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Perkins Prize, new awards celebrate learning across difference

About 80 Cornell students, faculty, staff and trustees gathered for dinner at the Willard Straight Memorial Room April 17 to recognize recipients of the Perkins Prize and new diversity and inclusion awards. Photo by Jason Koski/Cornell University

On April 17, approximately 80 students, faculty, staff and trustees gathered for dinner in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall to recognize Cornell programs and individuals that help create a sense of belonging and inclusiveness at Cornell, encompassing a wide range of backgrounds, beliefs, identities and cultural perspectives.

The Community Learning and Service Partnership (CLASP) program – which pairs student mentors with Cornell staff members interested in honing their writing, math or computer skills or advancing other learning goals – received the 25th annual James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial and Intercultural Peace and Harmony.

Annalisa Raymer, director of CLASP, talks about learning and leadership, while Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, looks on.

“CLASP brings students and staff together across differences and promotes learning at all stages of life, bringing value and richness to the lives of all participants,” said Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life.

Not only does CLASP support staff in custodial, dining, hospitality and other professions with their life and career goals, it also helps Cornell students learn skills to facilitate adult learning and enhances their abilities to partner in mutual learning with individuals different from themselves, Lombardi said.

Annalisa Raymer, director of CLASP, talks about learning and leadership, while Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, looks on. Photo by Jason Koski/Cornell University

The award was accepted by CLASP Director Annalisa Raymer on behalf of the Cornell students, staff learners and campus partners in the program.

Receiving Perkins Prize honorable mention were two student organizations “in the earlier stages of setting a campus model for collaboration to seek understanding,” said Marla Love, senior associate dean of students for diversity and equity.

The planning board for Culture Fest was recognized for its work to promote an inclusive climate for all students at Cornell through its event. And Haven, the LGBTQ student union, partnered with religious organizations to hold a Religious Roundtable and with Black Students United and other student organizations to create a joint program, Coming Out Across Cultures.

Three student programs and student leader Sabrina Sugano ’19 received the inaugural Student and Campus Life (SCL) Diversity and Inclusion Awards. They all were recognized for advocating for various student populations and engaging with staff, faculty and the local community to promote a more inclusive Cornell:

  • The Undergraduate Student Organization of the Year Award recognized the Dyson Students of Color Coalition for creating a pop-up shop to offer free professional clothing to students. The coalition, established last fall, also initiated Dyson Diversity Week, which included a video campaign, “My Story, Our Story,” featuring students, staff, faculty, deans and President Martha E. Pollack.
  • The Graduate Student Organization of the Year Award was given to the organization Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) Women, for “seeking to make a difference in the lives of young women in Cornell’s surrounding rural communities,” said Vijay Pendakur, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students. He noted CBE Women’s annual one-day K-12 outreach event to interest young girls from rural, economically disadvantaged areas in STEM careers.
  • The Professional Student Organization of the Year Award went to the Healthcare Student Association, which focuses on the health of underserved communities and those in the Ithaca area experiencing food insecurity. The organization annually partners with the Southside Community Center and Barnes & Noble to lead a child literacy program; this spring it partnered with Cornell Dining, the Statler Hotel and the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives to set up a food pantry in Anabel Taylor Hall.
  • Sugano, who received the SCL Diversity and Inclusion Transformational Leadership Award, has worked with and led multiple organizations on campus, including the Women’s Resource Center, Consent Ed, Take Back the Night and the LGBT Resource Center, where she worked closely on the Queer Sexual Violence Prevention Program.

Cornell Trustee Emeritus Thomas W. Jones ’69, MRP ’72, who endowed the Perkins Prize in 1994 in honor of former Cornell President James A. Perkins, said this year’s Perkins Prize winner and honorable mentions share a common theme: They recognize the importance of respect for others across differences.

Jones is founder and principal of the private equity investment firm TWJ Capital. He was appointed a Cornell presidential councillor in 2017.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.