Kaaren Williamsen2019 Rising Alumni

Kaaren Williamsen

An expert in restorative justice, Kaaren Williamsen is a national leader in developing approaches to prevent and respond effectively to sexual assault on college campuses. Kaaren’s career is full of “firsts”–she was the founding director of the Gender and Sexuality Center at Carleton College, the first full-time Title Nine Coordinator at Swarthmore College, and even helped establish Just Food Co-op in Northfield. She is currently the Director of the University of Michigan’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, where she provides leadership on sexual misconduct prevention education, crisis intervention, advocacy, referral programs, and services. Kaaren was nominated by her education policy and administration doctoral advisor, Rebecca Ropers. Kaaren says her CEHD education helped develop the muscles and skills to both focus closely on a situation or individual, while thinking broadly on a policy level.

Current Job

Director, Sexual Assault Prevention & Awareness Center, University of Michigan

CEHD Degree

PhD Organizational Leadership, Policy Development (Higher Education track), 2017
MA Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology, 2000

Please list any professional accomplishments you wish to mention.

I am the founding director of the Gender and Sexuality Center at Carleton College (2001-14)—a combined LGBTQ+ center, women's center, and sexual violence prevention education center. I was also the first full-time Title IX Coordinator at Swarthmore College (2014-17). I created the infrastructure for a compassionate TIX structure, focusing not only on policy and adjudication, but on prevention education, support for all parties involved, and effective faculty and staff engagement. Also, I was a restorative justice facilitator trainer and co-chaired the campus PRISM (Promoting Restorative Initiatives for Sexual Misconduct). PRISM is a national initiative to help rethink what "justice" can mean related to sexual misconduct on campus. Restorative justice processes aim to identity the harm that has been caused, what needs may have been created from an incident, and what needs to happen to put things right. Restorative justice focuses on healing and accountability.

Volunteer activities

I was on the founding team of Just Food Coop (Northfield, MN) which opened in 2005. (I like to help create things!)

What is your favorite memory from the University of Minnesota?

I entered my PhD program through the former EdD cohort program of Educational Policy and Administration (now called OLPD). My cohort is my best memory. Meeting monthly with other full-time professionals from around the region to zoom way out and look at our work with a wide lens was an amazing opportunity. I learned almost as much from my colleagues as I did from the coursework and professors.

What professor(s) or course(s) were most influential during your time in CEHD?

Melissa Anderson's course on Organizational Development. When I've been in the midst of tricky situations, I always refer back to that course and wonder if the situation I am in now was a case study like we used in that course, what would I do. What would I wish I would have done, if a future class was using this as a case study?

What was the impact and benefit of your educational experience in CEHD?

CEHD has provided me an amazing education and I draw on this experience everyday. The readings, the coursework, and the conversations helped train me in thinking broadly. I can zoom in on a situation and bring my counseling skills to the task, while also zooming way out to think on a policy or leadership level. My education has helped me develop the muscles and the skills to do both effectively.

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

My students! I really am in this work because of the students. I am constantly amazed at their creativity, generosity, and vision. Their high expectations of their institutions keep me on my toes and I know our work is better when we work with students to create something instead of creating this for them. Working with students to tackle tough issues is the thing that keeps me motivated.

What skills are important to succeed as an emerging professional today?

Flexibility! We need to be able to adjust, in real time, to the changing landscape, needs, and contexts of our work. Working in Title IX in the last 10 years has driven home the point that we can't just be looking outside our institutions for the "right" thing to do. Compliance mandates will change and we need to be able to adjust. But, we need to be focused on what we think is right, effective, and honors the values that our community holds sacred.

Outside of your job, how do you grow professionally?

I spend a lot of time talking about restorative justice with folks inside and outside of higher education. Rethinking justice as something beyond punishment has been life changing for me.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you do?

Garden! I recently bought a house and my primary reason was to plant and get my hands in the dirt. I still miss all the plants from my old yard, where I spent 15 years building a landscape.

How do others describe you?

Warm, caring, driven, compassionate, creative.

How do you describe yourself?

Driven, compassionate, and sometimes impatient about social change....

What's a good book you'd recommend to others?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

Nelson Mandela. I'm fascinated by peacemakers and on how souls like Mandela were able to create a peaceful life in the midst of such hatred and strife.

What gets you excited about work?

Seeing new ideas take hold. Seeing students grow and develop. Seeing communities come together to support one another.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A teacher! I come from a long line of teachers and preachers and the family business is really helping those around us. I had a chalkboard and desks set up in my basement as a kid and regularly saw myself as a teacher.