Recipients of the 2017 University Diversity Awards
The Pleasants Family Room in the Wilson Library was filled to capacity for the 2017 University Diversity Awards, during which individuals or groups across eight categories were honored for their work in furthering diversity across the Carolina community and beyond. Just one day after Carolina became NCAA champions for the sixth time, a winning sense still permeated the air as winners in Diversity took to the lectern to share their thoughts on progress made (and yet to be made) in that arena.
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost James Dean set the tone fittingly in his opening remarks, as he likened us to a basketball team, made up of individuals who come together as a team with a common purpose that transcends their differences to achieve a greater good…and whose differences make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. As Carolina fans, we are bound together by a shared identity – we’re all Tar Heels. “At Carolina, diversity is not a talking point or a statistic,” he said. “It’s a seat at the table, a voice in the room and a hand in the decision.”
The recipients of this year’s University Diversity Awards exemplify the superior efforts to ensure our school’s mission to continue to build a diverse and inclusive campus community and culture. This year, the Awards Committee employed a blind procedure in the review and selection process in an effort to reduce unintended bias. Each nomination was “de-identified,” allowing the committee to focus on giving consideration only to the contributions and achievements of the nominees.
“This year’s recipients combined caring, creativity and hard work to develop projects that helped people at Carolina, in our neighboring communities and across our state,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Their wide range of projects, focused on diversity and inclusion, shows how getting involved can make a difference in people’s lives. I am very proud of the example they set, demonstrating what it means to be a great public university.”
Interim Chief Diversity Office and Special Assistant to the Chancellor Rumay Alexander was particularly proud of the recipients this year. “When we take the time to better understand people, we put them in a better position to flourish,” she said. “This year’s winner’s personify how that can be done.”
The first recipient, Mark Katz, received the Faculty Award. The Ruel W. Tyson Jr. Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, teaches in the Department of Music and is also the Director for the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UNC-Chapel Hill. Presenter Jennifer Ho, Professor of English & Comparative Literature and Associate Director of the Institute, described Katz as “being absolutely inclusive in who belongs at IAH. As a campus leader, he has modeled for others what an administrator and faculty member can do by taking serious the charge to be always mindful that we want to not just create opportunities, but actively encourage the minoritized among us to have a voice and a seat at the table.”
Addressing the audience, Katz described himself as a “privileged white guy with tenure, employment and funding” and suggested, “others in positions of privilege should step up and listen to those who are suffering from injustice and help. You’ll realize how little you have to lose and how much we all have to gain.”
The Staff Award, presented by DeVetta Holman Nash, Assistant Director of Student Wellness, went to Dexter Robinson, Academic Advisor within the College of Arts and Sciences. Nash noted that Robinson, part of the first cohort of Carolina College Advising Corps and Co-Founder of Carolina United, believes in meeting students where they are, and empowering them to make decisions once they understand all of their options and resources.
Robinson humbly noted, “I’m quite quiet and didn’t prepare any remarks because, realistically, I’m doing my job. I’m an alumnus and this is just part of being a Tar Heel.”
Kenneth Ward and Rumay Alexander
Michael Dominguez, Assistant Professor in the School of Education, presented the Alumni Award to Kenneth Ward (class of 1984), who taught public school for 15 years and currently serves as the executive director of College Bound in Washington, DC. His work there has equipped inner city males and females with the skills they need to be successful in life and has given hope to many young people that are not only underserved, but also hopeless.
Ward, following so soon after Robinson’s understated delivery, boldly announced, “Like Dexter, this is my work and I feel like I shouldn’t say anything…but that’s just not my personality!” After much laughter from the audience, he gave thanks to the Committee and others, singling out his mother and grandmother, in particular, for encouraging self-pride and ensuring that he was well educated. “I became valedictorian and understood that this blackness was not why I was here, but my mind was why I’m here…and I’m brilliant!” he quipped. “I try to pass this on to people so they feel good about themselves, no matter their weight, their gender, whatever,” he added. “I’m of the first generation to go to college and complete it, so I know the challenges and that’s why I do this work. People still are made to feel that they don’t belong, so we work to change that. It’s what we do when no one’s looking.”
Monica Richard, Orange County Human Relations Commission Chair, presented two awards: the Community Member Award and the Community Organization Award. The Community Member Award recipient, Rev. Ryan Spurrier, of UNC Wesley, ensures that the origins of denominations founded by African Americans are presented and has facilitated open and frank conversations about LGBTQ issues in his church services. A nominator wrote, “UNC Wesley’s worship services have incorporated elements that speak to the lived experiences of homelessness and humanize the people students see each time they walk down Franklin. Ryan has crafted sermons that include homelessness as topics and has challenged students to reflect on their own privilege and consider what they can do to help neighbors in need.”
Upon receiving his award, Rev. Spurrier joked, “I hope you didn’t get hung up on the fact that I earned my degree at Duke!” As the laughter subsided, he noted, “Diversity begins in selfishness. Looking deeply inside ourselves to know what we have to offer…and to know what we lack and need to receive allows us to look at each relationship with equal sharing so that each person can thrive and life can be full. Students wrestle with questions of justice, so this is a reminder of the opportunity that we have every day to speak to the lives of students who are changing the world.”
The Black Alumni Reunion was lauded for its development from a modest group to a model reunion, consistently benchmarked by universities across the nation for its methods of engagement and fundraising, and its ability to provide funds for merit-based scholarships to Carolina’s first-year African-American students. Regina Newell Stephens, Chair for last year’s BAR, noted, “Last night, during the game, as the camera spanned celebrations around the country and we saw face after face of people who shared a passion for our school, we didn’t notice our differences – we saw a Tar Heel and loved them just for that.” As the audience nodded in agreement, she shared that BAR has grown so much since its earliest beer keg iteration in the 1980s. “Well over 1,000 alumni unite every year to celebrate culture and shared experiences, but it’s so much more than a weekend party. Every year, we celebrate support and lift up current students with scholarships and networking. Each one reaches as many as we can.”
The Graduate Student Award followed, with April D. Aviles, a Master’s student at the School of Public Health, presenting the award to Stephen Krueger, a Master’s student at the School of Information and Library Science, where he is the graduate representative on the Diversity Committee and leader of the school’s diversity group, Checked Out. Krueger has leveraged these positions to promote the Diversity Advocate Certificate and ensure a more welcoming space for LGBTQ+ students. He has also worked with faculty and administrators to develop a special topics course on Information Services in a Diverse Society, which was added to the curriculum.
Upon receiving his award, Krueger said, “Social justice work feels like shouting into a void…but visibility matters and this recognition goes a long way towards making us feel less alone in our work and identities.” Then Krueger, who is transgender, made it personal. “There are elements of state and national issues that drives us towards invisibility…this is a state whose laws do not respect my humanity.” It is the demonstration of UNC’s own faculty that gives him hope. “I’ve seen the Dean of my own program celebrate freedom of speech by reading a book aloud about transgender teenagers. I feel seen…and it means a lot. Visibility matters.”
The Undergraduate Award was delivered by business administration major Thomas Shockley to Johnny Vang, a first-generation student, Carolina Covenant scholar, and son of refugees. Vang is community chair for the Health Careers Club, a member of the multicultural outreach and diversity executive committee for the Student Government Association, and works with the Health on the Block project, the Carolina Higher Education Opportunities Program and the North Carolina Health Careers Access Program to help low-income families, historically disadvantaged, and cultural minorities fight against health care disparities. Vang told the audience, “Today, we come together at a crossroads between war and peace, between disorder and integration, between fear and hope. The calling for unity on this campus, community, state and nation grows louder, but we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we do it together. We come from different places and speak with different tongues, but our hearts beat as one.”
Donna Dixon, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and Electronic Resources Librarian at the Law Library, proudly presented the Department Award to her colleagues in the UNC Center for Civil Rights for their commitment to the advancement of civil rights and social justice, especially in the American South. The center focuses on education, housing and community development, economic justice, environmental justice, voting rights, and civic engagement. It also recognizes the importance of training a new generation of lawyers who believe in and understand the efficacy and centrality of law in eliminating racial inequality. Director Ted Shaw spoke for the group (Mark Dorosin, Elizabeth M. Haddix, Jennifer Watson Marsh, and Brent J. Ducharme) as they stood at the lectern. “I thank the Carolina community for the special place that the Center holds in the hearts of many Tar Heels.” He then pivoted to reference the fire the group has come under lately. “This is the 39th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. America has come view him in a kind of reverence that makes it appear that everyone supported him. Everybody didn’t,” he pointed out. “I think about that as we go through what we’re going through now. Some people will demonize us and mischaracterize us as a result, but we’re on the right side of history and the right side of right.”
Finally, Roy Hawke, Clinical Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy presented the Special Recognition Award to Christopher Wallace, manager of the Communiversity Youth Program. Wallace overcame the adversity of growing up in one of the state’s poorest and most crime-ridden communities in Fayetteville, NC with his father. With the help of various community support systems, he overcame this adversity through academic excellence. This inspired him to dedicate his time to helping youth and young adults identify their gifts, bridge achievement gaps and become better versions of themselves. Through his work with Communiversity, the Spirit of Excellence Tutorial Program, the YMCA, the National Youth Sports Program, Upward Bound, Project Effort, Eastside Park Community Center, Project Life Academy and the “Real Men Read” project, he has touched the lives of countless individuals and inspired them to succeed.
Wallace humbly thanked all those who modeled what a commitment to service looked like as he was growing up. “The expectation for people who looked like me would not have me receiving this award for his service to others,” he said. “The award should serve as an inspirational model of hope and dedication for the work that we’re doing in the community and for the students…Life is about how you impact others and make them feel, so it’s important to encourage others to succeed and have the audacity to be great.”
To close out the presentational segment of the ceremony, Ada Wilson, director of Inclusive Student Excellence, announced and introduced the undergraduate recipients of the Harvey Beech Scholarship (named for the first African American student to graduate from UNC, in 1952) — Nicole Ward, Afi Bello and Marquise Drayton — for “giving in the classroom academically, and also to the community.”
Vice Chancellor Felicia A. Washington’s closing remarks had the audience pondering why we celebrate diversity and honor people who make our lives richer. Riffing off of the recipients’ speeches, she noted that we get motivated by people “just doing their jobs” and that “You have to be selfish to make the biggest difference [because] if we walk around aware of who we are – warts included – we are open to receiving.” She ended by reminding us all that “Diversity should be part of the fabric – a thread in all that we do” and that “Diversity is not just being invited to the party, but being equipped, enabled and encouraged to dance once you get there.”
Thanking interim Chief Diversity Officer Rumay Alexander for “tirelessly running toward every diversity concern and opportunity at the University,” Washington then invited the audience to enjoy the pitch perfect blend of voices provided by a cappella student group, Harmonyx. The audience was swept to tears with the group’s poignant delivery of “I Feel Like Going On,” inspired by “Rise Up,” charmed by “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” engaged in a singalong with “Killing Me Softly” and absolutely wowed by “Thank you.” It was a beautiful end to the Diversity Awards – audience members of every background and experience united by an appreciation of the performance, a dedication to diversity, and a passion for ensuring that Carolina continues its work toward equity and inclusion for ALL of its community.
- Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs