Illinois State University has long been committed to celebrating and recognizing diversity efforts and initiatives. The first awards ceremony, the African/Latin American Recognition and Achievement Ceremony, started in 1988. Nine years later, the ceremony transitioned into the Celebration of Achievement, sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs/Multicultural Center, with the theme “Excellence in a World of Adversity.” Dennis Rahim Watson, currently the CEO and president of the National Youth and Gang Violence Task Force, spoke at the Sunday ceremony in 1997 along with alumni John Davila ’94, and Stacey Evans ’94.

The 1997 ceremony recognized students of color, graduating seniors and individuals who excelled academically, outstanding organizations and motivational student leaders along with faculty and staff whose efforts motivated students of color to excel. That ceremony transitioned into the Minority Recognition Ceremony, which then became the current Commitment to Diversity Awards Ceremony.

This year’s ceremony featured alumnus James Ford Jr. ’03 presenting the keynote address. Ford, a social studies teacher in Rockford, has served as the executive director of Connected Ministries and nCENTER. He spearheaded an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign and served as a board member of Diversity of Rockford, a GLBT advocacy organization. Ford also is on the ministerial staff of Allen Chapel AME Church in Rockford.

Diversity Advocacy Coordinator Angela Davenport said the awards have evolved to recognize research and leadership in the area of diversity, a broader and more holistic focus that is aligned with the Educating Illinois core values. A committee of faculty, staff and students conduct a blind review of award applications. Nine students, faculty and staff received awards this year. To see photographs of the award recipients, click on awards.

Lauren McGing received the Undergraduate Legacy of Leadership Award. McGing has been involved with Alternative Spring Break for several years, served as a Passages orientation leader and participated in LeaderShape, On Common Grounds, Diversity Retreat, Social Justice Institute and the Leadership Revolution.

Tamekia Veal received the Graduate Legacy of Leadership Award for her work with the Success 101 program for at-risk freshmen, coordination of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program and management of the faculty-student mentorship program.

Urban Needs in Teacher Education (UNITE) received the Registered Student Organization Award for the group’s efforts to provide underrepresented students with a supplemental source of support, advocacy and leadership development. UNITE has weekly meetings focusing on race, language and culture in urban schools and business/organizing meetings. UNITE has planned a 43-hour professional development, fundraising and consciousness-raising initiative to create awareness about and develop strategies for helping reduce the 43 percent dropout rate in the Chicago public schools. Maura Toro-Morn, Sociology-Anthropology professor and director of Latin American and Latino/a Studies, received the Outstanding Faculty Award for her commitment to student development; mentoring; course content dealing with race, gender and social class inequality; service on the Recruitment and Retention Committee and Campus Diversity Dialogue Committee; and promotion of education programs and initiatives across campus and the community.

Maria Luisa Zamudio received the Outstanding Staff Award for her service on departmental committees that help with resources and activities about Latino issues, her membership on the Illinois Latino Council for Higher Education and her work developing close relationships with community colleges to assist with the high transfer rates of Latinos to four-year colleges. Zamudio is pursuing her Ph.D. in educational administration and foundations.

Breaking Barriers received the Outstanding New Program Award. It is an initiative to help increase under-served populations in the criminal justice profession. The program consists of women and minority criminal justice executives who meet to discuss unique issues faced by women and minorities in the criminal justice field. Breaking Barriers also brings alumni and current students together to help new and veteran professionals advance in their field.

The Women’s and Gender Studies Research Symposium received the Outstanding Established Program Award for their 15 years of excellence in bringing speakers to campus to address issues about the interdisciplinary intersections of gender, race, class, nation, ability and sexuality. This year’s Symposium featured the “Beggars and Choosers” lecture series and photography exhibit exploring the cultural representations of motherhood. The program improved cultural awareness by offering a visual and historical response to stereotypes about poor mothers.

Jason Vasquez received the Partner in Diversity Award for leadership development of the Diversity Advocacy ex-officio student groups, staff facilitation of the fall Diversity Retreat, and serving as an agent of change for resources and friendship to countless students.