After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Lynchburg’s Office of Multicultural Services presented its annual Multicultural Gala on Saturday, May 1.
The event was livestreamed from Hall Campus Center’s Memorial Ballroom. The theme of this year’s gala was “Perseverance and Prosperity.” Organizers say the theme harks back to the Great Depression of the 1930s, which was preceded by the prosperous Roaring ’20s.
“[It] encompasses the past year, getting through and adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Seiya Nomura ’20, programming coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Services. “Through perseverance, we become prosperous and that is what we are embodying moving forward after the pandemic is over.”
During the virtual ceremony, numerous awards were given to Lynchburg students, faculty, and staff.
The Helen Mundy Witt Multicultural Award, named for a 1967 Lynchburg graduate who died earlier this year, was presented to Dr. Cheryl Coleman, associate professor of English and associate dean of the School of Humanities. The award recognizes an individual “who has enhanced the culture of inclusion on campus by promoting togetherness, diversity, and respect; created opportunities for underrepresented populations; and/or encouraged positive community between persons of different backgrounds.”
The Leaving Your Legacy award, which honors a senior who has “exemplified excellent leadership, along with service in areas of diversity and inclusion,” was presented to Davion Washington ’21 and Laura Arriaza ’20.
The Altruistic Hero Award was presented to Rochelle Barasona ’21. It recognizes a student who “works selflessly behind the scenes with a positive attitude and willingness to help in whatever capacity necessary.”
The Always Becoming award honors a first-year student who upholds the values of the Office of Equity and Inclusion and is described as an “evolving leader” who reflects the Lynchburg vision of “always becoming.” This award was presented to Tamara Blanks ’24.
The Voice of Peace and Inclusion Award honors a student, faculty, or staff member who “uses their voice to promote inclusion in their personal, professional, and/or collegiate journey.” This year’s honoree was Jer Bryant, interfaith chaplain, director of the Wilmer Writing Center, and assistant professor of English.
Alejandra Bonilla ’22 was presented the Distinguished Diversity Leader Award. It honors a student who is “active and committed to the mission of the University of Lynchburg, ensuring that all members of our community are treated in a fair and equitable manner.”
The recipient of the Exemplary Mentor Award was B.J. Keefer, director of student engagement and leadership development. The award honors a faculty or staff member who “serves as a role model to the student body,” “is dedicated to empowering students to become leaders,” who encourages integrity, and is a “beacon of inspiration.”
The Community Engagement Award goes to someone whose efforts are focused on expanding “the concept of diversity and inclusion to impact the surrounding Lynchburg community.” The award was presented to Jarod Kirby, area coordinator for residence life.
The Patience and Fortitude Award gets its name from the marble lions, Patience and Fortitude, who stand guard in front of the New York Public Library. During the Great Depression, New York’s mayor named the lions for qualities he believed his citizens needed to get through the challenging time.
This award is presented to someone who “exemplifies the ideals of Patience and Fortitude at the University of Lynchburg, remaining strong and supportive in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The award was presented to Lisa Geier ’83, clinical director of health services.
The Office of Equity and Inclusion Organization of the Year award is given to a campus organization that is “active in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion; holds promise to their mission statement; and has been devoted to community service.” The award was presented to the Hispanic Student Society.
“The Multicultural Gala is important, especially now in the current political climate, to recognize the efforts of our students, faculty, and staff in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Nomura said.
“The fight for equality has lasted for centuries, so it is imperative that we show our appreciation for those who do fight so that we can support and join their efforts to the best of our abilities to see change in the world around us.”