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 March 2023, the Top Owl Award honorees are undergraduate student Katalina Colon; graduate student Daphney Alston; Kim Wilk, library technical assistant in Buley Library; and Anuli Njoku, associate professor of public health.
Katalina “Kat” Colon joined the Department of Sociology as a student worker in fall 2022. Since then, her nominator wrote, she has been “an amazing resource to fellow students,” making herself available to students who need assistance and reassurance. Colon “exudes this inclusiveness and welcoming presence every time a student drops into our office or calls on the phone,” her nominator wrote, adding, “She is a tremendous asset to our department and the Southern community!”
Colon has also spearheaded the revitalization of the Department of Sociology’s social media presence, learning new systems, “engaging in brave ways” with others to make content, meeting with other departments for synergistic relationships, “communicating brilliantly” with other members of the department, and always full of ideas and energy. Her focus is
“always anti-racist and intersectional,” ensuring representation and a social justice focus in the content. She has also been instrumental in re-starting the Sociology and Criminology club, including advertising, educating students about it, being a leader at meetings and required training, and coming up with ideas for events, including an upcoming visit from a Connecticut judge.
A student in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology’s inaugural cohort of doctoral students, Daphney Alston has co-taught this semester for one of the foundational courses in counseling curriculum: counseling skills. This is a challenging course to teach, her nominator wrote, and Alston has demonstrated that she is not only strong in her clinical skills– she is able to model those skills and communicate about those skills in ways that are truly meaningful. Alston “speaks frankly with our students about her intersectional identities and how her background informs the way she approaches counseling. She consistently models critical thinking, behavior, professional skills, and a commitment to life-long learning in her role as a co-teacher as well as in her role as a doctoral student.”
Further, her nominator wrote, Alston models the core value of excellence in her work as a student, and she collaborated in developing and implementing the first counseling group aimed at supporting Black women graduate students at Southern. “This demonstrated community engagement as well as her capacity to create a climate of civility, respect, and inclusion,” her nominator wrote, adding, “Ms. Alston is a fierce advocate who balances her passion with humility. She is exactly the kind of person who deserves the recognition of being a Top Owl.” In addition to her graduate studies, Alston is also a full-time member of the Student Affairs staff, serving as an assistant director in the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development. She received a Top Owl Award in 2018 for her work as a member of the staff.
Kim Wilk’s nominator wrote that Wilk has been instrumental in supporting Buley Library as a job site for vocational opportunities for students from the Hamden Transition Academy at SCSU. The Transition Academy is a partnership between SCSU and Hamden Public Schools that helps students with intellectual and other disabilities between the ages of 18-21 develop life skills and work experiences. Wilk has “welcomed the Transition Academy students and provided them with coaching, kindness, and helped them feel like part of the Buley Library team,” her nominator wrote, adding, “We appreciate Kim’s work with them and the work that the students have done in our Access Services Department.”
Much of Anuli Njoku’s research looks at health disparities among different ethnic groups. She has incorporated social justice as a core value in her scholarship and activities on campus, and she proposed and received UCF approval for, fully developed, and teaches a Health Disparities and Social Justice course. In just the past few years, she has done university presentations on COVID-19 and environmental racism, police brutality against Blacks in the United States and ensuing protests, and exploring racism in health pedagogy. She is principal investigator on grants that explore barriers and facilitators to influenza and COVID-19 vaccination among Black and Latinx communities in New Haven and COVID-19 and environmental health disparities. Her university service beyond the classroom includes serving as faculty advisor to the African Students Association and the Cultural Competence Club and participating as a member of the Global Education Advisory Committee. She also chairs the Health Equity and Anti-Racism (HEAR) Taskforce and was previously a member of the Reproductive Justice Panel Planning Committee.
Njoku’s nominator wrote that she “has never backed down from the time she arrived,” adding that she “shines as an interdiscipinary colleague both internally and externally at the university level. She has mentored and shared and inspired other faculty and increased productivity for many. She enjoys working with students and has been busy in the community spreading the SCSU name and values. . . She walks the walk and talks the talk.”