The Women and Gender Studies Excellence in Inclusion Award recognizes outstanding student projects (research or creative works) that explore issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion at CU Boulder or in the U.S. more generally. This award is designed to help foster an inclusive and welcoming campus climate at CU Boulder for students of all backgrounds, including first-generation students, minority students, women, LGBTQ, and other historically underrepresented groups in the field of education. This year we awarded the prize to two outstanding students: Heraa Hashmi and Toluwanimi Obiwole.
Heraa Hashmi was given the Excellence in Inclusion Award for her video project, "Building the (difficult) Bridges." Heraa is a student in molecular biology and has served as the president of the Muslim Student Association. In her video, she talks about her identity as a Muslim American, woman, immigrant, and student. She describes the pressure she often feels to represent the entire Muslim community. After an experience in the classroom where a fellow student asked her “why Muslims are so violent,” she created an online resource of 5600 cited instances of Muslims condemning violence. This went viral and became the website MuslimsCondemn.com, an ongoing initiative to fight Islamophobia. These projects and Heraa’s continuing efforts to engage her fellow students in difficult conversations are making an important difference in our campus community, and beyond.
The second Excellence in Inclusion Award winner is Toluwanimi Obiwole. Toluwanimi is an Ethnic Studies major, and in 2015 was named the inaugural Denver Youth Poet Laureate. She received this award for her poetry collection, “On Those Who Shapeshift to Survive.” Her poetry speaks to her own struggle trying to "blend in" to American culture while still maintaining her African cultural identity. With these poems, she hopes to speak to the many other students who struggle with these issues and to reach out to those who have never considered them.
In her application, Toluwanimi writes,
"my form of activism is creating art (poetry in particular) that speaks to both mine and the collective experience of (specifically African) students who struggle with trying to assimilate and "blend in" to American culture while having to maintain their traditional cultural identity in the home. Often, students like myself feel that we must perform multiple identities in order to survive which takes a toll on us that seems invisible to everyone but us. Through great favor and work, I have been able to not only produce poems that bring these stories to life, but perform them in front of crowds that have probably never had to consider these issues nor heard stories like mine before. However, what makes my art really worthwhile is performing my poems for people who identify like me and face the same struggles. I love being able to help them understand that they are not alone."
The Women and Gender Studies faculty recognized these two students at our annual Commencement ceremony on May 12, 2017 in Old Main. For more information on this award, and to view last year's winner, please see www.colorado.edu/wgst/inclusion-award.