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Jodi Benenson
COMU Executive Council

Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Multicultural Understanding Awards given at IU Bloomington

April 3, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University Commission on Multicultural Understanding (COMU) will honor six individuals and one program with its 2008-09 COMU Awards, April 6 (Monday), at the Federal Room in 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 IU Bloomington campus. The awards are given in the categories of undergraduate student, graduate student, staff member, faculty member, community member and program. This year a special merit award also will be given.

Commission on Multicultural Understanding

This year's COMU award recipients are:

Undergraduate student -- Ruchi Shah is a senior who has served as a CommUNITY Educator in McNutt and as the President of the Multicultural Greek Council. She is a member of Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority, Inc. and a volunteer in the Office of Diversity Education. Additionally, she has served on the Student Organization Ethics Board and the Unity Summit organizing committee. She performed Indian dance and African songs for various cultural programs on campus, and has collaborated with IU's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Services (GLBTSS) office, La Casa, the Asian Culture Center, and several other IU cultural centers. Shah is also a co-creator and annual organizer of the NEO Unity Program, which she developed to introduce new initiates into various Greek-letter organizations and encourage governing councils in the IU Greek system to come together, learn about each other, and participate in ongoing collaboration.

Graduate student -- Delphine Criscenzo-Boyer is a graduate student in the department of African American and African Diaspora Studies (AAADS). Originally from France, Criscenzo-Boyer came to IU during her senior year as part of an exchange program between IU and Université de Provence, and plans to graduate with her master's degree in May. Her main academic interests are race relations, and racial and cultural identification, especially among people of both African and Native American descent, known as Black Indians. Criscenzo-Boyer has served as an advocate for diversity on campus in numerous ways, including in her role as treasurer for both the American Indian Student Association and the Native American Graduate Student Association. She is the co-founder and treasurer of the Native American Community Center of Bloomington, Inc., a volunteer at the Mongolian and Tibetan Cultural Center, and a member of both the IU Gumboot group and the Bethel AME church. She also is an active student leader in the AAADS department.

Staff member -- Debbie Melloan has been a counselor in the Sexual Assault Service since 1990, and her history at IU has been filled with projects that illustrate how an individual can go beyond her or his position to contribute to multicultural understanding. Melloan has demonstrated her commitment to benefiting the campus and greater Bloomington community through many initiatives. She created "Multicultural Mastery," an educational game that celebrates and informs about multiculturalism. She also serves as a member of the campus Commission on Personal Safety and volunteers as a member of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Anti-Harassment Team. She also contributed to the development of COMU's multicultural resource guide for the campus and provides annual training for Hearing Commission members and judicial officers in the campus judicial system to help them understand victimization in preparation for their adjudication of cases involving sexual offenses. Melloan approaches all facets of her work with the mindfulness of inclusion and with the goal of creating bridges and respecting difference. Her reputation is characterized by her expertise, professionalism, respect for others, sensitivity, collegiality, creativity and reliability.

Faculty member -- Hilary E. Kahn is the associate director for the Center for the Study of Global Change and has been involved in the internationalization of higher education for many years. Kahn's numerous multicultural initiatives include her role as director of Voices and Visions: Islam and Muslims in a Global Perspective, a program funded by the Social Science Research Council at 10 U.S. universities to widen understanding of Muslims and Muslim communities. She is a board member for the Indiana Project for Latin American Competency, director of the Ph.D. minor in global studies, faculty co-convener of the COMU Faculty and Staff Policy Issues Committee, and director of an international service-learning program in Westmoreland, Jamaica. As an adjunct professor of anthropology, Kahn relies on her foundations in anthropology to allow her to decipher complex cultural situations and cross cultural divides to provide students and the public with the insight that leads to greater empathy, advocacy and understanding.

Community member -- Choonhyun Jeon is the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program coordinator for the Monroe County Community School Corporation. In this role, he assists school administrators and ESL teachers with delivery of instruction and support services to English-language learning students and their families. Serving as a district representative on the Human Understanding and Diversity Committee, Jeon has been a part of many diversity initiatives, including designing and organizing International Family Day, a district-wide school-community joint annual event which provides orientation and a diversity workshop for new international students and their families. Jeon strives to ensure that international families placing their children in the MCCSC schools feel welcome. He recognizes the need to create a responsive yet flexible systematic ESL program that provides appropriate instructional programs and services to the students and other stakeholders, including parents, faculty and staff in the Bloomington community.

Program Award -- MLK Day Unity Summit is an interactive diversity education program held each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at IU. The summit promotes civil dialogue and explores ways to improve campus climate for all IU students. The Unity Summit model allows strangers to talk about difficult diversity issues such as racism, homophobia and religious tolerance, in a safe and comfortable environment. This event has increasingly become an anticipated and celebrated annual gathering at which student groups work together with staff to highlight the importance of talking about issues of diversity. While the format has been slightly revised from year-to-year, the value of the event consistently has been strong. There are many positive outcomes of this event, but one of the most profound is the increase in cross cultural collaborations between student organizations. The MLK Day Unity Summit is a positive force on the IU campus for bringing about understanding and change.

Special Merit Award -- Richard N. McKaig has been an advocate of COMU's mission for many years. In the early 1980s, he was a participant in the first retreats sponsored by the commission and from which evolved COMU's current status. The commission functions under the auspices of the vice provost for student affairs and dean of students, and in that role, McKaig has consistently provided support and encouragement for the work of COMU. As he approaches his retirement at the end of this academic year, the commission will honor his many years of service to the university and to COMU with a Special Merit Award.

The Indiana University Commission on Multicultural Understanding

COMU has the general purpose of gathering information and encouraging programs and activities that will increase awareness and understanding of the 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 all are 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 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