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2016 Diversity Awards Winners

Nine recipients were recognized during the 2016 University Awards for their significant contributions to the enhancement, support and/or furtherance of diversity at Carolina and in the community. The group of winners for this prestigious award was comprised of faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, an alumnus, student organization, department and community member. Each of these devotees to social justice had gone above and beyond their assigned duties to demonstrate advocacy for diversity, equity and inclusion of underrepresented groups.

The ceremony, held beneath the shallow cupola of the elegant State Dining Room of the Morehead Planetarium, opened with Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice Chancellor Dr. Taffye Benson Clayton’s remarks.  “Diversity, inclusion and inclusive excellence are top of mind topics nationally and across campus this year, in particular,” she said.  “With the prominence of diversity related topics on college campuses and beyond, this year’s awards are especially important, [as they] acknowledge the contributions of those who are fostering inclusive excellence and promoting a campus climate where every member of the community may thrive and be appreciated.”

Chancellor Carol L. Folt, quoting journalist Stuart Scott, stated, “Diversity means understanding” and observed that Carolina’s “continuous aspiration” towards having difficult conversations and observing self-critique will allow Carolina to make real change.  “The more we have differing voices, the better we will be.”

Indeed, the voices belonging to the winners have been heard loud and clear as they have paved a path of commitment to the advancement of cultural diversity and inclusion at UNC or in the community:

Rosa Perelmuter (Faculty) is a professor of Spanish American Literature at UNC and the current director of the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP).  In both her teaching and her writing, the topic of diversity has been key, as her classes incorporate authors – whether colonial or contemporary – who grapple with the construction of new identities and nationalities, allowing for ethnic, racial and/or religious difference.  Perelmuter’s own experience with diversity as a Jewish-Cuban-American woman living the United States often serves to connect students to their own diversity.  “Coming from Cuba was difficult and I felt different as a minority,” Perelmuter acknowledged.  “I seek to make everyone in our class think about ways in which they are diverse and to treasure that and appreciate it in others.  Through the MURAP program, I can bring others like myself to Carolina.”

The Carolina Postdoc Program for Faculty Diversity (Department) is one of the oldest higher education diversity programs in the country, having developed postdoctoral scholars from underrepresented groups since 1983. Originally called the Carolina Black Scholars Program, CPPFD began in response to a shortage of minority faculty and started with one postdoctoral fellow in the School of Medicine.  CPPFD’s mission to develop scholars from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups for possible tenure track appointments at UNC and other research universities has remained its aim.  Dr. Sibby Anderson Thompkins, accepting on behalf of the department, recalled, “When I was an undergrad student here in the ‘80s and president of the BSM, I always wanted to have someone who looked like me in the classroom for me to model myself after.  Mentoring students is a team effort of recruitment, nurturing, and support…and an honor.”

Sara Khan (Undergraduate) is a senior from Burlington, North Carolina who will be graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a Biology BS and a Global Studies BA.  She is the chair of publicity and public relations for UNC’s Muslim Students Association (MSA), and represents MSA in the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs Forum and on the Muslim Inclusion Task force.  Her goal for MSA is to increase its engagement with other campus organizations and with the town of Chapel Hill so that more people can learn about and learn from the Muslim American experience.  “Being a member of UNC MSA has allowed me to grow and learn about myself,” she told the audience.  “The Chapel Hill shooting Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha was the main reason I joined MSA – to ensure that the community that had taken care of me had space to grow and heal after this.”

Jeremy McKellar (Undergraduate) is a senior from Greensboro, North Carolina who will be graduating with an Information Science BS.  He is the President of the Black Student Movement (BSM), one of the largest cultural organizations on campus.  A photographer for UNC’s The Daily Tar Heel, he assisted in the execution of the first annual MLK I Have a Dream Photo campaign.  He has also served as an Activity Advisor for Project Uplift and a counselor for Uplift Plus, a diversity program for rising seniors in High School.  In addition to being a student leader and holding a campus job as a Computing Consultant for Carolina’s ResNET, he has also launched McKellar’s View Photography, for which he is the visionary director.  “I’m trying to make Carolina a better place in general and leave the world a better place,” he said.  “Let’s take racial tension…and leave hate at the door.  We’re doing this for ourselves and those around us.  We have much work to do and many changes to be made…but we’re gonna be alright.”

Frank Tillman (Graduate) majored in Interpersonal and Organizational Communications Studies and minored in Chemistry when he was an undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill.  He developed a keen interest in serving underserved communities and became involved in the Minority Student Recruitment Committee (MSRC), the Sleep Out for the Homeless Initiative, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated, and founded an organization entitled Undergraduate Students for Diversity in Pharmacy.  In addition to being a Ronald McNair Scholar, Frank was also an organizer of the Hurston Hall movement, which urged university officials to contextualize the history of Saunders Hall to provide a more inclusive environment for the Carolina community.  As a first year doctoral student in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, his commitment to diversity and inclusion remains a priority.  He is the President-elect for the Student Health Action Coalition, and is working on a feasibility student to enroll Spanish-speaking only persons into a text message platform as a means of enhancing medication adherence.  “Make sure that you understand the identity you own and welcome it,” he advised, “but leave room for others to have their identities around you, also.”

Terri Phoenix (Staff) is the Director of UNC’s LGBTQ Center, where T’s work is a life passion and mission.  T has served on numerous committees, including the transgender advisory board for the NC ACLU, the Provost’s Committee on LGBT Life, the UNC Gender Based Violence Prevention Task Force, and the Chief Diversity Officer Diversity Cabinet.  Outside of UNC, Terri has served on the Executive board for the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals and has been invited to present at local, regional and national conferences.  “When I first started doing social justice work in the 1980s around apartheid, I felt very small and insignificant against people like Nelson Mandela,” recalled Phoenix.  “History remembers the big names, but the people on the ground making change every day have a tremendous impact.”

The Minority Health Conference Committee (of the Minority Student Caucus) (Student Organization) aims to raise awareness around health disparities and mobilize students, academics, and community members to take action for change.  Launched in 1977 by the Minority Student Caucus, the conference is nationally recognized and respected.  This year’s theme, “In Solidarity: The Role of Public Health in Social Justice,” highlighted opportunities for public health researchers, practitioners, and social justice advocates to learn from each other to identify best practices for prioritizing minority health and fostering inclusive strategies for change.  The conference recognized social justice as an ongoing process that challenges the roots of injustice and oppression and seeks the fair distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities through community empowerment and collaborative action.  Committee co-Chairs, Anna Dardick and Giuliana Morales, accepted on behalf of the planning committee, noting triumphantly, “Looking around this room, we must be doing something right – so many of you took part in the workshops and presentations during the Conference!”  They then reiterated their mission: “Health is the way oppressive systems directly affect us and we must address these systems at the root.”

Hudson Vaughan (Alumni) is the Deputy director and a co-founder of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, a public history and community development center.  A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Hudson graduated from Chapel Hill Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.  A member of the Order of the Golden Fleece and a Robertson Scholar, Hudson traveled extensively as an undergraduate, learned about international peace and justice work in Israel, the Palestinian territory, India, South Korea, and South Africa.  In 2008, inspired by the oral histories of Mrs. Marian Cheek Jackson, he joined with UNC and community colleagues to found a center dedicated to preserving the future of Northside.  Recently, he took part in creating the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, a multi-million dollar housing initiative aimed at retaining long-time neighbors, providing affordable housing opportunities for families, and ensuring a diverse future for Chapel Hill’s most historic community.  “The work of the Jackson Center is ground in justice,” Vaughan noted.  “We aim to create a legacy.”

Rev. Dr. William Barber (Community Member) serves as President of the North Carolina NAACP, is a board member of the national NAACP, and has previous served as Executive Director of the Human Relations Commission for North Carolina.  Under his leadership, the NAACP developed a new 21st century voter registration and voter participation system that has registered more than 442,000 new voters nationwide and provided access to 1.5 million voters.  Rev. Barber is the convener of the Forward Together and the HKonJ People’s Assembly.  Working with local, state, and national leaders, he has helped to lead the fight for voter rights, just redistricting, health care reform, labor and worker rights, protection of immigration rights, reparation for women survivors of Eugenics, release of the Wilmington Ten, and educational equality.  Al McSurely, former NAACP general counsel and currently with the Moral Fusion movement, accepted on behalf of Rev. Barber, who was on a speaking tour.  “I am also accepting this award for the 1,150 Moral Monday arrestees – 300 from Orange County, Chapel Hill, and for all 20,000 members of NAACP in this state and 225 partners who are part of the Forward Together Moral Movement,” he said.  Referring to HB2 as “Hate Bill 2” and “Hypocrisy and Bigoted 2,” he said of working with Rev. Barber in his fight for LGBTQ equity, “It’s important to remember the unique route to a militant but peaceful role a black man can play today.  Anti-racism is the center pole of humanity in NC and he was able to break down the wall against racism and build a movement.”

Providing a perfect coda for the evening, Vice Chancellor Felicia Washington, in her closing remarks, quoted Maya Angelou.  “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter their color.”

— by Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs

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