Social Justice And Diversity Impact Award Winners Honored – Press Room - Ӱ State University

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Social Justice and Diversity Impact Award Winners Honored

Prizes reward students, faculty and staff who make Ӱ State University more inclusive and socially just

Posted in: Homepage News, University

Christian Warren stands at a lectern.
Student Christian Warren was recognized as Change Agent of the Year for his work in rebuilding the Black Student Union.

Five winners were recognized with Impact Awards by the Office for Social Justice and Diversity (OSJD) on May 3.

Previously known as the Inclusive Excellence Awards, the Impact Awards honor those who “aid us in our work to make for a more inclusive Ӱ State University community,” says OSJD Assistant Director Darius Edwards.

The year-end awards acknowledge undergraduate and graduate students; faculty and staff; alumni; a student organization, fraternity or sorority; and a community partner who has worked with Ӱ but is not part of the institution. 

“It’s our time to let people know that we appreciate all the support that we’ve gotten throughout the year,” Edwards says.

The event also holds a Lavender Graduation to recognize graduates who are part of the LGBTQIA+ campus community and a Rites of Passage ceremony for graduates who are students of color; the ceremonies are a celebration as both groups historically have faced challenges on the path to graduation. The Lavender Graduation was created at the University of Michigan in 1995 to acknowledge challenges many students in the LGBTQA+ community face. Each of the 47 graduates who participated received a lavender cord as part of the ceremony. This year, 87 students received red, black, green and gold cords in the Rites of Passage ceremony.

A group of students stand under balloons that spell IMPACT.
Above: Some of the Lavender Graduation students. Below: Some of the Rites of Passage graduates.
A group of students stand under balloons that spell IMPACT.

The awards are important, Edwards says, because OSJD provides educational workshops, trainings and programs to Ӱ’s Multicultural Center, Women’s Center, LGBTQ+ Center and the Center For Faith and Spirituality.

“This is not only our work to do, it really takes a village to ensure that these students are welcome and that they have outlets to express their full selves,” he says. “It’s important for us to honor and acknowledge the people across campus who are doing this inclusive work because it makes for a vast array of spaces for our students to belong.”

Weitian Wang, associate professor in the School of Computing and director of the Collaborative Robotics and Smart Systems Laboratory, was honored with the Vanguard of the Year award, which recognizes faculty or staff who have “dedicated time, actions and words to create a socially just environment in their sphere of influence in Ӱ and beyond.”

“It is an honor, and more importantly, it is also a responsibility. There is still a lot of work we need to do together to make our community more just, diverse, inclusive and equitable,” Wang says. “These are original and essential elements to make us and our community stronger.”

Wang said his team members have helped make his collaborative research lab “vibrant, diverse, inclusive and accessible.”

Weitian Wang holds an award.
Associate professor in the School of Computing and Collaborative Robotics and Smart Systems Laboratory Director Weitian Wang holds his Vanguard of the Year award.

In addition, Wang and his team work with underserved K-12 students in the Paterson, Kearny, Orange and Newark school districts to increase scientific literacy through educational robotics and AI workshops. For his work, Wang also was named an IEEE STEM Champion in 2023.

Other award recipients included the following: Graduate student Morgan McGovern was named Trailblazer of the Year for her work with OSJD and the Red Hawk Pantry; undergraduate student Christian Warren was recognized as Change Agent of the Year for his work in rebuilding the Black Student Union; the organization Students for Justice in Palestine was named Leaders in Service of the Year for bringing attention to the struggles of people in Palestine, as well as celebrating traditions and customs of Palestinians; and Community Partner and Project T.E.A. Manager at the North Jersey Community Research Initiative Imani N. Hayes was named Community Champion of the Year for her work with young adults in the region, giving them employment opportunities, getting them into safer living environments and making them feel seen for who they authentically are.

The Impact Awards are held annually at the University Hall Conference Center.

PHOTO GALLERY

Morgan McGovern with her award.
Morgan McGovern holds her Trailblazer of the Year award.
Imani N. Hayes at a lectern in front of the word IMPACT spelled with balloons.
Imani N. Hayes accepts her Community Champion of the Year honor.
Three students stand onstage with an award.
Members of the organization Students for Justice in Palestine with their Leaders in Service of the Year award.
A group of students and staff stand onstage under the word IMPACT.
Members of the Office for Social Justice and Diversity team at the Impact Awards ceremony.

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos by student photographer Kevin Murrugarra.