Nystrom to receive 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award

Author: Hannah Heinzekehr

Brittney Nystrom, a 1998 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, has been selected to receive the Kroc Institute’s 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award. Nystrom currently serves as the Executive Director for the ACLU of Utah, and has spent her career focused on increasing fairness within national and legal systems. 

Nystrom will be presented with the award and deliver a lecture titled “Overcoming Intersections of Oppression: Immigrant and Racial Justice in the U.S.” on Friday, October 8, 2021, at 12:00 p.m. The lecture will take place virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Established in 2004, the Distinguished Alumni Award honors a graduate of the Kroc Institute whose career and life exemplifies the ideals of international peacebuilding. The award committee was impressed with Nystrom’s “commitment to promoting human rights, advocacy on behalf of refugees and migrants,” as well as her focus on racial justice including through police reform, and protecting vulnerable communities.

After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in anthropology and peace studies,Nystrom was drawn to direct service work and began a term with AmeriCorps in Madison, Wisconsin. Her work as an employment counselor at a community center exposed her to many of the struggles and injustices inherent in the U.S. criminal justice system.

“This work made me interested in reforming the policies and institutions I was working within,” said Nystrom. “I was just getting frustrated with having to tell people over and over again that they weren’t going to get a job or we had limited resources to help them.”

This desire led her to law school at Northwestern University, and then on to a number of roles working on national immigration reform and policy in Washington, D.C., with organizations including the National Immmigration Forum and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.  

This work in the policy world eventually culminated in a move to the ACLU of Utah, where her work still includes immigration advocacy, but also many diverse efforts to advocate for most just policies. Although there is no shortage of issues that could fall under the ACLU umbrella, Nystrom notes that the organization has identified some priority issues to focus its work on, and also participates in diverse coalitions across Utah who are working on civil rights-related issues. 

Nystrom sees clear connections between her work today and her peace studies education at Notre Dame, and considers receiving this award to be an “amazing honor.” She notes that while human and civil rights work often happens behind the scenes and isn’t often recognized, this award feels “inspiring and motivating.” 

“Because it feels like we are living during a time when some of our civil rights are eroding, being selected for this award gives me hope that others who work for peace are on the same side that I am,” said Nystrom. 

You can register to attend Nystrom’s Distinguished Alumni Award lecture at go.nd.edu/AlumAward21.

Contact:  Anne Hayner, Associate Director for Alumni Relations, ahayner@nd.edu 

About the Kroc Institute: The University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, is one of the world’s leading centers for the study of the causes of violent conflict and strategies for sustainable peace.