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3 students awarded for equity and social justice

Published on April 27, 2023

3 students awarded for equity and social justice

Unity Wing awardees
The Division of. Student Affairs Equity and Social Justice Awards ceremony participants, from left, Starsheemar Byrum, director of the Women's Center; awardee Kalagena Sullivan; awardee Katherine Escalante; awardee Frida Nieto-Gonzalez; Nicole Potestivo, coordinator of the Pride Center; and Joshua Sumrell, coordinator of the Intercultural Center.

Three Eastern Connecticut State University students have won Equity and Social Justice Awards for their work promoting civil rights, resources for undocumented students and mental health services on campus.

Katherine Gabriela Escalante '25 won the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for her commitment to civil rights at Eastern and in the community. Frida Nieto-Gonzalez '24 won the César Chávez Award, recognizing her empathy and accountability in seeking social change. The Ella T. Grasso award went to Kalagena Sullivan '24 for her pursuit of systemic change in destigmatizing mental health issues and treatment.

The awards were presented on April 24 in a ceremony organized by the Arthur Johnson Unity Wing, Eastern’s home for the Intercultural Center, the Pride Center and the Women’s Center. The awards are an initiative of Student Affairs.

LaMar Coleman, vice president for equity and diversity, speaks at the awards ceremony.

Bishop Daniel B. Bland, senior pastor of Revival Church, speaks at the ceremony.

Anastasia Luva '26, a music major, sang "Journey to the Past" at the ceremony.

Associate Provost Jennifer Brown welcomes awardees.

“These are some amazing people that have done amazing work,” said Associate Provost Jennifer Brown, welcoming the awardees.

Katherine Escalante
Katherine Escalante

Escalante, a first-generation immigrant born in El Salvador, came to Eastern from South Dakota on a scholarship by TheDream.US, which supports undocumented students. An activist in high school, where she fought discrimination and promoted social justice through speech and debate, Escalante has continued to advocate at Eastern for underrepresented communities.

A political science and philosophy major, she re-launched the Philosophy Club, lobbied on behalf of the DACA community, and represented DACA students in a trip to meet members of Congress in the nation’s capital.

Escalante said she was inspired by her parents, who taught her that “seeds grow where you water them.”

“I would like my legacy to be defined through my relentless ‘watering,’” she said. “I want to be remembered as someone who made a positive difference in the world, one seed at a time.”

Frida
Frida Nieto-Gonzalez

Nieto-Gonzalez, who is Escalante’s roommate, was born in Mexico and came to live in Georgia as a child. She has served on the boards of Freedom, an on-campus organization for undocumented students, and the Organization for Latin American Students. She is a volunteer coordinator with Shawn’s Cupboard, a food pantry for students, and she works part time with Eastern’s Opportunity Programs to organize activities for TheDream.US students. She also works on cultural activities for the Campus Activity Board. Nieto-Gonzalez also has led community-building activities for undocumented students.

“On campus I have become someone students recognize and who is available to ask questions to,” she said. Her goal has been to focus and educate the campus on immigration policies and the difficulties that undocumented students face. “My legacy is to create a comfortable environment in which under-documented students are able to focus on just being college students,” she said.

Sullivan, who is studying social work, worked with the Women’s Center to design and host a campus event last fall, “Steps for a Mighty Mind,” raising awareness of mental health, reducing stigma and advocating for changing mental health policies on campus.

Kalagena
Kalagena Sullivan

She is developing a suicide prevention training program for student leaders and plans to attend law school to specialize in human rights. Last year she volunteered at Windham’s branch of the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery. She also is a competitive dance instructor with the Dance Kraze dance studio. She graduated from Ellington High School. 

“My legacy is destigmatizing mental health and addressing systemic barriers limiting mental health service accessibility for all college students, specifically those in vulnerable populations,” she said.

The Equity and Social Justice awards recognize “students who take responsibility and lead change on our campus,” said LaMar Coleman, vice president of equity and diversity.

The ceremony’s keynote speaker, Bishop Daniel B. Bland, senior pastor of Revival Church, urged the audience to “never stop doing what you can do” to use skills, voices and experience to help others in the community.

“Our responsibility is not just to ourselves but it is to our neighbor,” he said.

Written by Lucinda Weiss