As colleges and universities across the country take a hard look at ways to improve diversity, equity and inclusion on their campuses, the University of Kansas this year chose to award some students and faculty engaged in the effort.
On Thursday, KU announced the recipients of the university’s first Diversity Leadership Awards from its Office of Diversity and Equity. A student, a faculty member and one group received the honors, which recognize the contributions of people who have advanced dialogue and change related to diversity, equity and inclusion at KU.
“The work these Jayhawks do is a gift to this institution,” Nate Thomas, vice provost for diversity and equity, said in a statement Thursday.
“Their efforts often supplement the more formal programs of KU and also personalize social justice work in a way that makes it more accessible and relatable to people all across campus,” Thomas said. “Their inspiration and participation is crucial to KU’s progress.”
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A seven-member committee chaired by an eighth nonvoting member reviewed nominations for the award and selected the recipients.
The Office of Diversity and Equity presented three awards:
▪ Jyleesa Hampton is a graduate student, a graduate teaching assistant in communication studies and an assistant coach for KU Debate. Hampton was a member of the two-member team last year that became the first all African-American female team to represent KU at the National Debate Tournament and was named National Debater of the Year.
In 2014, Hampton was a McNair scholar — an academic program that assists low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority undergraduates as they prepare for doctoral study — and completed a research project that was a case study of African-American women and their interactions with police.
University officials said Hampton “has worked to raise consciousness about issues of equity, diversity and inclusion in the campus community. She has actively promoted opportunities within the debate team for women, people of color and individuals with diverse gender identity.”
▪ The faculty winner is Shawn Alexander, associate professor of African and African-American studies and director of the Langston Hughes Center at KU. The Langston Hughes Center, which Alexander has led since 2008, serves as a hub of critical examination of black culture, history, literature, politics and social relations.
In addition to teaching and mentoring underrepresented students, Alexander also serves as co-chairman of the Langston Hughes Visiting Professorship Committee, used to recruit minority faculty to KU.
▪ The group award recipient went to the KU Interactive Theatre Troupe. The troupe is made up of student actors, writers and directors who are dedicated to using improvisational theater and performance to help campus groups and units deal civilly with challenging issues about difference.
When campus protests led by the student group Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk erupted at KU last year to raise awareness of invisibility, inequity and systemic inequality experienced by many students of color, the Interactive Theatre Troupe stepped up to help the campus community engage in dialogues about race.
The Interactive Theatre Troupe was called by several campus units to create productive, interactive theater programming on such topics as gender identities and pronoun usage, Black Lives Matter, religious diversity and equity, concealed-carry weapons on university campuses, sexual harassment and discrimination.
The university said that during the past academic year, nearly 1,500 KU students, faculty, staff and administrators took part in a troupe performance training.