The Top Owl Social Justice Award is given to recognize contributions toward helping the university achieve its mission of creating and sustaining an inclusive community that appreciates, celebrates, and advances student and campus diversity.
This award, selected by the President’s Commission on Social Justice, will be awarded this academic year during the months of December, January, February, March, and April to recognize the contributions, leadership, and service of a worthy faculty, staff, part-time student, and full-time student.
For the month of February, the Top Owl Award winners are undergraduate student Dayana Lituma-Solis and Victoria Zigmont, assistant professor of public health.
Dayana Lituma-Solis is an undergraduate student majoring in communications disorders and, according to her nominator, is a “living embodiment of the SCSU values of Social Justice and Access.” A student representative to the Undocumented Students Support Team, she is an integral member of the team and provides valuable ideas that have been recognized by the faculty and staff members of team. Last year she led a group of students to travel to the Capitol Building in Hartford to testify in front of the Higher Education Committee to equalize access to financial aid funds for all students regardless of immigration status. She assisted in a College Access Program for ESL (English as a Second Language) students at Wilbur Cross High School. She worked under CT Students 4 A Dream, an organization that fights for immigrant rights and the rights of undocumented students throughout the state of Connecticut. As part of her work with them she delivered “Undocupeer” training for student leaders (RA’s and OA’s) at Southern.
Lituma-Solis has has served as panelist for several immigration related events for Social Justice Month, including sharing her experience as a first generation immigrant at last year’s TRUMP CARD discussion. She is the president of the Hermandad de Sigma Iota Incorporada chapter at Southern, and under that role led several voting registration drives last fall to increase voting engagement by all students, but particularly Latino students. Last fall she also volunteered to give a bilingual tour to a group of more than 50 high schoolers and parents from Bridgeport and New Haven.
As a communications disorders major, she is an active member and secretary of the Autism Awareness ad Advocacy Club. In her free time, she is a tutor for New Haven Reads and works as a research assistant for the SCSU R.E.A.D.S. lab.
Lituma-Solis’ nominator wrote, “I could go on and on about Dayana’s accomplishments and contributions to SCSU’s mission of social justice. But the truly remarkable quality about Dayana is her willingness to step out of her comfort zone to assist her peers and pave the way for students to achieve their higher education goals.
“Even though she is only 20 years old, she has developed a vast network of contacts at SCSU and the New Haven community. She has referred many students and parents to my office to make a personal connection to talk about coming to SCSU. Dayana does not get any financial benefit from helping these students apply to SCSU, yet she goes above and beyond to ensure that these prospective students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, are able to navigate the application process and make a personal connection with key people in the faculty and staff that look like them or speak the same language.”
Dr. Victoria Zigmont is committed to improving Southern’s students’ health and well-being through her work on campus and in the community. She recognizes the relationship between social justice and academic (and personal) success for Southern students. She has been involved in several initiatives that include her service on committees, leadership in projects and grant-funded research studies to reduce food insecurity among students on campus. Her efforts resulted in greater access to food and resources in a manner that protects and respects students’ privacy. She contributed to the relocation of the mobile food pantry, creation of satellite pantries housed across campus, and planning for a sustainable large pantry. She has been successful in building momentum, creating a sense of urgency, and engaging collaborators to remedy students’ food insecurity and related needs.
Dr. Zigmont also has demonstrated her commitment to student success through her involvement of graduate and undergraduate students in her research and practice in this area. She has led and engaged her students in campus-wide assessments and steps to address identified needs on campus and in the community.
Her nominator wrote that Dr. Zigmont “is committed to a mission of social justice, which is evident in all that she does. She is an exceptional role model who fully embraces her students and colleagues with dignity, respect, kindness, compassion and civility.”