Rock Ethics Institute names 2020 Stand Up Award winners
by Jack Ouligian
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Rock Ethics Institute (REI) has presented its Stand Up Awards to four Penn State undergraduate students in recognition of their ethical leadership. The REI created the Stand Up Awards in 2008 to honor Penn State students who demonstrate the courage to stand behind a cause, idea or belief as they exhibit ethical leadership on campus and in the community.
After receiving a record number of nominations from eight of Penn State’s colleges this year, the selection committee presented the Stand Up Award to Erin Brown (Communication Arts and Sciences and Women’s Studies, ’21), Priya Hosangadi (Human Development and Family Studies, ’20), Divine Lipscomb (Rehabilitation and Human Services, ’21), and Genevievre Miller (Political Science and African Studies, ’20).
“Divine, Erin, Genevievre and Priya are truly exceptional students,” said Ben Jones, assistant director of the Rock Ethics Institute. “Each of them encountered, in different forms, tremendous adversity and exhibited ethical courage in the face of it. Their passion for justice and serving others is undeniable, and it is an honor to be able to recognize them with this year’s Stand Up Awards.”
Lipscomb was nominated by Efraín Marimón, an assistant professor of education and the director of the Restorative Justice Initiative (RJI) and the D.C. Social Justice Teaching Fellowship, and Ashley N. Patterson, an assistant professor of education, for his work in mentoring and working to expand educational opportunities for formerly and currently incarcerated individuals.
“As a formerly incarcerated student, I’ve been advocating for a space for formerly incarcerated students to be recognized since the moment I walked on campus,” Lipscomb said. And, Lipscomb said, after he met Marimón about two years ago, he began working with the RJI to create meaningful change.
As the Special Projects Coordinator of the RJI, Lipscomb helped to facilitate a summit that brought university, correctional and community stakeholders together to talk about Penn State’s role in prison education. As a result of the summit, the RJI received a grant from the provost’s office to support its local efforts.
In his role at the RJI, Lipscomb said, he has also helped its work with the department of corrections and higher education institutions across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to streamline access to higher education programming statewide.
In addition, through its new Inside-Out class, the RJI has begun to bring for-credit classes to correctional facilities through the Bellisario College of Communications, though Lipscomb noted that the RJI has been running non-credit programs in prisons for five years.
This fall, said Lipscomb, the RJI hopes to be recruiting for the Students’ Restorative Justice Initiative, where students can receive training to become harm reduction agents at Penn State through restorative practice trainings.
“Divine is a champion of educational equity in its purest form and views access to education as a fundamental human right,” Marimón said. “He has worked relentlessly to push Penn State to alter the far-reaching impacts of incarceration and to use its size, scope and reach to address ethical challenges in responding to issues of injustice.”
Alicia C. Decker, an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies and the co-director of the African Feminist Initiative at Penn State, nominated Genevievre Miller for her work on the State College Borough Council to serve underrepresented populations and promote a more welcoming community.
After initially winning a position in the University Park Undergraduate Association, Miller was internally elected as borough liaison thanks to her outreach to both protestors and council members at a borough meeting soon after the death of Osaze Osagie. In her role, she was an advocate for underrepresented racial and economic groups, and her most ambitious initiative would have brought food trucks to State College.
“I realized that the rent downtown is part of the reason why food here is so expensive,” she said. “And because food trucks don’t have to pay rent, they seemed like a good way to bring less expensive food options to Penn State.”
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the sample food truck day that Miller had planned for April 3, 2020, was canceled. Still, her work, which also included advocating for greater diversity in the borough council and planning relationship-building activities between the State College Borough Police Department and the Penn State University Park student body, did not go unnoticed.
“Instead of taking the path of least resistance, Genevievre decided to confront discrimination and injustice,” said Decker. “The courageousness of her actions should not be taken lightly. Despite the risks, Genevievre spoke out and will continue to speak out until she graduates.”
Erin Brown and Priya Hosangadi, both scholars in the Schreyer Honors College, were recognized for their work bringing attention to sexual assault and seeking institutional changes in the College to prevent sexual violence and support survivors.
Brown was nominated by Lori Bedell, an associate professor of communication arts and sciences and the assistant director of undergraduate studies, and Peggy Lorah, an assistant professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and the director of the Center for Women Students.
“I am a survivor of sexual assault,” Brown said, “And I quickly realized that my experience as a sexual assault survivor on a college campus is not unique. After a period of time, I realized that I am in a powerful position to use my voice and my story to make a change.”
“Erin is the kind of person who believes in big ideas of justice and who will fight for them even when the fight could harm her personal goals and aspirations,” said Bedell. “She is also supremely thoughtful of the place society has given her, the voice she has as a result, and the privileges she has that others may not have because of social or economic vulnerability.”
“Sexual violence is something that affects everyone at Penn State, and it’s something that we all need be honest about,” Hosangadi said. “I want to help future students feel more prepared and be able to talk about it.”
Hosangadi also highlighted the importance of the aid that she and Brown received from allies. “Erin and I faced pushback from both administration and the community with our initiative that often made our work seem daunting. However, there were also people behind the scenes who helped us be heard,” she said.
“There were a lot of cheerleaders who, whether by just being friends or thoughtful listeners, gave us the support and guidance that we needed. All the help that we received throughout the various obstacles with this initiative went a long way.”
“Priya demonstrates a tireless and exceptional dedication to addressing sexual violence at Penn State,” said Exten. “Serving as an adviser to her has been an enormous privilege, and she has taught me an incredible amount about resilience, courage, and passion for change.”
Through their work, the pair started a bystander prevention program for incoming Schreyer Scholars. “We wanted to be transparent with incoming freshmen, and to tell them what they should do if they see something on a Saturday night,” said Brown.
Additionally, before Penn State moved from in-person to remote classes, they had planned events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
Nominations for the 2021 Stand Up Nominations are being accepted now, with the selection committee scheduled to make its decisions early in the spring semester 2021. Students winning the award will be honored at a ceremony and receive a $1,000 scholarship.
Any community member or Penn State faculty, staff or student may nominate an undergraduate from any campus for the Stand Up Award. The nominating process is described on the REI website. The student must be an undergraduate, baccalaureate degree-seeking Penn State student who is enrolled full-time during at least one semester of the 2020/21 academic year.
Doug and Julie Rock established the Rock Ethics Institute through a $5 million gift in 2001. Under the direction of Associate Professor of Philosophy Ted Toadvine, the Rock Ethics Institute promotes engaged ethics research and ethical leadership from its home in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts.