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Here’s who won the University’s annual social justice awards

  • University News
  • Community Impact
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

A group of student leaders and the founder of the Racial Equity Consciousness Institute (RECI) will be honored Jan. 26 when the University of Pittsburgh presents its social justice awards as part of MLK Social Justice Week.

The Creating a Just Community Award will be presented to Ron Idoko, who along with his founding director role at RECI serves as associate director of the Center on Race and Social Problems and research assistant professor in the School of Social Work; and the University Prize for Strategic, Inclusive and Diverse Excellence (UPSIDE) Award will be presented to peer educators from the Sexual Assault Facilitation and Education (SAFE) program.

Winners were selected from more than a dozen nominees by a committee representing equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility initiatives from a variety of University offices and units, said Chance Wideman, director of equity and inclusion programs in Pitt’s Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Registration is open for the ceremony, which will begin at 11 a.m. in the Assembly Room of the William Pitt Union and is open to the public. Lunch will be served. Chancellor Joan Gabel is expected to attend and congratulate the winners.

About Ron Idoko

The Creating a Just Community Award debuted in 2014. It recognizes Pitt faculty and staff members who have made outstanding efforts to create a more just, equitable and inclusive University community and includes a $5,000 cash prize.

As director of social innovation in honors education in the David C. Frederick Honors College, Idoko (A&S ’05, GSPIA ’07) supports students who are tackling systemic social inequities. His focus is on encouraging innovative solutions to drive social progress.

Idoko also founded and directs Pitt’s RECI, which uses a series of immersive resource modules to guide participants through lessons that analyze the complexity and pervasiveness of racism. The narratives, forums and activities also encourage participants to reflect on what they can do to combat racism.

“I was so honored with the news, and deeply grateful for all those who felt I was deserving of the award,” said Idoko, who is pursuing a doctorate in the University’s School of Education. “The legacy and impact of previous awardees is astonishing and to be considered among them is an incredible honor.”

He says the award will serve as a “powerful reminder” for him to keep fostering partnerships and collaborations and to support individuals and communities as they work to create positive social change.

“I’m truly grateful and proud of all the progress we have made over the past year — because there have been so many key contributors that have made our achievements possible,” Idoko said. “The development of the Racial Equity Consciousness film, ‘Illuminating the Vaccine for Racism,’ stands out. I’m excited to see how it can impact people beyond our community and for years to come.”

See the film premiere on Jan. 25.

About the SAFE peer educators

Created in 2016, the UPSIDE Award is presented each year to an outstanding school, division, initiative or program making a significant contribution to increasing diversity and inclusion. The award recognizes efforts to increase access and participation in all aspects of the University and includes a $10,000 cash prize.

This year’s winners, collectively, are the SAFE peer educators. The peer educators program, overseen by the University’s Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Education, trains students to educate other students in techniques to stop sexual and gender-based violence on campus and to identify and report incidents when they happen.

“Many of our students identify as survivors of sexual assault themselves, or are really close to a family member or friend who is a survivor,” said Alexa Miller, a senior from metro Detroit in Pitt’s Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies and accelerated Master of Public Health programs.

She is one of three student leaders this year of SAFE, along with Aarushi Pant, a senior from Houston majoring in computational social science, and Julia Vroman, a senior from Maplewood, New Jersey, majoring in psychology.

Following intensive training, peer educators lead other students in training sessions in how to become an active bystander, identify healthy and unhealthy relationships, and support people who have been affected by relationship violence or abuse.

The UPSIDE award will help support additional outreach and programming by SAFE, according to Vroman. “Right now, we’re working on bringing some of our resources and presentations into Pittsburgh Public Schools and sharing them with high school students,” she said. “This funding will definitely help with that. During the last semester, we engaged with 1,400 students. Seeing how many people we’ve reached is definitely something we’re proud of.”


— Jason Togyer, top photo by Tom Altany. Participants gathered in groups to engage in candid conversations about how to combat racism at the Racial Equity Consciousness Institute, directed by Ron Idoko.