Rachel Kinney wins Salbi Commencement Award

Speaker’s choice
Rachel Kinney wins Salbi Commencement Award

Rice News staff

For her dedication to promoting women’s rights, Rachel Kinney earned the Salbi Commencement Award for Leadership and Advocacy, named for Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International and this weekend’s commencement speaker at Rice.

For the first time, Rice will present an award in the commencement speaker’s name to a graduating student whose work best serves the humanitarian issues represented by the speaker.


“I’m honestly shocked at this great honor and really touched that people nominated me for it,” said Kinney, a Wiess College history major studying women, gender and sexuality. She will receive the award at a dinner with Salbi and Rice President David Leebron May 8.

A native of Arlington, Va., Kinney has dedicated many hours during her senior year working with the Houston Area Women’s Center and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline through a partnership between Rice and the agencies.

Wiess College President Alex Bonnel, one of several to nominate Kinney for the award, wrote of her commitment to “reach out to women who are suffering in silence.”

“I have witnessed her compassion, understanding and advocacy for issues affecting women. She has been a very vocal leader in addressing sexism at our college,” he wrote.

Others have encountered Kinney’s passion working with Rice for Peace, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and ADVANCE, a Rice organization that promotes gender neutrality across campus, but with a particular focus on the schools of science and engineering.

Michael Gustin, professor of biochemistry and cell biology, wrote in his nomination letter about Kinney’s work in the Balkans on a junior-year trip to examine gender and transformation post-conflict. “She was able to see the peace-building process in action and watch women heal themselves, their families and their society after ethnic cleansing and a mass war-rape campaign. She spent a month in Bosnia interviewing and researching women studying Islam and their use of the religion as a way to peace and equality.”

Kinney will spend this summer working along similar lines, as part of the Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill, N.C., a community service organization run by the Episcopalian Service Corps. There, she’ll work with the homeless while gaining skills in community organization and grant writing. “I’ll get to do my own project at the end of the program in the spring, so it’s real exciting,” she said.

“I know I want to make changes, but I don’t know how I will fit into the world, so next year will be about getting hands-on experience,” Kinney said. “Working a job and getting skills will help me figure out whether I want to keep working or go to social-work school; also, I’m thinking about seminary. This will be a year to figure out what my next step is.”

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.