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3 students honored for social justice efforts

Published on May 01, 2024

3 students honored for social justice efforts

Awardees Eugene Bertrand (left), Tiana Bailey (center) and Amia Lott

From left to right: Director of the Women's Center Starsheemar Byrum, Eugene Bertrand, Tiana Bailey, Amia Lott, Coordinator of the Pride Center Nicole Potestivo, Coordinator of the Intercultural Center Joshua Sumrell and Dean of Students Kemesha Wilmot

From left to right: Dean of Students Kemesha Wilmot, Vice President for Student Affairs Michelle Delaney, Eugene Bertrand, Tiana Bailey, Amia Lott and Vice President for Equity and Diversity LaMar Coleman

On April 30, three students were presented with awards to honor their commitment to promoting equity and social justice at Eastern Connecticut State University. The César Chávez Award was presented to Tiana Bailey ’26; the Ella T. Grasso Award was presented to Eugene Bertrand ’24; and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award was presented to Amia Lott ’24.

The César Chávez Award is given to one student every year who acts as an influential leader, extending empathy to underserved groups and holding those in power accountable.  

Tiana Bailey ’26
Tiana Bailey ’26

Bailey was described as an advocate for the Black and disabled communities, as a member of the Student Advisory Board, the NAACP, the Black Student Union, the Caribbean Student Association and an employee at the Office of Equity and Diversity. 

At the age of 12, Bailey was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome (TS). After learning that Black women were heavily underrepresented in discussions surrounding TS, she founded Black Beauty and Butterflies. The organization works to connect, support and create safe spaces for girls of color living with TS and hosts annual events to raise awareness.  

While in high school, Bailey and her friends formed Black Excellence in Theatre Arts, or BETA, where Black artists could network and perform freely. Through the organization, she was able to speak on Black experiences and bring Black artists to play various instruments, read poems and explore other areas of artistry.  

“My primary goal is to continue raising awareness about Turner Syndrome in our community,” said Bailey. “I want to educate others that (women of color living with TS) are here, and we are thriving. Our lives matter and we refuse to be invisible. I am determined to eliminate the stigmas attached to having learning disabilities and remind the entire community that true beauty begins within. Together, we can work toward creating a more inclusive and compassionate world. I strive to be living proof that anything is possible.” 

Ayesha Clarke, executive director of Healthy Equity Solutions, said, “Tiana’s willingness to listen, empathize and collaborate fosters a sense of belonging and collective responsibility, further empowering others to contribute to creating a more inclusive and equitable campus and community.” 

President Elsa Núñez welcomes the awardees and their families.

Director of the African American Cultural Center Alicia McKenzie speaks to attendees.

Vice President for Equity and Diversity LaMar Coleman announces the awardees.

Jazz artist Ace Livingston performs at the Equity and Social Justice Awards ceremony.

The Ella T. Grasso Award is given annually to a student who pushes for systemic change while encouraging others to do the same.  

Eugene Bertrand ’24
Eugene Bertrand ’24

Bertrand is a first-generation American and an honors student at Eastern. He’s worked as an RA and head student orientation counselor. He has also contributed to various administrative offices on campus. During his first semester at Eastern, Bertrand spearheaded the “Real Talk: Speak Up for the Culture” series, igniting crucial dialogues on social justice issues impacting college students. He recently sponsored a Black history program featuring June Archer to foster resilience and persistence among underrepresented populations on campus. 

Beyond Eastern, he has committed more than 1,500 hours to community service across Connecticut and played a pivotal role in crafting Legislative Bill SB-1022, aimed at improving minority teacher recruitment. He will continue his commitment to serving others while attending Columbia University, pursuing a master's degree in social work.  

“Witnessing my parents' struggles ignited a fire within me to break barriers and champion progress,” said Bertrand. “My legacy is rooted in their resilience and their steadfast belief in education. Guided by the wisdom of my upbringing, I want to inspire future generations to utilize the power of education to develop resilience, forging a brighter, more equitable future for all.” 

Education Professor David Stoloff said, “Eugene is dedicated to pursuing equity and justice on campus and across the state. From his first days at Eastern, he has been active in social justice initiatives here and in the Willimantic community.” 

Each year, the Martin Luther King Jr. Award is given to a student who speaks out for justice and demonstrates commitment to civil rights and inclusion both on and off campus. 

Amia Lott '24
Amia Lott '24

Lott has proven herself as an advocate for all marginalized people, acting as president of Eastern’s chapter of the NAACP, a member of the Student Advisory Board, a Women's Center student ambassador, and a member of the Diversity and Social Justice Council. When she was in high school, she realized that the world and its opportunities were not equal for all and decided to be a part of the change for future generations. 

"I’d like to give people faith and courage, no matter how big or small, and help them recognize that they can and will foster change,” Lott said. 

Joshua Sumrell, coordinator of Eastern’s Intercultural Center, said, “Amia has been able to connect with many students across campus and in the community. She has been a strong student leader over the past four years and took advantage of every opportunity. She truly represents what (Martin Luther King Jr.) stood for in regard to diversity, equity and inclusion and puts in the work to make change and inspire others. I know she is leaving an amazing legacy at Eastern and that she led with passion, soul and heart. Our community will remember her for that.” 

Written by Marcus Grant