to local families of limited incomes. Andrew worked one-on-one with Williams over her tenure at the fellowship during the summer.

“Jocelyn was a great member of the team and did great work for us. It’s clear that she’s going to be very successful in whatever path she chooses,” Andrew said. “We were lucky to work with her over the summer, and she’s very deserving of this award.”

Williams will be graduating with her masters from the UI in May 2023. She said she plans on continuing to use her skills and knowledge in policy research and housing equity to make a difference.

“I would say human rights is one of the best philosophical lenses with which I can look through to try and understand all of the injustice going on in the world around us,” she said. “It gives you direction, but it also demands that you do the background research [develop] understanding.”