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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Alum donates social justice prize in reunion gift

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

As part of her 50th reunion gift, Linda Heller Kamm ’61 endowed a $1,000 annual award for an undergraduate student committed to advocating for career social justice.

First exposed to injustice from her time growing up in segregated Miami Beach, Kamm explained that she established the prize to encourage students interested in pursuing public interest careers.

“It seemed to me that that was an important career to encourage young people to pursue,” Kamm said in a phone interview last week. “What constitutes social justice in each generation and what are the next hurdles to overcome? For me it goes back to the concept of tikkun olam and repairing the world.”

Students can nominate one another for the $1,000 award this spring. It is intended for first-, second- and third-year students Kamm said, adding that the amount of the award was less significant than the name recognition and prestige she hopes it will develop in the future.

Highlighting Kamm’s legal career were positions in both the public and private sector. In 1977, the Senate confirmed her as the first woman to serve as general counsel in a U.S. Cabinet Department at Transportation. She was also the first woman to become partner at Foley & Lardner, one of the country’s oldest law firms.

At the Department of Transportation, Kamm strengthened economic regulation and enhanced competition for the airline and railroad industries, according to a press release from Development and Alumni relations. She also introduced new environmental standards for transportation projects.

After graduating from Boston College Law School, Kamm worked at the U.S. Department of Housing under President Lyndon Johnson. There, she helped advocate for legislation to reduce inequality in home ownership, according to the press release. In 1969, Kamm transferred her public interest work to the Democratic Study Group in the House of Representatives, broadening her workload from housing to civil rights, health care and education policy.

A history major at Brandeis, Kamm was active in the civil rights and women’s rights movements, focusing on challenging the inequalities of the past through optimism and passion for social justice.

Kamm said that her priority in launching the award was to make sure students could nominate their peers for recognition of excellence in social justice work. An online nomination form was sent to students via e-mail informing them about the prize.

There are several other social justice and activism awards managed by the Office of the Dean of Student Life, including the David A. Alexander ’79 Memorial Award for Social Consciousness and Activism, the Edwin E. Hokin Memorial Prize, the Jacob and Bella Thurman Award for Social Citizenship, and the Robert B. Sherman ’67 Memorial Prize.

Students receive the awards at a ceremony in early May.

While the Kamm prize is not restricted to social justice in the government arena, the goal is that her name recognition as a government official and leader in non-profit advocacy will create a prestige and resume building recognition for select students.

“In every era, there are important issues of social justice that need to be addressed, never more prominently than now. I hope that young people will fashion their careers so they find a meaningful home in the social justice movement,” Kamm said in the alumni office press release last month.