Inaugural Diversity Equity And Inclusion Awards Presented At RVC

On Friday, April 29, 2022, the Rock Valley College Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) hosted the inaugural Eagle Awards of Excellence. The event honored students, faculty, staff, and community partners for their commitment and dedication to promoting a campus community that embodies trust, equity, and a sense of belonging. In total, 60 individuals were nominated by students, faculty, and staff, culminating in recognizing these award categories: outstanding student(s), outstanding faculty, outstanding staff, community partner, and distinguished service.

There may not have been a dry eye in the house when Dr. Mathew Oakes presented Professor Paulette Gilbert with the Distinguished Service Award for her lifelong work on diversity, equity, and inclusion at RVC and in our community.

Dr. Oakes stated, "This person is setting an impossibly high standard for anyone else to follow, and we may need to present the award and then immediately retire it. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to reflect on that African proverb that says, 'if you want to go fast, go alone; and if you want to go far, go together.' The recipient of today's award is someone who repeatedly chooses to go far and has consistently invited us along for this journey."

"It did not seem enough only to give Paulette the inaugural Distinguished Service Award for Peace and Justice," continued Dr. Oakes. "Her service to this college is too deep and too rich and too long to stop there. She has, and she will continue to call all of us into a more equitable future. And so, from today onward, all those who follow in her footsteps will be presented with this award in her name."

In her acceptance, Paulette said, "I try to live open, to hear the voice of justice and peace and love and compassion and goodness that I believe we are all capable of still speak to me. So, if there is a walk that I can invite you to join me on now, it is that walk that we continue to move to build a world that is an equitable, just, and peaceful one, but it is also a loving world. A world in which we love one another with all that we know is possible for all of us and necessary for all of us."

The award winners included:

Outstanding Student(s)

Felipe Gelacio. According to Keith Barnes, RVC Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, "Felipe is always ready to help students stand up for their rights, and he is vocal when he sees issues that treat students unjustly. His background and experiences have lit a fire in him that drives him to work towards positive changes in himself and our campus community. During his time at RVC, he has helped make the campus community more inclusive and equitable

Laura Kane. Her nomination read, "After a personal tragedy, she became a published author of a book called Lost to Darkness; Enlightened by Grace. She then formed a local nonprofit called Marshmallow's Hope to mentor kids in our local community. Laura has taken the greatest loss imaginable and uses her pain to encourage others to live out their purpose. She helps save lives daily and is a model of diversity, equity, and inclusion."

Outstanding Faculty

Dr. Mathew Oakes - Faculty of Composition and Literature/Chair of Promoting an Inclusive Community (PAIC) Committee. One nomination of Dr. Oakes read, "This recipient lives and breathes equity work in many facets of his life. In his classes, his yoga instruction, his leadership with PAIC, and his daily interactions with students and other RVC employees. I consider him a mentor in my journey to become an effective social justice change agent, and I know he's positively touched the lives of countless others."

Outstanding Staff

Mary Foreman - International Student Coordinator. With over 30 years of commitment to RVC, one student nomination stated, "For her, being an international student coordinator is more than just a job. It is helping young students to create a space where they feel comfortable. I don't know if I would have done what I have done without her help and support."

Outstanding Community Partner

The Workforce Connection. From their nomination, "This organization incorporates DEI within their mission and practices. They have a proven track record of partnering with RVC to identify barriers and create access and opportunities for all students. They are a key partner as we look at connecting with other organizations to spread the word about access and opportunity at RVC."

YWCA of Northern Illinois. As Professor Paulette Gilbert introduced the award, she stated, "When as a young African American Girl, I could not learn to swim in a swimming pool in my city, because segregation prevented that as a place for me to learn. I traveled to Colorado with my mother, who was in graduate school. There, this organization opened its doors to me and taught me not just how to swim or dive off the high board, but also about leadership development and character as well. Last year, they honored me with an award for racial justice. So it is fitting that today, I have the opportunity to present this award to them."