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5 women who are making UNC a better place


University Awards for the Advancement of Women. Held at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. March 19, 2019. Photo courtesy of Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill.

Five women around UNC’s campus were recognized with annual University Awards for the Advancement of Women on March 19, during Women’s History Month. This award gives these women distinction and a monetary prize for their efforts to better the lives of women around campus. 

“It's one thing to say that you care about the advancement of women in a university setting and it's another to have an award like this that publicly acknowledges these efforts," said Sarah Birken, professor in Department of Health Policy and Management at the at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. "It brings people together to celebrate the great work that is happening across campus to address some of the inequities we see and the biases that we see.” 

This year, one faculty member, one undergraduate student, two graduate students and one staff member who have engaged in efforts intended to advance the status of women on campus were awarded. The award is at a University level, meaning the chancellor grants the award, which is administered by the Carolina Women's Center. 

“Congratulations to the five honorees of the University Awards for the Advancement of Women managed by @UNCWomensCtr," said Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz in a tweet. "Thank you for your inspiring work to advance the status of women on campus – you're laying a strong foundation that future generations can build on!”

Grace Langley, a senior at UNC who won an award, said that the UAAW shows a broader effort by the University to attain gender equity on campus and within our community. She is involved in a variety of groups, including Carolina Advocates for Gender Equity, the Women Engaged in Learning and Leadership Residential Learning Program and Feminism for All.

“The award shows that there are leaders on this campus trying to make a real impact to overcome the constraints of sexism and heterosexism and work towards a more just and equitable society,” Langley said via email. “The University Awards informs gender minorities that they are not alone, and there is hope for us yet.”

Leah Bowers and Jennifer Fulton, both graduate students in chemistry, started several new initiatives in Allies for Minorities and Women in Science and Engineering, including mentorship training for incoming tenure-track chemistry faculty and a mentee training program for graduate students and post-docs.

“This public recognition and values reminder are critical to recruiting, including and retaining brilliant future female UNC students and post-doctoral fellows,” Bowers said via email. 

Not only do the UAAW recognize the work of the winners to uphold values, it also informally tasks UNC as a whole to continue to embrace them, Bowers said.

DeVetta Holman Copeland, Resiliency and Student Support Programs coordinator of Student Wellness, said winning the award was an exciting surprise. 

“When I gave my acceptance speech, I did say the piece that the students at UNC, and not just one of the students at UNC, are the wind beneath my wings,” Holman Copeland said. “It is a feeling that you cannot describe because it allows you to see when you when work is done for the betterment of others or the enlightenment of others, everybody's light shines.” 

This year’s recipients have done work from everything ranging from starting the "AcaDames" podcast to founding Sister Talk, a weekly dialogue with female students.

“I walked that journey every day with the students, I believe it's been noticed because we've seen students to come out on the other side and they've come out successfully,” Holman Copeland, who founded Sister Talk, said. “Obviously this was not something that I could have done totally by myself. It's a collaborative effort with every department that's on campus.” 

The goal of the award is to create the next generation of leaders, Holman Copeland said. 

“The university award and all that it embodies is important to me, because it reminds me that I am not alone in this fight. There are several agents for change on this campus working tirelessly to challenge the status quo and create a more equitable society,” Langley said. “I can always reach out to these individuals for support and solidarity in times of success and defeat.” 


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