Honorable Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza
“I had barely graduated from high school. People believed in me, and they opened doors for me, and I was able to turn my life around.” – Jorge Elorza, Mayor City of Providence
The son of Guatemalan immigrants, Elorza was born and raised in Providence. After attending the Community College of Rhode Island, he was accepted into the Talent Development Program at the University of Rhode Island and graduated at the top of his accounting class in 1998.
He then worked as an auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers on Wall Street before being called back to Providence by the news that one of his best childhood friends had been murdered. “It was at that moment that I decided to return home and dedicate my life to public service,” said Elorza.
A law degree from Harvard ignited his passion to correct injustices in the local communities through justice. As an attorney for Rhode Island Legal Services, he litigated race discrimination cases and represented both private and public housing tenants in Rhode Island Courts. In 2005, he joined the Roger Williams University faculty where he specialized in housing laws and co-founded the school’s Latino Policy Institute. In 2010, he was appointed to the Providence Housing Court.
On January 5, 2015, Elorza was sworn in as mayor of Providence and since taking office has continued to bring his passion for public service to scale through his work on issues such as housing, equity and education.
Undergraduate Student Excellence (Arts/Culture)
Shawn Antoine II, ’18
Majors: Economics and Public Relations, and Minor: Africana Studies
Shawn Antoine II is honored for the initiative, talents and passion he used to create his first documentary-style film, The Movement: Black Lives Matter. In this crisp film, Antoine invited some of the protesters in New York City to explain the movement in order to help others understand police-criminal justice system-community tensions in the United States. Shared with his professors, fellow students and now more than 15,000 YouTube viewers, the film helps everyone listen to and understand the voices propelling this critical 21st Century Civil Rights movement. But this film just gives a glimpse of Antoine’s achievements. Antoine is also a Rhody Ram defensive back on the football field, an elected representative on URI’s Student Senate, and vice president of URI’s Student Athletic Advisory Council. Recently, he completed working on Days in Delhi, his documentary on poverty in India.
Katheryn Arias, ’16
Majors: Theatre and Textile, Fashion Merchandising and Design
Katheryn Arias is honored for her dedication and determination to touch people of all ages and cultures through the arts. Having participated in diversity initiatives at the University and in Providence, Arias is seeking to convert her passion for the arts into a vocation. As president of URI’s Latin American Student Association (LASA), she helped to educate the community about Latin American culture, heritage, customs, and roots through discussions, food, and music. From organizing LASA Culture Week in the fall to working as Assistant Staff Coordinator for the Multicultural Student Services Center to choreographing and staging a first-place dance routine at URI’s Oktoberfest, Arias has helped this group thrive and enrich the community in the process. But her love of theatre and arts has also played out in her interactions with kids in Providence. Working with Play Corps Summer and the Mambo Pa Ti Dance Company, she has taught children to creatively capture and share their diverse voices through the arts.
Undergraduate Student Excellence
Oluwadamilol (Dami) Animashun, ’17
Majors: Political Science and Africana Studies
Dami Animashun is honored for his leadership and service in a wide range of organizations and activities. A Resident Assistant and member of URI’s Housing and Residential Life Diversity Committee, he has actively participated in URI’s Alumni of Color Network, Sankofa Ministry, the D.I.V.E. RI Conference, and the Africana Studies Program’s first Annual Race, Violence, and Democracy Colloquium. Within all of these groups and in his studies, he has addressed matters of social justice and brought the influence of faith organizations to bear in aiding communities in the United States and Africa. When asked about the panel he moderated at the D.I.V.E. Conference, “Civil Rights and Social Action,” Animashun said: “It was an opportunity to remind people that Dr. King wasn’t Santa Claus, but a freedom fighter of the highest echelon, willing to risk his life in order to see equality for people.”
Maryam Attarpour ’16
Majors: Political Science, and Gender and Women’s Studies, and Minors: International Relations, and Nonviolence and Peace Studies
Attarpour is recognized for her leadership and commitment to URI’s Persian Cultural Society — strengthening the platform for Iranian students, and for other students interested in Iranian culture and heritage. While navigating the challenges of being Iranian-American in the United States, Attarpour has excelled academically and taken great strides to increase awareness and understanding of the Persian culture through cultural events, musical performances, annual picnics, and other events. As a budding scholar, she has worked with her major professor Dr. Donna Hughes to document civil disobedience and other acts of resistance by Iranian women. Their paper, “Women’s Civil Disobedience in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” was presented at the Northeast Undergraduate Research and Development Symposium during 2015.
Undergraduate Student Excellence (Leadership & Service)
Michael Bonilla, ’17
Majors: Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, and Spanish, and Minor: Leadership Studies
Michael Bonilla is honored for his commitment and dedication to justice, equality, and the principles of a diverse, nonviolent community on campus and beyond. Through his leadership, he helped to re-invigorate the Student Nonviolence Involvement Coalition, creating an active, thriving, and dynamic group closely aligned with the mission of the University’s Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies. Yet, Bonilla’s leadership and service extend far beyond his influence in one area. In addition to his studies, internships and outreach, Bonilla has consistently taken on new challenges. A certified Kingian nonviolence trainer, he has shared his knowledge with fellow students, and has served as a co-trainer and mentor teaching nonviolence to teens in the Rhode Island Juvenile Probation Transition Program.
Zulmy Cortez, ’16
Majors: Political Science, and Economics, and Minor: Mathematics
Zulmy Cortez is honored for her strong leadership and commitment to changing the climate for underrepresented communities on campus and in greater Rhode Island. She has led several initiatives that have had a significant effect on campus life. As President of URI’s Multicultural Unity and Student Involvement Council (MUSIC), she has helped to strengthen the organization that promotes diversity and optimizes collaboration among student groups with a multiculturalism and social change agenda. During the last two years, she worked with a core group of student representatives to launch the first two annual D.I.V.E RI conferences that reached hundreds of students, faculty, and staff at URI and regional universities, and established M.U.S.I.C. as a prominent opinion leader among college students in New England. Zulmy has also worked as an intern for Planned Parenthood and on local political campaigns to increase cultural awareness.
Multicultural Unity Student Involvement Council (M.U.S.I.C)
This organization is honored for its strong success as “A council of cooperation and communication that captures the idea of optimized student collaboration.” M.U.S.I.C.’s collaborative nature and inclusive environment has enriched multicultural understanding throughout the university community and in Rhode Island. Through its creation of the Diversifying Individuals in Rhode Island (DIVE RI) Conference, M.U.S.I.C. for two years has established the most highly regarded annual conference led by and for students in Rhode Island higher education, attracting students from Brown, Bridgewater State, Roger Williams University, Rhode island College, Roger Williams University, and other universities. Through its coordination of One Love Weekend, it has helped to positively acknowledge the work of the multicultural and social change student organizations, thereby helping to build a diverse, supportive, and inclusive campus culture.
Powerful, Independent, Notoriously, Knowledgeable (P.I.N.K) Women
P.I.N.K. is commended for its dedication and success promoting self-exploration, professional development, and leadership opportunities that enhance the undergraduate experience of multicultural women and prepare graduates for the workforce. Through its peer mentoring program, P.I.N.K. helps to develop a sense of belonging for undergraduate women of color and their allies, while positively influencing retention. Through the Unsung Heroines Awards, P.I.N.K. provides recognition to undergraduate women who often contribute unacknowledged service at the organizational level.
Graduate Student Excellence
Qutaiba Al Harfi Albluwi, ‘17
Major: Computer Science and Statistics
Qutaiba Albluwi is honored for his strong outreach and leadership in defusing intergroup tension and building bridges of collaboration between religious faiths within and beyond URI. He has worked to make the Muslim Community Center of Kingston an open and safe place for Muslims and members of other faith communities. He has delivered many workshops and seminars to various organizations at URI and throughout New England related to racism and Islamophobia, and he developed a series of lectures at URI focused on “Principles of Nonviolence in the Islamic Traditions.” All of these programs have engendered greater understanding about and between different cultures and religions. As a doctoral student in computer science with an extensive background of professional achievement, Albluwi has also used nonviolence as a reference point for online discussions against hate, racism, video game violence, and human trafficking.
Sandi Lewanika, ‘16
Major: Music (Piano Performance)
A graduate student and vocalist, Lewanika is honored for her leadership as vice president of URI’s Graduate Assistants United Executive Board as well as her teaching and musical talents. Bringing her strong, soulful and southern voice to the URI Big Band’s performances, she has infused the traditional New England stylized jazz with an intimate knowledge of African-American culture. Her piano repertoire ranges from Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart to less heralded African-American composers, such as Margaret A. Bonds and George T. Walker. As a grad student, she teaches Jazz history and mentors undergraduates. Off stage, she is helping to build stronger bridges in support of the work for graduate student teaching assistants.
Brittney Cross, M. A., Social Work, University of New Hampshire
Academic Advisor and Learning Specialist, Athletics Department
As Advisor and Life Skills Coordinator for student athletes, Brittney Cross identifies with and brings people from diverse backgrounds together. She has helped to establish a norm for URI athletes to be universally involved in a variety of mentoring, leadership and diversity workshops and programs. She has also partnered with each office within URI’s Community, Equity and Diversity to establish beneficial working relationships with members of the Rhody Athletic Department. As a result, student-athletes have participated in initiatives with Affirmative Action, the Bystander Intervention Program, the Gender & Sexuality Center, the Multicultural Student Services Center and the Women’s Center. Her work has helped to expand the awareness of diversity among URI athletic teams..
Holly Nichols, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Antioch New England University
Clinical Counselor, URI Counseling Center
Holly Nichols is honored for her personal and professional commitment to incorporating women and people of diverse sexuality into the URI campus community. Currently, Nichols serves as Co-Chair of the President’s LGBTQ Commission. Since its inception six years ago, she has advised and facilitated URI’s LBTQ Women’s Group. She was co-producer, advisor and mentor for the group’s production of the film It Gets Better at URI: Coming Out for Change. Debuted as a part of URI’s Diversity Week on October 5, 2011, the film has since been seen by thousands of people in person, on RI PBS, and online. This film has been effective at encouraging people to better understand the lives of LGBTQ people and to inspire others to be “out allies.” Through the years, Nichols’ open, welcoming attitude has continued the momentum and inspired many others.
Charles (Chet) Hickox, J. D., Washington University
Professor, Business Law
Professor Chet Hickox is honored for his strong investment in the lives of diverse students in the College of Business. Since 1998, Professor Hickox has worked with the URI Talent Development Program to successfully identify and mentor students of color in business. With his dedication and support, many of his students have gone from the classroom to summer internships and to successful careers at such leading companies as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young. During the last two years, he also helped to coach teams of diverse students to victory in the Case Competition at the Minority Business Conference sponsored by the Boston Chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants, excelling against delegations from prestigious business schools, such as Babson and Bentley.
Anita Jackson, Pharm. D., University of Rhode Island
Clinical Associate Professor, Pharmacy
Dr. Anita Jackson is honored for her advocacy and work as co-chair of the President’s Commission on People with Disabilities. She is recognized for her commitment to enhancing the quality of life for students, faculty and staff with disabilities and by extension for other students from diverse perspectives and backgrounds. At the College of Pharmacy, Jackson is the founding advisor and continues to lead several of the programs related to the needs of diverse populations. For example, she co-founded and currently advises the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNAPhA) Chapter; the Walgreen’s Summer Academy, which helps to prepare diverse precollege students for careers in pharmacy; and the Spanish for Use in the Profession of Pharmacy student group to enable students to practice patient counseling in Spanish. She also is an active leader with the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Special Interest Group, and URI’s College of Pharmacy Diversity Committee
Videos of this year’s recipients can be found Here.
Photos of the ceremony can be found HERE.