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Eastern Names Winners of Ella T. Grasso Award

Written by Emily Bonoyer


Ella T. Grasso Award Winners.JPG

Winners of Eastern Connecticut State University's Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Award.  Left to right, Senator Edith Prague (D-19th District); Jennifer Paradis '11 of Rockville/Vernon; and Eastern English Professor Marcia McGowan.


A Eastern Connecticut State University student, a Connecticut state senator and the director of women's studies at Eastern were named the recipients of the University's first Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Award on March 18. The three were honored during a reception in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room of Eastern's J. Eugene Smith Library. The award recognizes leaders who have made contributions towards advancing women's rights and issues of gender equality in memory of former Connecticut Governor Ella T. Grasso.

                        Sen. Edith Prague '65, who has represented the 19th Senate District since 1994, won the community award.  Prague is one of Connecticut's longest serving and most devoted public servants. A long time Columbia resident, she champions the causes of many under-represented groups. Prague has advocated for female correctional workers who were victims of sexual harassment; advocated on behalf of workers, primarily female, who suffered from sick building syndrome; and led the fight against creating a toxic landfill in Franklin.

            Prague has also been a regular guest speaker at Eastern and a tireless advocate for the mission of the University. She has been named the recipient of numerous awards, including Yale University's Outstanding Currently-Elected Woman; the National Organization of Women's (NOW) Alice Paul Award; the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award; and has been recognized for her service by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

            Eastern President Elsa Núñez called Prague "a mover and a shaker" and said protecting women's right is fundamental to Eastern's core values. Jean de Smet, first selectmen of the Town of Windham/Willimantic, delivered the keynote address at the ceremony.  She encouraged the audience to become more engaged in the governance process            .

Prague remembered Grasso as "a woman with a mission," and said, "I am so moved to receive this award.  This is one of the proudest days of my life."

                        English Professor Marcia McGowan is affectionately called one of Eastern's "feminist founding mothers" for her help in establishing the university's Women's Studies Department and Women's Center. From 1979 to 1981, McGowan worked on a Title XX grant for the development of the Women's Studies minor. She has directed the program for more than 20 years, making it a visible part of Eastern's academic landscape, helping students and faculty to explore and gender issues such as female image and identity, women and war, family issues, lesbian culture, minority women, women in education, women in the workplace, women and violence and others.  She is currently working to help revise the University's sexual harassment policy.

            As a recognized scholar of feminist criticism, pedagogy, women writers and women's studies, McGowan has frequently served on panels at major literacy conferences such as the Twentieth Century Literature Conference, held at the University of Louisville. At Yale University, where she held a Visiting Faculty Fellowship (1994-95), she was honored for her work about Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Edith Wharton.

Eastern's Women's Center is now more than 30 years old. McGowan's significant book donations to the center's library have enhanced its collection and expanded the minds of those seeking knowledge of women's issues. Her support of Women's Center programs has had an immeasurable impact on the lives of students. Political Science Professor Nicole Krassas said McGowan" "quiet persistence, authority and knowledge" make her "a national advocate for women's rights."

McGowan thanked Núñez for instituting the award and said there are many social issues - sexual harassment, gender equality, race, economic/income disparity - that have not been resolved and remain major concern, especially for poor women and women of color.

            Sociology major Jennifer Paradis, '11 of Vernon/Rockville, won the student award. Paradis has assumed a number of leadership roles in programs and organizations on campus, focusing on outreach and advocacy of women's issues and gender equality. She is a founding member and current vice president of Eastern's Lesbian Gay Straight Student Alliance (LGBT).   

            Paradis also help organize Eastern's Student Government Association's 2008 voter registration and polling place shuttle vans in 2008, and actively canvassing throughout New England for a political action committee that focuses on women's health issues. Paradis also chairs the Student Government's budget and management committee, works part time in the Office of Career Services, and still finds time to speak to student groups across Connecticut about women's issues and equality.

Paradis is also an intern with Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, helping to provide outreach and education on support services, and works on issues ranging from women's reproductive rights to AIDS awareness. Paradis said, "I look at Senator Prague and Dr. McGowan and I say to myself, 'I want to do what they do."  I want to do this throughout my life.

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