Rutgers Presents 2015 Human Dignity Awards to Six Honorees

Rutgers Presents 2015 Human Dignity Awards to Six Honorees

Awards honor those who promote the value and importance of diversity at Rutgers and in society

Recipients and presenters of the16th Annual Human Dignity Awards.
Photo: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University
The Human Dignity Awards were presented May 8, honoring Rutgers faculty, staff and organizations that strive to promote social justice and diversity.

The awards, given this year to two faculty, two staff members and two students and presented by the Committee to Advance Our Common Purposes, have been an annual tradition at Rutgers since 1999. They honor individuals or groups who have demonstrated extraordinary achievement and commitment in promoting the value and importance of diversity at Rutgers and in society.

This year’s honorees include a women’s and gender studies professor who has helped transform thinking about women’s rights as human rights around the world, an associate dean who promotes social justice and multiculturalism as integral values for pharmacists and frontline health care providers. They also include a student and staff member of the Newark LGBTQ Community Center who has served as a peer mentor and leader and created a welcoming environment at Rutgers University-Newark and beyond for  LGBTQ students and the community. 

The recipients are as follows:

Charlotte Bunch, professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers, has helped transform thinking about women’s rights as human rights around the world.  Bunch’s research has shaped policy documents at the United Nations and her creative policy recommendations have had palpable effects in areas of violence against women, human rights and human security, and the global campaign against HIV/AIDS. In 2005, UN Secretary General Kofi Anan asked Bunch to serve as senior consultant in the preparation of a report to the UN General Assembly on Violence Against Women. She has worked on strategic policy initiatives with such diverse partners as the UN Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, Amnesty International’s Campaign on Violence Against Women and the Network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws. At Rutgers, Bunch has also organized “Strategic Global Conversations,” attracting policymakers and activists to grapple with the complexity of transnational problems and think creatively about collaborative approaches to address them.

Nancy Cintron, associate dean, Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, directs the school’s Equal Opportunity Fund program and daily puts her strong connections and impressive collaboration with faculty and staff to work to better serve students in need. Through her work, Cintron demonstrates that social justice, multiculturalism and respect are not abstract concepts but are integral values for pharmacists as frontline healthcare providers. She is a charismatic, passionate leader, mentor and friend dedicated to students’ success in the field of pharmacy. As one alumnus said: “Dean Nancy reminds us of our vital role as leaders and teaches us to recognize the responsibilities that come with it.” Said another: “During my tenure as a pharmacy student, Dean Nancy was a friend, psychologist, social worker and life coach.”

Vanessa Gonzalez, Rutgers University-New Brunswick School of Arts and Sciences Class of 2016, embodies cultural diversity as she balances her Jewish, Iranian and Cuban roots while serving as a role model for the trans community. As the coordinator of the OUTSpoken Peer Education Team, Gonzalez is dedicated to campus peer education, outreach and advocacy regarding issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and social justice. She regularly facilitates competency trainings and workshops on gender, sexuality and intersecting identities for faculty, staff, administrators and students. She co-facilitates a weekly confidential, informal support group called Breathing Room for students who are struggling with LGBTQA issues among other intersecting identities and experiences. She is also the program coordinator for Trans*missions, a student organization for trans and gender-variant people and their allies – the first transgender student organization at Rutgers. Gonzalez represents human dignity in her person, in her actions and in her public speeches. She knows the risks of being public about her transgender status, but she talks openly about who she is and what her journey has been about. As a gifted peer educator, Gonzalez has also created a legacy at Rutgers as the first transwoman accepted to Douglass Residential College.

Lisa Klein, professor of Materials Science and Engineering, is president of the Rutgers chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-AFT), graduate program director and member of several advisory boards. She leads by example in leveraging opportunities to encourage women, under-represented minorities and economically disadvantaged individuals to pursue their aspirations. One of the very few women who pursued a career in engineering in the early 1970s, Klein is a pioneer whose efforts are fueled by her passion to increase diversity and inclusion in academia and the workforce. Having served as president of the Rutgers AAUP for two non-consecutive terms since 2005, she has initiated and influenced a number of recent contract negotiations that have benefited the Rutgers academic workforce, especially post-docs and non-tenure track faculty. Whether she is knocking on doors for people to sign petitions in support of post-docs, creating innovative programs that help students thrive, or encouraging first-generation undergraduate students to consider graduate school, she has shown genuine care for people, deep passion for the Rutgers community and the ambition to empower the next generation of professionals.

Wally Torian, assistant dean and director of admissions, recruitment and outreach, Rutgers Educational Opportunity Fund Program, has been a mentor and virtual father to thousands of students from educationally and financially disadvantaged backgrounds through more than 35 years of service.  He has served as a beacon of light to homeless students and to those facing medical or emotional crises. He was a founder of the Rutgers Black Men’s Collective, which established a support system for undergraduates facing the difficult adjustment to campus life.  Torian has extended his service to the wider community through the New Jersey Black Social Workers Association and the state EOF Professional Association. In his hometown of Plainfield, Wally has expanded opportunities for youth through his volunteer service as a probation counselor for the Middlesex County Court, his work as a mentor in the Plainfield YMCA Big Brother program, and his coaching of community soccer and football teams. In addition, his role as an assistant coach with a semi-professional football team, the New Brunswick Panthers, gave him another opportunity to encourage young men to begin their college careers or persevere toward a degree. In 2007, he was inducted into the Rutgers African-American Alumni Alliance Hall of Fame.

Kareem Willis, Rutgers University-Newark, School of Public Affairs and Administration, has been an exceptional peer mentor and leader for students in the LGBTQ community. Overcoming the challenges of creating community on a computer campus, Willis organized health, wellness and social support events, including Ally Coming Out Day, Open Mic Nights and an innovative fashion show, Presh Out the Runway, which highlighted LGBTQ designers. Also an OUTfront Mentor, the undergraduate demonstrates compassion, composure, flexibility and commitment to helping students in crisis. He has served the wider Newark community by volunteering with high school students and working at the Newark LGBTQ Community Center, the Hetrick-Martin Institute and other organizations.