Eight receive awards at annual MLK luncheon

Six faculty members and two students were honored for their work on equality and nonviolence at the annual MLK Awards lunch.

Six UO faculty members recently received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for their commitment to promoting King’s legacy of nonviolence and equality on campus and in the community.

The awards were presented at lunch hosted by the Division of Equity and Inclusion on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Two undergraduate students also received awards in an annual essay contest.

The seventh annual event included remarks from Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Yvette Alex-Assensoh, UO President Michael Schill, Vice President for Student Life Robin Holmes and Provost Scott Coltrane, along with a performance of the black national anthem and songs from the UO Gospel Choir.

“We had a lot of really good candidates for the MLK Award this year and it was honestly really hard to decipher which ones (should be honored),” said Lauren Witherspoon, the event programming coordinator and a graduate teaching fellow in the Division of Equity and Inclusion.

Ultimately, the list was narrowed to six awardees — up from three in previous years.

Ellen McWhirter, from the UO College of Education, was chosen for her advocacy on behalf of the Latino/a community and her determination to help underrepresented groups of people achieve academic and social success, specifically by working to reduce achievement gaps in schools and making schools more inclusive.

Associate English professor Lara Bovilsky was selected in recognition of her leadership role in promoting diversity and inclusion among graduate students in the Department of English, serving on the department’s inaugural diversity committee and in other groups aimed at improving inclusivity.

Gabriela Martínez, a professor in the UO School of Journalism and Communication, was honored for her work as an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Martínez has produced films that focus on subjects ranging from textile workers in the southern Andes Mountains to feminist research here at the UO. Among other accomplishments, Martínez was also recognized for her work establishing the UO Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies and the Latino Roots Project at the university.

Darren Johnson, from the Department of Biochemistry and Chemistry, was acknowledged for his service as faculty sponsor for the UO’s Women in Graduate Sciences program and for his work in the establishment of the UO chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers.

Philosophy professor Naomi Zack was chosen for the award for her work on critical race theory, political and moral philosophy and the philosophy of race.  As the author of eight research books on these topics, she is widely known for her scholarly writing but also for her support of all students pursuing equality at the UO and beyond.

Kevin Marbury, director of the UO Department of Physical Education and Recreation, earned the award for his influence and efforts in the Black/African-American Strategies Group on campus as well as in the Black Male Alliance organization at the university. In addition to his on-campus involvement, he and his wife organize activities at their home to foster a sense of belonging for minority students.

 “I think the lunch provided a different perspective for students; they could see professors that they may have not have known were also activists,” Witherspoon said. “I think that it helped show what’s currently going on around campus and with the Black Lives Matter movement and so forth, so I think it was a really good event that allowed for more open dialogue.”

This year’s event also featured the winners of the student essay contest, who answered a prompt regarding the concept of King’s dream for true equality and how that continues to play out in our modern society. Undergraduates Romario Bautista, a journalism major, and ethnic studies major Anna Hoffer were recognized for their winning essays, which will be posted on the Division for Equity and Inclusion’s website.

After all the awards had been accepted, the Black Student Task Force and the Black Male Alliance spoke to the audience about current events on campus.

For more information on how the UO observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, see “Events offer HOPE and support during MLK week” in Around the O.

— By Nathaniel Brown, Public Affairs Communications