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 December 2022, the Top Owl Award honorees are undergraduate student Eve Jones; doctoral student in educational leadership Forrest Bonjo; Dian Brown-Albert, director of Multicultural Affairs; and Maria Krol, associate professor and chair of nursing.
Senior Eve Jones, an international student from the United Kingdom, has been the DEI Coordinator of the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority and this semester is serving as Vice President of Equity and Belonging. In these roles, she has set up and carried out several social justice projects, including a sex education workshop and, alongside Women’s and Gender Studies, an ongoing period poverty project which involves campaigning for the university to provide accessible menstrual products in campus restrooms.
Through attending the Multicultural Center’s Social Justice Retreat, Jones learned about social justice topics such as privilege and LGBT issues, and as a member of the LGBT community, she is working to become more connected with SAGE and Prism. She organized within her sorority to attend New Haven and Hartford Pride 2021 and 2022.
In addition to her DEI work with MCC and her sorority, Jones is involved in external organizations, including Stop Solitary CT, where she attends protests and meetings to campaign to end unethical solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons. She has a job as a research assistant where she focuses on the effects of COVID on incarcerated women. Minoring in sociology with a criminology concentration, Jones aspires to gain employment with young people involved in the criminal justice system.
One of Jones’ nominators wrote that she “has been working passionately to educate herself, the sorority, and SCSU as a whole on social justice topics…She truly is dedicated to Southern’s social justice values and she deserves to be recognized for it.”
Doctoral student Forrest Jade Bonjo is committed to addressing overt and systemic inequities through his work as an ESL teacher and advocate for immigrant families, a commitment shown through his record of study and public service. Bonjo began his career in public service while interning for New York City Council member Corey Johnson, a position that gave Bonjo experience confronting the challenges that low- and middle-income families face across the region.
He has worked full-time as an ESL teacher since 2017 and is committed to strengthening relationships between the community he serves and local community and school representatives. While working on his doctorate in education leadership at Southern, Bonjo has worked hard to incorporate principles related to social justice into his philosophy as an emerging leader at his institution. His nominator wrote, “It is clear that Forrest is passionate about empowering disenfranchised communities and advocating for immigrant populations. In this day and time these are values worth celebrating and bringing attention to.”
Director of Multicultural Affairs and Southern alumna Dian Brown-Albert, ’96, M.S.’00, serves on the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council and the Dreamers Action Alliance, among other campus committees. Her nominator that, “Dian has supported the diversity of our students in some of the most substantial ways over such a long period of time. I believe she dearly deserves this award.”
From planning regular events and activities for the Multicultural Center and for the larger university community, to supporting students who look to the Multicultural Center as a source of community and enrichment, to serving as a voice for DEI initiatives on various university committees and groups, Brown-Albert exemplifies the university’s social justice mission in everything she does.
Her nominator wrote, “I nominated Dian for the Top Owl Award because she has, for so very long, been a pillar of the Southern community. In terms of Social Justice work, her vision and guidance of the Multicultural Center has preceded, by many years, the more formalized and evident social justice efforts that have been advanced at Southern recently. Dian has been a gentle but firm and persistent force for equity — certainly as the leader of the MCC, but also in various committees campus-wide and in the many community connections she works to initiate and maintain. Positive, supportive, insightful, creative, open-minded, for real, no-nonsense, and approachable – Dian embodies the work deeply and with passion.”
Maria Krol, the first person of color to serve as the chair of the School of Nursing, works diligently to serve communities of color both on and off campus. She is the founder and past-president of the CT Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses Association and a member of the New England Minority Leadership Council. She developed the Summer Nursing Symposium on campus for high school students of color in the New Haven public school system; this program exposes students to careers in health care and provides them with a week-long immersive set of hands-on activities and experiences.
Krol’s nominator wrote that she “continues to seek experiences through grants that serve our current nursing student population, as well as future ones, in order to increase the diversity in health care and to ensure that our nursing students reflect the populations they are serving in their communities.”