On April 28, the University will host the first Edgar Beckham Helping Hands Award Ceremony. The event will celebrate and recognize exemplary students who have exhibited cultural sensitivity and who promote diversity and inclusion. Phabinly Gabriel ’13 and Luciana Pennant ’13 initiated the award ceremony on campus. Gabriel explained the award is named after the University’s first African American dean.
“[Beckham] was an advocate for diversity in education and academic excellence,” Gabriel said. “Basically, we made the program originally to celebrate students who have done well academically and have done some form of civic engagement toward the Wesleyan campus.”
University President Michael Roth praised the efforts of Gabriel and Pennant. He said he believes the awards ceremony is a way to unite members of the University community.
“The best part about it is that it’s a student initiative,” Roth said. “It’s meant to help build community and to recognize people who are being helpful in that endeavor.”
Vice President for Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer Sonia Mañjon supported both Gabriel and Pennant with their endeavors. Mañjon noted that the University needs an occassion such as this to contrast with recent events.
“[I learned about the ceremony] right after the big scenario that happened at the Connecticut Science Center with the senior class,” Mañjon said. “So I’m thinking we need to do something that’s on campus, that’s not an opportunity for students to just drink and pass out and get drunk…So I am very much supportive of the idea and impressed with what they [have] done in the short amount of time that they’ve had to coordinate it.”
The awards ceremony will honor two freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors, and eight seniors. The organizers plan to use results from various surveys in the future to refine the program in years to come.
“We’re really hoping that this will turn into a tradition and grow larger,” Gabriel said.
Ten to twelve faculty and staff will receive awards for their advisory roles for students.
“We know that there are a lot of students who have been under a faculty or staff member who have pointed them in the right direction, [and] kept them encouraged through their years, or throughout some time,” Pennant said. “Or, if they didn’t do it, then they at least pointed [the students] in the right direction as to who to go to.”
Gabriel and Pennant believe it is important to include all class years in the event, so that everyone in the community has a specific goal toward which to work. They hope that underclassmen will recognize and act on behalf of the greater needs of the University community.
“We wanted to make sure to include freshman and sophomores, because when [they] come in…they don’t have this idea that you have got to buckle down,” Pennant said. “…We really believe that recognition brings about more encouragement for people to do better and it holds them accountable for their actions.”
Students are nominated by faculty, staff, or fellow students; self-nomination is prohibited. Short blurbs accompany the nomination and final decisions are chosen by a jury committee of alumni who are at least five years removed from the graduating class. Students also vote for faculty and staff awards through an email survey.
Gabriel said he hopes alumni engagement in both the voting process and the ceremony will help students foster connections for post-graduate plans.
“By allowing [alumni] to come and interact with us in this celebration, [students] can really network, build connections, maybe even land a summer internship or help them land a certain connection that would help them find a future job,” Gabriel said. “This really gives a glimpse of what Wesleyan alumni are doing, how they have progressed from being students at Wesleyan to prominent alumni currently.”
All students are encouraged to sign up for the event, although space is limited to about 30 students per class year. Tickets are $20, but faculty members can sponsor students.
“We don’t need to be in the news again for destroying the science center,” Pennant said. “We don’t need to be in the news for Holi for the whole world to hear about us. We don’t need to be in the news again for the forum. We need something positive and we need everyone to keep experiencing the positive things at Wesleyan so that when they leave they actually enjoy being alumni.”
Mañjon hopes this will encourage seniors to focus more on helping the community and each other.
“I’m hoping…that they embark on senior activities that are more about giving back to the community,” Mañjon said. “Last year I worked with the senior class on an event in the spring where they literally worked with the community, the vendors on Main Street, to do a cleanup and to just bring visibility to the campus-community partnerships. It was a way for seniors to really recognize this larger community, not just Wesleyan, but Middletown, and really give back in their last year. So I’m hoping the senior classes will really look more towards these types of activities in the future.”