MLK Spirit Awards celebrate service and social justice work

Nine Washington State University faculty, staff, and students as well as two student organizations are being honored for their distinguished service and commitment to community, equity, and social justice at WSU and beyond.

The recognitions are part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Awards, given annually by the MLK Program to those who embody the spirit and vision of King’s work.

This year’s recipients of the Distinguished Service Award and the Community, Equity, and Social Justice Award were celebrated in a video that highlights their accomplishments and the positive impacts they are making in their communities.

“With these awards, service to the community is defined in the broadest sense and includes academic, research, religious, and secular contributions in which integrity, leadership, creativity, and positive outcomes are apparent,” said Allen Sutton, executive director for the Office of Social Justice Education and Outreach in the Division of Student Affairs. “We are focused on honoring leaders who lift us up as a WSU community.”

The MLK Program recently honored WSU music professor Aaron Agulay with the Bayard Rustin Excellence Award and will announce the winners of the Elson and Carmento Floyd and William and Felicia Gaskins Social Justice Advocate of the Year Award soon.

Distinguished Service Award

Recipients of the Distinguished Service Award have demonstrated a commitment to human rights and social justice in one or all the following areas: altruism and community service; advancement of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice; and inclusive and equitable practices in education. 

The 2022 recipients are:

Altruism and Community Service

  • Jessica Perone, faculty consultant, Center for Civic Engagement
  • Kellyan Nguyen, student, College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, WSU Spokane

Advancement of Diversity

  • Erin Tomson, scholarly assistant professor, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
  • Alyssa Hagberg, undergraduate student, marketing, WSU Pullman

Inclusive Practices in Education

  • Girish Ganjyal, interim director and associate professor, School of Food Science
  • James Asare, doctoral student, Mathematics and Science Education, College of Education
  • Formula Vancoug, engineering student organization, WSU Vancouver

Community, Equity and Social Justice Award

This award recognizes individuals and groups that work toward a climate of inclusive excellence through activism, advocacy, academic endeavors, mentoring, program creation, public service, research, and/or teaching.

The 2022 recipients are:

  • Aaron Agulay, clinical assistant director, School of Music
  • Trymaine Gaither, special assistant to the provost for inclusive excellence, Office of the Provost
  • Jiemei Lin, graphic designer, College of Education
  • James Asare, doctoral student, Mathematics and Science Education, College of Education
  • College of Veterinary Medicine Graduate Student Association
  • Kimberly Harden, instructor, Seattle University; CEO of Harden Consulting Group

Fighting for a better world

The work the award recipients are doing has never been more important, said Chioma Heim, lead undergraduate advisor in the Department of Psychology and member of the MLK Celebration Committee.

In the recognition video, Heim recalled that King once said the ultimate measure of a person, group, or organization is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy. 

“As we’ve seen the past two years, there has been a rise to derail all that Dr. King stood for,” Heim said. “These award winners represent individuals and organizations willing to do everything they can to continue his work. They have shown us that in moments of palatable discomfort and inconvenience, they are willing to fight for a better world.”

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