First annual Inclusive Excellence Awards honors faculty, staff, and student leaders who create a welcoming campus environment

Chief Diversity Officer Charles Gibson and the Office of Inclusive Excellence (OIE) hosted the college’s inaugural Inclusive Excellence Awards on the evening of Monday, April 24 in Evans Auditorium. The event recognized and awarded campus community members who have gone above and beyond to contribute to inclusivity across campus.

The first recognition of the evening was given to members of the Presidential Commission for Inclusive Excellence (PCIE), a new panel with representatives from all parts of campus who work together to advance OIE efforts and goals and make the campus a more welcoming and inclusive place for all. Members of the PCIE who were recognized are as follows:

  • Executive Director of Compliance and Title IX Coordinator Tim Koch
  • Executive Director of Institutional Advancement and Alumni Relations Katie Talbert
  • Director of the Honors Program Ken Craig
  • Assistant Dean of Natural and Health Sciences Shinjini Goswami
  • Administrative Assistant Bob Sudduth
  • Student Government Association representative Heidi Martin
  • Director of Counseling and Wellness Services Marla Gentile
  • Executive Director of Distance Learning and Transfer Programs Wayne Leon
  • Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Lauren Foster
  • Executive Director of Human Resources and Benefits Administration Mary Furst

The two primary awards of the evening were the Beacon and Luminary Awards. Presented to students who are leaders among their peers and have served as a beacon of light toward inclusive excellence, this year’s Beacon Awards recognized founders of student-led clubs or organizations that emphasize inclusivity and understanding. The winners of the Beacon Awards are as follows:

  • Founding President of the Queer Student Association Aliyah Albadri
  • Founding President of the Hispanic and Latinx Student Association Nimgelimar Castro-Rivera
  • Founding President of the Black Diaspora Collective Saige Jones
  • Founding President of the International Student Association Stephanie Kucy
  • Founding President of the Jewish Student Association Emmett Lebendig
  • Diversity Dinner Organizer Benjamin Gribbins

Presented to one faculty member, one staff member, and one student, the Luminary Award is given to a campus community member who inspires and influences others and has gone above and beyond to create a welcoming campus environment. The Luminary Award is the highest honor given by OIE to the most influential members of campus.

This year’s faculty Luminary Award went to Goswami for her involvement and support with the student body. Goswami also serves as the faculty advisor for the International Student Association, through which she has shared her own culture with the college community by hosting a celebration of the Hindu holiday, Diwali.

“She really has been very open in sharing her culture, and a lot of students have made comments to me about how that has made them feel welcomed,” Gibson said of Goswami while presenting her with the award.

The 2023 student Luminary was junior Camryn Belin and the staff Luminary was Associate Athletics Director Rita Smith. Smith has been a keystone element of the Lees-McRae Athletics department for almost 40 years, and her impact has been incredibly important to the continued growth and development of the college’s athletics.

“Without Ms. Rita there is no me. She really is a trailblazer on this campus in so many ways,” Gibson said during his presentation of the award. “Thank you for all you’ve done since 1983 here on this campus. It’s an honor to work with you and learn from you.”

By Maya JarrellApril 26, 2023
Campus LifeCommunity