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KU community remembers Professor Toni Johnson

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas community is mourning the death of Toni Johnson, associate professor of social welfare, who died Jan. 7 in Austin, Texas. She was 59.

Johnson, whose area of study was children’s mental health, began her career at KU in 2005 as an assistant professor. She was a lead investigator from 2009-10 and became an associate professor in 2012. She received her master’s and doctorate in social work from the University of Texas-Austin and a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. She also had worked as a therapist, trainer and program coordinator for disadvantaged individuals and families.

Paul Smokowski, dean of the School of Social Welfare, noted Johnson’s commitment to social justice.

“She sought to design and evaluate programs, such as child asset accounts, meant to help disadvantaged families move out of poverty,” he said. “The social welfare community mourns her loss and will miss her.”

Staff from the Center on Assets, Education and Inclusion cited Johnson’s work as an AEDI faculty associate and her early work on New Mexico’s Prosperity Kids Children’s Savings Accounts research as examples of her dedication to the field.

Johnson’s teaching accolades included a W.T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in 2010 and the Gene A. and Gretchen Budig Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2012. With Anne Williford, she co-chaired the Minority Scholars Program, mentoring first-generation students as well as students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.

“She was a valued colleague as well, on our research teams and as a mentor to new faculty,” said Alice Lieberman, professor of social welfare.

“Dr. Toni Johnson was a beloved member of the School community from 2005 until her passing this month; she embraced us all with her love, acceptance, and unending enthusiasm for all things Jayhawk,” said Margaret Severson, professor of social welfare.

“We are saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Toni Johnson, who was known to many at our university for her outstanding research and service, for being a fantastic educator and for her commitment to social justice,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “On behalf of the entire KU community, we send our condolences to her family, friends and colleagues, and we wish them comfort during this difficult time.”

Services and visitation took place Jan. 16 in Austin.

Expert instruction in Arabic, Kiswahili, and Wolof at the beginning and intermediate levels will be offered over eight weeks in June-July 2018.

Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowships

The Kansas African Studies Center has received $140,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to launch public discussions, community programming, and the creation of educational resources in local communities to discuss the challenges and opportunities surrounding recent demographic changes in the region. Visit to learn more. 

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