A former academic, Leslie Nickerson cites graduate school as her point of entry into organizing and justice work. She received her Master of Arts degree in English from St. Bonaventure University in 2011 and went on to pursue doctoral study at the University at Buffalo, and she has taught undergraduate courses in composition, rhetoric, and English literature at several colleges and universities across Western New York. As a graduate teaching assistant and adjunct faculty member, she was quick to recognize and call out the precarious living and working conditions she and other contingent academic workers experienced, such as low wages and lack of job security that led many of her colleagues to teach 5 or more courses per semester at multiple academic institutions in order to afford the basics like rent and groceries. After becoming a mother in 2015, she began advocating for affordable childcare and on-campus accommodations such as lactation spaces for parenting students, as well as paid parental leave for graduate student workers and contingent faculty. She has over a decade of grassroots organizing experience, beginning with leadership roles in labor and environmental organizing campaigns with the Buffalo Adjunct Movement, the UB Living Stipend Movement, and the UB Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research (UB CLEAR).
After becoming increasingly disillusioned with the exploitation within academia, Nickerson made the decision to withdraw from the PhD program in order to pursue full-time work in grassroots organizing. She joined the staff of VOICE-Buffalo in November 2016, where she served for three years as Internal Organizer for both VOICE and Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH). She then served as Executive Director of NOAH from March 2020-June 2022, where she served as a founding member of the Niagara Falls Health Equity Task Force and worked with teams of community leaders to advocate for participatory budgeting for the American Rescue Plan Act municipal funds in Niagara Falls. She is excited to join the Open Buffalo team as Director of Leadership Development, a role which combines her longtime commitment to economic, racial, and environmental organizing with her passion for developing the skills and leadership of community members.
Nickerson currently serves on the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Western New York Chapter. She is an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, where she teaches in the Religious Education program, sings in the choir, and plays fiddle and mountain dulcimer in the house string band.