In honor of the late Dean Edgar Beckham and his steadfast devotion to social justice, students and faculty members attended the annual Edgar Beckham Social Justice Awards on Saturday, April 23 in Beckham Hall. With the primary goal of recognizing individuals on campus who are doing meaningful social justice work, the event also featured keynote speaker Leila Buck ’99. The semi-formal ceremony consisted of hors-d’œuvres and a three-course meal.
“We aim to celebrate the students, faculty, staff, and members of the Middletown community whose efforts align with the ideals that guided his work,” the event’s Facebook page reads. “Our hope is that the recognition of these individuals will inspire other members of the community to commit to social justice work of their own.”
Each award was given to one recipient. Chair of the Philosophy Department Lori Gruen won the Excellence in Mentorship Award; Nisha Grewal ’17 won the Excellence in the Sciences Award; Jonah Toussaint ’17 wont the Excellence in the Arts Award; Cassia Patel ’17 won the Excellence in Environmental Justice Award; Nebiyu Daniel ’18 won the Excellence in Community Partnership Awards; Buck took home the Alumni Achievement Award; Rajaa Elidrissi ’16 was given the Senior Legacy Award; Henry Martellier ’19 won the Foot in the Door Award; and Sophie Zinser ’16, Cole Phillips ’16, and Casey Smith ’17 collectively won the Campus Inspiration Award .
Award recipients were nominated by people at the University via an online form. Voters selected the particular award that interests them and wrote in the candidate they think is deserving of the accolade. Accompanying the nomination was a written statement regarding why a person should receive the award in a given category. Associate Director of Alumni and Parent Relations Greg Bernard then was in charge of passing along the nominations to an alumni council who are responsible for reviewing the nominees anonymously and then voting on their preferred statements.
Khalilah Lushiku ’16 was one of the students who helped plan and organize the event as part of the EBA committee chaired by Evelyn Kim ’16. As a two-time committee member, Lushiku reflected on what the ceremony has come to mean to her.
“I love what the awards stand for,” Lushiku wrote in an email to The Argus. “They’re all about recognizing people who are doing good social justice work in their different areas. I think that highlighting students in particular who are doing good work, not for glory but just because they are passionate about their issues, it inspires other people to get involved in their own areas as well.”
Khephren Spigner ’18, another committee member of the Edgar Beckham awards, views the awards in a similar light, emphasizing the recognition that students of color receive.
“I chose to be in the committee because the awards serve as an inspiration and a reminder of all the amazing work students of color do on campus every day,” Spigner wrote in an email to The Argus. “I think the awards [ceremony] went extremely well.”
Another committee member, Adriana Brau-Diaz ’16, also felt that the event went well this year.
“My favorite part was when someone cried when he was introducing his friend’s award,” Brau-Diaz wrote in an email to The Argus. “There’s always someone who cries every year, and it always makes me tear up, too. It’s really touching.”
Alexandra Bacchus ’17, a first-time member of the Edgar Beckham awards committee, explained how she became directly involved with this year’s Social Justice Awards ceremony.
“I was motivated to join because of how inspired I was by the event last year,” Bacchus wrote in an email to The Argus. “The awards are all about celebrating the students on this campus who dedicate their time here to making things better for the students around them and giving a voice to those who might struggle for one.”
She added that she hopes event attendees were made more aware of constant community efforts to fight actively for social justice.
“I hope that people left the awards knowing that, while the award-winners accomplished great things for the school, there are so many people around us who are working just as tirelessly to make positive change on this campus,” Bacchus said. “It was wonderful that we had a slideshow of the nominees because it reinforced that idea throughout the reception.”