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Last modified: Friday, April 2, 2010

Multicultural understanding awards given at IU Bloomington

April 2, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University Commission on Multicultural Understanding (COMU) will honor six individuals and one program with its 2009-2010 COMU Awards, April 6, in the Federal Room at the Indiana Memorial Union. This event is open to the public, with a reception beginning at 4:30 p.m. followed by the award presentations at 5 p.m.

The COMU awards, created in 1986, are given in recognition of those actively supporting, participating in or encouraging the exploration of cultural diversity in and around the Indiana University Bloomington campus. The awards are given in the categories of undergraduate student, graduate student, staff member, faculty member, community member and program.

This year's COMU award recipients are as follows.

Undergraduate student -- Brandon D. Johnson

Brandon D. Johnson is a senior exercise science-prephysical therapy major in the Department of Kinesiology in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Johnson, who is from Indianapolis, entered IU as a Groups student. The Groups program is a federally supported TRIO program whose mission states, "Through financial aid counseling, academic mentoring services and self exploration, Groups helps students realize their full potential." Johnson is one of many Groups students whose potential has contributed to the IU community. As a member of the 2009 Union Board and a volunteer in the Office of Diversity Education, Johnson has helped plan and coordinate diversity programs and mentored other college students. These programs include, but are not limited to: Cultural Immersion trips to Atlanta, Ga., and Howard University's Homecoming, Race in the Age of Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity Summit and "Promoting Diversity Education: What you can do to help!" During his tenure on the Union Board, Johnson spent time mentoring many of his committee members and encouraged them to run for the Union Board themselves. Six of the eight elected Union Board officers are African American and were mentored by Johnson.

Graduate student -- Onika K.Williams

Onika K. Williams is a native of Miami. Before attending Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Williams participated in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. It was this experience that sparked her deep connection with the Asian American community. When asked by the former president of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) to lead the organization, she found it hard to resist and accepted. In addition to her participation in APALSA, Williams is involved in the many diversity-related organizations and committees that include, but are not limited to: Latina/o Law Students Association, Lambda Law Society, which advocates for GLBT issues within the law school, the Student Bar Association's Diversity Committee, Enlightenment Chair for the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and a student affiliate for the Center for Constitutional Democracy. Most recently she participated in the Second Annual Women of Color Conference where she presented her paper, The President's "Baby Mama" -- Michelle Obama: A Narrative About The Media's Response to Michelle Obama During the 2008 Presidential Election.

Staff member -- Sandy Britton

Sandy Britton is the Coordinator for the Leo R. Dowling International Center. Serving the needs of international students through her position at the International Center, Britton goes above and beyond her commitment by also serving on numerous committees, attending forums, and serving on panels with the directors of the other cultural centers and support services. For example, she has co-chaired the Bloomington Multicultural Expo, an event that occurs in the fall and includes festivals representing various cultural groups from campus and in the Bloomington community. In addition Britton has served on the COMU Committee for Student Policy Issues for the last two years. When recalling her service to the university one of her colleagues says the following of Britton, " I especially appreciate the way in which Sandy listens and considers the needs of individual students in the planning of programs and the implementation of policies."

Faculty member -- Arlene J. Díaz, Valerie Grim and Joan Pong Linton

This year the faculty member award will be shared by Arlene J. Díaz, Valerie Grim and Joan Pong Linton. As a team these women wrote a proposal to develop a Center for Multicultural Engagement and Research. Along with this proposal and overwhelming support from university administration, faculty and students, they were awarded a grant from the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs. This grant helped to support a series of talks, workshops and panels this spring entitled ARC 2010-Attention, Reflection, Connection -- Taking Steps Toward an Inclusive Campus. It is their hope that this collective effort will spark discussions that will reach those who do not yet feel like they have a stake in creating an inclusive campus. These faculty members are helping to create a growing appreciation for cultural literacy and the need for a vibrant and inclusive campus in which all walks of life can thrive and feel supported. Arlene Diaz is an associate professor in the Department of History and director of Latino Studies. Valerie Grim is a associate professor and chair of African American and African Diaspora Studies (AAADS). Joan Pong Linton is associate professor in the Department of English and interim director of Asian American Studies Program.

Community member -- Quarryland Men's Chorus

Started in 2002 the Quarryland Men's Chorus has the following mission -- to provide a positive performance-based community for gay and bisexual men and their allies in South Central Indiana by fostering talent, fellowship, pride and understanding through excellence in vocal music. The chorus holds two major concerts each year and has performed at the Pride Film Festival, the Bloomington Farmer's Market, the 2009 IU Baccalaureate ceremony and has a long history with Positive Link, an AIDS Service program of the Bloomington Hospital. And while Quarryland Men's Chorus provides the Bloomington community with great entertainment, musical talent and a repertoire that includes an eclectic mix of jazz, pop, classical and folk music from various cultures, it serves a greater purpose as well. The greater purpose is providing a safe and welcoming social outlet for gay and bisexual men and their allies. Through a love for music and genuine camaraderie, the chorus brings together a diverse group of men with a wide range of ages and includes students, faculty, staff and community members of various racial groups. This Quarryland Men's Chorus ultimately creates a support network for men who do not always feel welcomed in all parts of our community.

Program Award -- Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Immersion Trip

The Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Immersion Trip started in 2003. That January students traveled to Memphis, Tenn., to the National Civil Right Museum located at the Lorraine Motel. Since then the trip has awarded students cultural experiences in Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., Washington, D.C., Lawrence and Topeka, Kan., and most recently Atlanta. Every trip brings new experiences and has different goals, but all have in common the goal to expose students to historical sites in each city and inspire students to actions in their community through reflection and continued learning. More remarkable is the low cost of the three-day trip, $25 plus food, allows a wide range of students to participate. This could not be achieved without the generous donations of several campus offices.

About the IU Commission on Multicultural Understanding

COMU has the general purpose of gathering information and encouraging programs and activities that increase awareness, and understanding factors which lead to racism and other forms of oppression in society and on the Indiana University Bloomington campus. With education at the core of the commission's efforts, students, staff and faculty are all responsible for contributing to this awareness and understanding. COMU provides a vehicle for members of the campus community to use in promoting greater communication amongst all those on campus, regardless of race, age, religion, ability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin and/or socio-economic status. Through increased communication and deliberate educational efforts that address issues of oppression, the commission can enhance the campus climate and serve as an exemplary role model for society.

For more information about the COMU Awards ceremony and other COMU events, please visit or contact