Social Work graduate Kotomi Yokokura leaves lasting impact on UKs campus 

Kotomi Yokokura is an exceptional student whose substantial impact on and off campus has left the University of Kentucky a better place.

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Lexington, KY (April 24, 2024) – As Kotomi Yokokura prepares to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky, she leaves behind a remarkable legacy of service and advocacy.  

Yokokura’s journey of impact began early in her college career when she founded the “Take a Tampon” initiative. This drive aimed to alleviate period poverty on campus and beyond, reflecting her dedication to addressing often-overlooked needs that affect mental, physical, and academic well-being.  

“As a social work major, I’ve used negative community reactions not as setbacks, but as motivators to intensify my efforts,” she explained. “These challenges push me to demonstrate the significant impact of social work and to enter fields like policy research where social work is typically underrepresented. My goal is to continue to dismantle the prevalent misconceptions and highlight the universal benefits that social work can bring to all areas.” 

Yokokura’s advocacy efforts have not been limited to the University of Kentucky’s campus; she has expanded the “Take a Tampon” initiative into a 501(c)(3) organization to serve middle and high schools, as well as homeless shelters throughout Kentucky. Her commitment to community service also includes impactful research on key societal issues. 

She has become a prominent champion of sexual assault awareness and prevention, motivated by her deep commitment and bravery. Yokokura’s compelling testimony helped pass Kentucky House Bill 288 through the General Assembly in 2023. This legislation strengthens legal protections for sexual assault survivors and showcases Kotomi’s commitment to the broad impact of social work. 

Yokokura shared her broader perspective on her advocacy work, noting, “Interestingly, while many of my advocacy efforts often directly affect women, I hadn’t set out to target women’s issues or rights. Instead, my passion for proactively working to achieve change stems from the stigmas often associated with these experiences. I understand societal stigmas can lead topics to be overlooked—increasing the need for leaders and action.” 

Along with her impressive advocacy work, Yokokura has had equally significant experiences in academic research opportunities at the University. 

She assisted with research on the migration of those experiencing homelessness in relation to community services available alongside Andrew Sullivan, Ph.D., (a graduate of the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration) and completed a study on the perceptions and utilization of social support among men experiencing homelessness alongside Natalie Pope, Ph.D., (CoSW).” This study was recently published in the Journal of Social Distress and Homelessness. 

Yokokura has another published article in “Cityscape“, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Journal on Policy and Developmental Research. Additionally, she contributed to a survey research project through the UK Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment that explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted college students’ psychosocial health, formal and informal support utilization, employment, food insecurity, and social behaviors, which was published by the Georgia Journal of College Student Affairs.  

Kotomi is also part of the Chellgren Student Fellowship program at UK and the Nu Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) Leadership Honor Society. Recently, Kotomi received the Maurice A. Clay award for an Outstanding Graduate Senior in ODK. 

“The faculty I have had the pleasure of working with have gone out of their way to empower my pursuits in the field of research, nonprofit work and advocacy.” Kotomi shared. “Without these individuals, I would not be where I am today.” 

As she reflects on her time at the university, Yokokura’s story is not just one of personal achievement but a call to action for all students to realize that regardless of their field of study, their voices and efforts can indeed make a significant difference.  

“I’m really looking forward to this next step in my life,” Yokokura said about heading into the next phase of her academic journey. “The environment at UK has not only nurtured my academic growth but has also been a crucible for my development as a leader committed to service and change. It has been an honor to work alongside the amazing students, faculty, and staff at UK and I hope to continue to collaborate with my community to create a lasting impact.” 

As Yokokura walks across the commencement stage, the effects of her work will undoubtedly continue to resonate, inspiring current and future students to also lead with compassion and an unwavering commitment to service. 

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For 85 years, the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW) has been a leader in social work education. As a college, we promote community and individual well-being through translational research and scholarship, exemplary teaching, and vital community engagement. We are committed to the people and social institutions throughout Kentucky, the nation, and the world. Like the University, CoSW is an organization that cultivates a diverse academic community characterized by interpersonal fairness and social justice. We are fiercely committed to developing outstanding social work professionals — leaders who will serve individuals, families, and communities through innovative and effective practices that are guided by cultural competency, systematic ethical analysis, and a keen and pragmatic understanding of the human condition.