The Social Justice Community Award honors individuals and groups for outstanding achievement in promoting diversity, inclusion, equity, and access at Southern and/or the community at large — and for a demonstrated commitment to these goals through programs, projects, or partnerships.
These awards are presented annually in six categories, and the award winners are selected by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Council in the spring of the academic year, following a call for nominations. Honorees receive a monetary award, a plaque, and a social justice lapel pin.
For the 2022-2023 academic year, the Social Justice Community Awards were awarded in the spring 2023 semester and included the following honorees:
OUTSTANDING STUDENT AWARDS
The Outstanding Student Awards are designated for an undergraduate and graduate student that actively engages other students, the campus community, and/or the wider community in efforts that promote and facilitate dialogue and social engagement with and between individuals of varying ethnic, racial or religious backgrounds, gender identities, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations and/or physical and mental capabilities.
Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award
Andreina Barajas Novoa
Andreina Barajas Novoa, a member of the Honors College pursuing a double major in sociology and political science with a minor in history, is an active member of the university community, having served as an undergraduate student representative for the DEI Council and currently serving as a student ambassador and a diversity peer educator in the Multicultural Center.
In these roles, one nominator wrote, Barajas Novoa is a fierce advocate for social justice, a team player, dependable, hardworking, organized, respectful and academically excellent. She works extremely well with her colleagues and has a positive rapport with the staff and students of the Multicultural Center. As a diversity peer educator, she has presented in the classrooms on topics like allyship and microaggressions. In addition, she provides leadership to represent the voices of the multicultural community by serving on the Multicultural Leadership Council, where she works with her peers to advocate for and support marginalized communities. She continually impresses with her drive and motivation to advocate for the voiceless.
Barajas Novoa is also the founder of the Mexican Cultural Club on campus. She envisioned an organization that promotes a sense of unity among Mexican people, an organization that provides the opportunity to celebrate their diverse cultural heritage, and one that works to bring understanding and awareness to the campus community. She uses her optimism to inspire others to participate in the organization and to get involved in the campus community.
Additionally, Barajas Novoa was selected by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute for a prestigious internship in Washington, D.C. This experience gave her firsthand policy experience and insight into the legislative process.
Barajas Novoa was nominated by a peer who sees her excellence firsthand. Her nominator shared this story: “Andreina has recently started organizing around Bruce Brook, the brook in her backyard that continuously floods her community. We talked about the work that she was already doing to draw attention to the flooding and the impact that it had on the community. We also discussed the questionable water quality of the brook as well as the neglect from the town regarding the issue. Through canvassing, community building, education, and hours of work, Andreina was able to mobilize 15 of her neighbors and raise attention and funds to address the flooding. What made her efforts on this front so successful was her ability to make interconnections between social justice and environmental justice. Her ability to make these not-so-obvious connections draws attention to her analytical skills.”
This is not the only community impact that Barajas Novoa has engaged in. She is a community organizer and is highly involved in the greater New Haven region, working on issues to bring about change.
As her nominator shared: “While her resume gives insights into what she has already accomplished at such a young age, it does not give justice to her drive and passion to execute social change that elevates marginalized communities.”
Barajas Novoa received her award at the annual Club and Organization Awards event on May 5, 2023.
Outstanding Graduate Student Award
Brett Santo, a master’s student in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology, was nominated by one of his professors. In her nomination letter, she wrote, “Brett is an extraordinary graduate student who has deeply impacted the learning community within the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at Southern. . . It is a pleasure to partner with Mr. Santo on projects related to diversity, equity, and inclusion because of his passion and his willingness to engage in projects that invite people to stretch and grow into new knowledge, attitudes, and skills. From a faculty standpoint, working with Mr. Santo inspires me and reignites hope in me that there will be leaders who will challenge the status quo, call out colonization and inequity, and fight for a better tomorrow for marginalized identities.”
According to his nominator, Santo is poised to generate a line of research that has the potential to enhance and enrich the work of counselors and to positively impact some of the most underserved members of the larger community. She calls him “a fierce advocate” and writes that he “carefully considers the systems of power and privilege that create barriers for individuals who occupy multiple marginalized intersectional identities. His passion for supporting people whose access is limited due to systemic oppression is clear in the work that he does.”
Santo is pursuing his master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, which is a second master’s degree for him, and he plans to enroll in the doctoral program upon completing his master’s. In addition to being a graduate student, Santo serves as administrative assistant to the vice president for institutional advancement at Southern.
Among many contributions to social justice, Brett co-presented with this faculty member a two-hour presentation entitled, “Military Service Members and Veterans in Counseling: Reclaiming, Reinventing, Liberating.” Additionally, in his role as membership committee chair for Sigma Chi Sigma, Southern’s chapter of Chi Sigma Iota, the International Counseling Honor Society, he coordinated and moderated a panel in honor of Black History Month entitled, Mental Health and the Black College Experience: Developing a Liberation Perspective on Mental Health Needs of Black College Students.
Santo received his award at the annual Club and Organization Awards event on May 5, 2023.
OUTSTANDING STUDENT ORGANIZATION AWARD
The Outstanding Student Organization Award is designated for a club or organization that actively engages students, the campus community, and/or the wider community in efforts that promote and facilitate dialogue and social engagement with and between individuals of varying ethnic, racial or religious backgrounds, gender identities, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations and/or physical and mental capabilities.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated
Greek organization Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated consistently makes an impact both on campus and in the community, providing a multitude of programs that are diverse and engaging. Its members — Janee Johnson, Tahj McKnight, Kirsten Chery, Angelina Ovalles, Ashley Perez, and Kayla Harris — have educated and activated their peers and others around an impressive variety of important topics including suicide prevention, sexual assault awareness and consent, financial literacy, safe sex, career preparation, breast health, voter registration, racial equity, and more.
The members of Zeta Phi Beta continually work to collaborate with other organizations and develop community among Greek organizations. For example, they hosted a U.N.I.T.Y Panel with the women of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha Incorporada to discuss the realities of being BIPOC women in society.
They motivate other members of the university community to live our commitment to equity and inclusion, including pushing for more positive and inclusive change within faculty and staff hiring on campus and encouraging systematic cultural competency development and training for all employees.
Individually and collectively, they are community-minded, often reaching beyond Southern’s campus. They volunteered with their graduate chapter for the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK) in New Haven, Conn., and they supported the creation of more resources and educational opportunities for underrepresented and underserved public primary and secondary schools.
“These students lead with integrity and grace,” wrote one nominator, “investing great time and energy into making an impact and giving back.”
Zeta Phi Beta received its award at the annual Club and Organization Awards event on May 5, 2023.
OUTSTANDING STAFF AWARD
The Outstanding Staff Award is designated for a staff member who incorporates and embraces diversity in their ongoing departmental duties; displays a commitment to diverse cultures, religions, abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and other areas of inclusion and perspective; engages in equity, diversity and inclusion efforts in the campus community; contributes to the cross-cultural environment of their College or Department; and/or mentors underrepresented students or diverse populations of students, faculty and/or staff.
Gregory Bernard, director of alumni relations, extends himself beyond the alumni community to advise student groups Brotherhood of Scholarship and Excellence, and the Caribbean Student Association, and he has served as a guest speaker for campus programs, such as the UAP Senior Night, and 1st Gen Owls Initiative.
He has created diverse programs, such as W.o.W. (Words of Wisdom) Wednesday, to highlight alumni from different backgrounds who are doing amazing things in their personal and professional lives but are not often recognized for their efforts.
He has been a bridge between the student and alumni of color communities, having board members of color volunteer at Admission events and participate in engagement and career-related programs for students, and inviting alumni of color to participate in campus dialogue as participants on the DEI Committee.
Bernard has also participated in, and/or chaired three job searches, making sure to raise concerns and bring a perspective that would otherwise be absent. And he was a part of three diverse hires: the vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion; the associate director of annual giving, and the major gift officer.
He aided in diversifying the Alumni Association board, unlike any time in its nearly 100-year history, such that the board is now 75 percent more diverse (more than a 300 percent increase) and has the first Black female president in its history.
Bernard received his award at the annual Senior Donor Reception on May 9, 2023.
OUTSTANDING FACULTY AWARD
The Outstanding Faculty Award is designated for a faculty member who incorporates and embraces diversity in the classroom, curriculum and/ or research; displays a commitment to diverse cultures, religions, abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and other areas of inclusion and perspective; makes the classroom accessible for and supportive of diverse learning styles; engages in equity, diversity and inclusion efforts in the campus community; uses innovative teaching methods to support students with special learning needs; and/or mentors underrepresented students or diverse populations of students, faculty and/or staff.
Dr. Ebony Perouse-Harvey
Dr. Ebony Perouse-Harvey, assistant professor of special education, received multiple nominations. “In her short time at SCSU,” one nominator wrote, Perouse-Harvey “has already become a social justice leader within the College of Education,” where she leads the Professional Learning Community, in which faculty read and discuss a book related to facilitating conversations about race and racism. She also scheduled guest speakers to deepen her colleagues’ understanding of race, racism, and anti-racist pedagogy. A nominator wrote that Perouse-Harvey’s leadership in this group is “powerful and brave. Not only is she taking on a challenging topic as a junior faculty member, she is also a woman of color leading a discussion about race with a primarily white group of faculty.” Further, Perouse-Harvey is a trusted colleague whom many faculty in the College of Education seek out as they implement anti-racist content and pedagogy within their courses. “Dr. Perouse-Harvey’s leadership has deepened the level of social justice within her department, our college, and the university,” wrote a nominator.
Perouse-Harvey conducts valuable research on the experiences of parents of color within the educational system. From her research she emphasizes the importance of relationships with her pre-service teachers. In her student teaching seminar, she also leads her student teachers on self-identify work and its impact on classroom culture. She provides a crucial framework for students to utilize in their classroom to empower all students, regardless of race or ability. One nominator wrote, “As the students whom she teaches are preparing for roles in Connecticut’s K-12 schools, and the colleagues alongside whom she works most closely are also preparing emerging classroom teachers, special educators, school psychologists, school counselors, and school leaders, Dr. Perouse-Harvey’s impact is — and promises to remain — great.”
In addition to her course work, Dr. Perouse-Harvey supports students and student teachers when they have situations regarding race and promotes reflection and advocacy. On the faculty side, a nominator wrote, “she provides invaluable resources and advice for colleagues to improve their anti-racist and anti-ableist teaching practices.”
Dr. Perouse-Harvey will receive her award in the fall, at the annual Celebration of Excellence.
Congratulations to all of the awardees! Learn more about the university Social Justice Community Awards program.