UAA Diversity Action Council announces Student Diversity Award recipients
by Matt Jardin |
Each year, the UAA Diversity Action Council awards the Student Diversity Award Scholarship to students who significantly enhance diversity at UAA by increasing visibility of diverse people, cultures and/or perspectives; creating a welcoming environment; and/or representing diverse student voices through their advocacy and participation in UAA student organizations. The council picks the top applicants to receive a tuition grant up to $1,000.
Congratulations to all of the award recipients! Awardees were selected in late 2020: Kal Bacon, Borogchingua Zorigtbaatar, Kavya Bhagawatula, Tiernan Brenner-Gelvin, Ryleigh Robinson, Ana Azpilcueta, Natasha Hooper, Tia Hale, Ryan Toney, Phillip Hill, Deborah McRae, Samuel Oulette, Yer Vang, Youji Seto and Ash Johnson.
Read on to learn more about this year’s four top awardees!
Social work master’s student Jay Greene (pronouns: they/them, he/him) believes in system reform through policy, as evidenced in their work with UAA’s LGBTQIA2S+ Committee and Gender Inclusive Housing Committee.
"The 2016 change in federal administration had me focused on the trickle-down effects of policy," said Greene, citing Indigenous activists and the Black Lives Matter movement as catalysts for examining their own privilege. "I became more aware of how intersecting identities factor into how people access society's systems, like the legal or health care systems. I knew I had to begin using my privilege as a white, middle-class person to advocate for change."
As a teenager in the foster care and mental health systems, Greene describes having a lot of experience with social workers and behavioral health staff. However, one social worker in particular continues to stand out for being particularly discouraging — something Greene hopes to minimize in their career.
“I knew the impact those professionals made in my life and thought, ‘You know, I want to be a social worker and work to improve those systems.’ Because when I was in them, I experienced discrimination,” said Greene. “It is never OK to put a kid through that, especially when you know they're struggling in life, and I didn't want other kids or people to experience that.”
Originally from Fairbanks, Lauren Criss-Carboy sought a way to become more involved on campus and in the community. Noticing a lack of LGBTQ visibility on campus, she co-founded Drag+, a performance art advocacy group. Her timing couldn’t have been better, as the founding of Drag+ coincided with the campaign of a since defeated transgender bathroom bill.
“It's a really important element for people to be able to both meet peers and advocate for issues,” said Criss-Carboy. “If you're not in certain circles, it's easy to be unaware of tangible issues and harmful rhetoric. There's harm that comes with being disengaged and not aware of community issues, because a lot of those are built on people actively using their voices and showing up to events and finding a fun way to get attention.”
As an international studies major with minors in sociology and history, Criss-Carboy describes representation through storytelling as an integral first step toward social engagement. Applying these community lessons on campus, Criss-Carboy surveyed more than 60 LGBTQ students about their needs and experiences. Input gathered has informed a pathway for greater accessibility, inclusivity and safety on campus.
“Having a variety of worldviews, including non-Western ones, is important for anyone that's involved in any type of social advocacy,” said Criss-Carboy. “Being able to connect people with their own narrative that propels them into what they care about is a really impactful way of building solidarity.”
Having immigrated from Russia in 2017, Ekaterina Cook understands how challenging it is to be an immigrant. A few months after landing in the United States, Cook joined the Alaska Literacy Project as a student and later a part of the Peer Leader Navigator program, which provides help to immigrants and underrepresented community members. After seeing others struggling with English, Cook also became a Russian-English interpreter at the Alaska Institute for Justice.
“When I first went to study in Europe several years ago, I used to be a person with limited English proficiency. When I got help, I really appreciated the experience. So I wanted to provide this service to other people,” said Cook. “If you can at least try to understand people, try to listen to them, it's already a lot.”
Already a business graduate, Cook decided to go back to school. And after the birth of her son in 2019, she decided to pursue a new career in medicine. Despite the challenges that come with being a non-traditional student, Cook makes time to stay involved. In 2020 she joined the Build Exito program, which helps science students participate in research. She is also the current president of the UAA Society of Law and Justice.
“I always felt like I wanted to change the world,” said Cook. “Once I had my family, I just needed to do what I really enjoy. I realized that I want to do things that are important for the community and for other people. I also believe that everyone is able to achieve any career dreams and I would like to help my peers in this way.”
Human services major Vincent Feuilles believes in equity via education, demonstrated through his work with the Queen’s Guard. Established after the loss of his friend and fellow activist, the Queen's Guard seeks to correct harmful misinformation about the LGBTQ community, as well as provide a physical presence at events to establish a safe atmosphere.
“The best way I could think of doing something was to just stand up to the negativity we see at LGBTQ events, especially those for youths,” said Feuilles. “There's this really old quote: ‘What people don't understand, they fear. What they fear, they hate. And what they hate, they destroy.’ So we're more interested in being positive and doing what we can to educate folks when they come up with honest questions.”
Having already earned a chemical dependency technician certification, Feuilles plans on finishing his bachelor's this fall before pursuing his Master of Social Work and eventually becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
“You tell a person they're worthless often enough, they start to not believe in themselves as being real,” said Feuilles. “When you look at the statistics, trans youth have the highest rate of substance abuse as a coping mechanism out of all other LGBTQ demographics. That’s why I’m pursuing human services, because I want to help LGBTQ people find themselves and to do it with positive coping mechanisms.”
Written by Matt Jardin, UAA Office of University Advancement