The Top Owl Social Justice Award is given to recognize contributions in helping the university achieve its mission of creating and sustaining an inclusive community that appreciates, celebrates, and advances student and campus diversity at Southern Connecticut State University.
The DEI Advisory Council seeks nominations for the Top Owl Social Justice Awards to be presented monthly in the 2022-2023 academic year. The Top Owls are publicly recognized on campus and receive a certificate and an honorary Social Justice pin. The awards recognize the contributions, leadership and service of deserving part-time and full-time faculty, staff, and students for upholding Southern’s core values of dignity, respect, kindness, compassion and civility. Awardees are individuals who contribute to promoting the principles of human rights, social justice and anti-racism at Southern Connecticut State University.
For the month of November 2022, the Top Owl Award honorees are undergraduate student Jae’La Rivera; Chrystal Long, a doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Supervision program; Nina Cote, university bursar in Student Accounts; and Svenja Gusewski, assistant professor in the Communication Disorders Department (CMD).
Sophomore Jae’La Rivera, a SAGE Center ambassador, secretary of the women’s studies Triota Honor Society, and volunteer in women’s and gender studies (WGS), is majoring in psychology, with a concentration in mental health and a minor in WGS. As the only undergraduate intern in WGS, she has also worked on projects helping students on campus, such as the funding of menstruation products.
After becoming aware that affording menstrual products was challenging for many students, Rivera embarked upon a campus initiative that would make menstrual products more readily available to students across campus. She, along with SGA and other campus partners, are continuing their advocacy, and Rivera is also helping do some of the research on how other campuses have approached this issue. She is currently working with university staff to develop and plan for funding, distribution, and sustainability of this project.
One of Rivera’s nominators wrote that she “worked very hard, very quickly, to raise awareness about an issue that she saw affecting other students as well as herself.” Rivera said, “This is an issue that is multifaceted; it is a class issue, it is a gender issue, a race issue. All aspects of life come raining down hard on an unavoidable part of human nature. I wanted to make sure nobody ever felt unsupported while on grounds of this campus ever again.”
Chrystal Long, a doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Supervision program, earned her master’s degree at the university a little over a decade ago. Her nominator wrote that Long, a single mother who works two jobs so that she can be part of her degree program, “has been doing powerful social justice work as a doctoral student.”
Long and her nominator co-created a presentation on “Decolonizing Trauma Counseling for QTPOC/BIPOC Clients and Students,” and Long recently presented to a full house (standing room only) at the Society for Sexual, Affectional, and Gender-Expansive Identities in Counseling, a national conference. She also provided the presentation at the Philadelphia Trauma Conference and at the Connecticut Counselor’s Association Conference.
In addition to this very important work, Long has done several local and regional presentations on the fentanyl crisis in underserved communities, both from an agency perspective and a K-12 perspective.
Long’s dissertation research focuses on the experiences of Black women counselor educators (BWCEs), and she runs a support group for Black women graduate students at Southern through the Counseling and School Psychology Department’s Social Justice and Diversity Committee.
Her nominator wrote that Long is “professionally and personally dedicated to meeting the needs of underserved and underrepresented communities, and her work should be recognized by making her a Top Owl.”
Nina Cote has been a great supporter of the food pantry, her nominator wrote. She has helped organize several campus diaper drives, collecting thousands of diapers and other baby supplies to provide to students in need. Additionally, she helped secure donations of children books in English and Spanish for patrons of the food pantry.
Cote also encourages her staff to actively participate in DEI events, oftentimes working extra time to ensure that staff members can attend DEI-related events and trainings.
Svenja Gusewski was nominated by three different individuals, all of whom spoke of how Gusewski incorporates diversity, equity, and inclusion into all elements of her work.
Gusewski devotes much of her time inside the classroom and out to addressing healthcare disparities, academic affairs related to race and gender, and educating others on social justice issues, wrote one nominator. As a professor, Gusewski builds mini-lessons into her lectures and has created coursework for the CMD department revolving around culturally-responsive care and support for bilingual families. Her academic programming of the last few years has included the Caribbean Studies‘ campus reads, bringing students into communities of color and multilingual communities across the state to conduct clinical work and learn alongside families of various backgrounds, and traveling to Peru to conduct hearing and language screenings.
This nominator added that as a faculty member, Gusewski has led department meeting activities to draw attention to cultural biases in her colleagues’ work as clinicians and professors, and guided book clubs’ reading about diversity and how to institute more culturally sensitive practices into higher ed. Gusewski has also championed changes to her department’s procedures and processes to be more welcoming and supportive of students from all backgrounds. “I could not imagine a person more fit for this award than Svenja Gusewski,” this nominator wrote.
According to a second nominator, most of the coursework in Gusewski’s CMD 419 course included elements of multicultural/multi-linguistic representation, with assignments often structured around ways in which any/all minority populations may be better served by speech-language pathologists. She has invited guest speakers from the Multicultural Center into the class for a presentation. In addition, her most recent research has been structured around investigating representation in numerous different settings within the world of speech-language pathology. “I cannot think of a stronger nomination that represents what SCSU’s core values stand for,” this nominator wrote.
A third nominator wrote that Gusewski initiated and led a DEI book club for the CMD Department, was a founding member of the DEI committee for CMD; developed a bilingual language certificate program for the graduate program in speech-language pathology (involved developing multiple courses, both academic and clinical experiences for grad students); serves as the faculty advisor for HHS Social Justice student club; and implements weekly DEI activities in undergraduate and graduate classrooms, among many other activities.
Congratulations to November’s Top Owl Award winners!