Deacon Davis Diversity Award winners named

Sandra Gonzalez
Sandra Gonzalez

NIU’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Minorities (PCSM) has selected students Sandra Gonzalez and Sara Briseño and Karen Baker, associate vice president of Administration and Human Resources, as the recipients of this year’s Deacon Davis Diversity Award.

Named in honor of Deacon Davis, founder and former director of the CHANCE (Counseling Help & Assistance Necessary for a College Education) Program, the PCSM created the award to recognize the significant contributions made to the improvement of the status of minorities on campus by members of the university community.

Gonzalez has a balanced sense of strong academics mixed with community service. She is in the University Honors Program and made the dean’s list while majoring in Spanish Language and Literature K-12, minoring in Latino American Studies and seeking the English Language Learner and Bilingual Education endorsement. She studied abroad in Toledo, Spain, made possible through earning numerous scholarships.

At the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies, Gonzalez helps provide information to other students minoring in Latino Studies.

In the classroom, she continues to assist other students.

For example, one nominator wrote, “Ms. Gonzalez’s remarks helped the class discussion move forward, and often other students followed her example and started participating more in class, also contributing to our conversations.” Another nominator wrote that Gonzalez “is serving as a mentor for incoming freshman at NIU via the M.Á.S. F.R.E.S.H. (Mentoring for Academic Success, Freshman Receiving Experience and Study Habits) program. This program provides a home away from home and serves to assist students as they transition and adjust to college life by providing academic support to first-year Latino/a students.”

Additionally, Gonzalez joined the NIU Spanish Club, worked as the club secretary, and was elected president. She also volunteered in the Stevenson Hall Complex Council, Relay for Life, De Mujer a Mujer and the community organization Family Focus, which helps people in Aurora seek citizenship.

Sara Briseño
Sara Briseño

Briseño, majoring in sociology and set to graduate in May, is a courageous and passionate activist, who does not need the word “activist” to describe herself because “it is just part of who she is,” according to one of her nominators.

She is a member of DREAM Action NIU and became instrumental in organizing the first Coming Out of the Shadows event last year in support of undocumented students and community members. She is already involved in planning the next Coming Out of the Shadows event that will take place Thrusday, March 26.

Briseño also served as a mentor for V.A.L.U. (Vanguardia Afirmativa de los Latin@s Unidos), an after-school program at DeKalb High School and joined M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) at NIU. Beyond the local area, her efforts on immigration reform earned her the Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation Award.

As a volunteer, one nominator described Briseño as, “truly versed in regards to leadership and diversity. She is able to understand and value herself and others as well as engage and challenge people in an appropriate manner. She is also culturally literate, she is able to value and leverage cultural differences as is evident by her numerous extracurricular and volunteering activities.”

Baker was described as “one of the quiet forces on campus working behind the scenes to promote diversity” by one nominator. Baker’s career at NIU began first by earning a bachelor’s degree. She then earned a master’s and a juris doctorate at NIU.

As a demonstration of strong backing, 15 people signed a nomination letter supporting Baker for the Deacon Davis Diversity Award.

Karen Baker
Karen Baker

They wrote that she “has worked tirelessly to develop university hiring and recruitment procedures that ensure that applicants of all backgrounds and beliefs are given fair consideration to join the university workforce.” They further describe her as “a reliable spokesperson to ensure that the needs of diverse people are not overlooked.”

The Deacon Davis Diversity Award also recognizes organizations, departments, or programs that significantly improve the status of minorities at NIU.

Recipients will be recognized Saturday, March 21, during the “Diversity: Strengthening the Pillars of Community” conference at NIU-Naperville. The awards ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend the awards ceremony.

For more information, contact PCSM Chair Felicia R. Bohanon at (815) 753-1868 or fbohanon@niu.edu. Registration is available online to participate in the daylong regional conference.

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