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New prof shares passion for social justice with students

10/15/14

It was through Dr. Kerri Nicoll’s experiences as a pastor, as well as an outreach and fundraising assistant for a non-profit organization, that she discovered her passion for social justice, particularly around issues of poverty and inequality.

Nicoll, MCLA’s newest assistant professor of social work, loved working directly with low-income individuals and families. She also wanted to learn more about why and how so many Americans end up living in those circumstances.

Kerri Nicoll“I became very interested in understanding how our political system deals with poverty and why our society makes the choices we do about programs and policies related to poverty,” she said.

Because Nicoll had a desire to work hands-on with those living in poverty while working to change larger systemic issues, the University of Michigan’s Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Political Science was the perfect choice for her.

Previously, Nicoll earned two master’s degrees – one in social work from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practices in Philadelphia, Pa., and a master’s of divinity degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary, in Princeton, N.J.

In Princeton, she focused mainly on biblical studies, particularly the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible. She also examined social justice, and what it means to live as a community and care for those who are in the most need.

“While I don’t expect to ever be teaching biblical studies courses, the core beliefs that I developed in seminary have guided the choices I have made since then: my commitment to social justice, my desire to work with poor communities to change their circumstances, and my interest in teaching others about the injustices in our society and how we can work to end them,” Nicoll explained.

“I am not a teacher because I want to tell my students what to think, but because I want to help them learn how to think and to view society through their own critical lenses,” she added.

Nicoll’s broad area of specialty is United States poverty and social welfare policy.

“I am particularly interested in how low-income individuals, families and communities interact with the government programs and systems that are designed to help them,” she said, “and in how our society’s attitudes and assumptions about poverty impact the political and policy choices we make.”

An alumna of Connecticut College, Nicoll – like her students – also attended a liberal arts college as an undergraduate. As a result, when she completed her Ph.D., she knew her first choice was to be back in a liberal arts setting, “where educators are focused on guiding students to become critical thinkers and engaged citizens, regardless of the field they choose to pursue after graduation.”

Before MCLA, she had never heard of a liberal arts college that also was a public institution.

“The opportunities to teach in a liberal arts setting, teach in the subject area about which I am most passionate, and teach at a school that provides opportunities for students from all different backgrounds – particularly those who might not have access to more exclusive, private liberal arts colleges – combined to make MCLA the perfect choice for me,” Nicoll said.