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COMU honors individuals who promote diversity


By Belle Kim

The Commission on Multicultural Understanding had its 25th annual awards ceremony in the Indiana Memorial Union on Monday, honoring faculty, students and staff who have been active in promoting diversity at IU.

Recipients for the six individual awards presented were chosen from a pool of more than 100 nominations that COMU received this year — the highest number yet.

“It’s one of the only ceremonies that recognizes the work individuals do for diversity,” said Cameron Vakilian, COMU graduate assistant. “Events like this promote the good work that has been done and help us move forward to accomplish our goals.”

Rasul Mowatt, an assistant professor at the recreation, park and tourism studies department, received the faculty award.

Eric Love, director of the Office of Diversity Education, said Mowatt has been an ongoing resource for student organizations on campus, as well as a dedicated Union Board adviser and an inspirational teacher. He also mentioned Mowatt’s research in issues of social justice and racial identity.

“I highly respect those who have nominated me and been supportive and allowed me to be me,” Mowatt said.

Senior Alicia Nieves was the recipient of the undergraduate student award.

Nieves has been active in issues of immigration on campus. As the coordinator of Dream IU, she actively promoted the Dream Act that sought to provide more rights for undocumented students.

When state legislatures introduced the controversial Senate Bill 590 and House Bill 1402, which raised fears of racial profiling, she contacted officials and urged them to reject the bills.

Nieves has also been working to shed light on undocumented Asian students, “the neglected dream students” who are largely unheard.

La Casa Latino Cultural Center director Lillian Casillas-Origel held back tears as she presented the award to Nieves, who received a standing ovation as she came to the lectern.

Nieves will be graduating in May, but she is determined that this won’t be the end of her activism at IU.

“I want to continue to contribute to IU,” she said.

The graduate student award was presented to Gopinaath Kannabiran, who was nominated for the respect and compassion he showed while working with students as an assistant instructor as well as his enthusiasm for issues relating to multiculturalism.

“When I first started my master’s program in 2009, I didn’t feel like I belonged here,” Kannabiran said. “My freshman year, I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t impress any professors with my work. I didn’t impress myself with my work.”

His academic career was changed when one of his professors, without any apparent reason, decided to work on a project with him.

He said he tries to demonstrate that same kindness and understanding to his

“Giving someone a second chance is the most human, kind act you can do,” he said. “You never know what can happen by just one simple act.”

Other awardees included Lee Ann Jourdan, executive director of Girls Inc.; Brian Morin, assistant director of the Office of First Year Experience Programs; and the cast of “Catalyst”, a theater project that was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.

More than 70 people attended the reception and ceremony, sitting at tables that held “I won’t stand for hate” signs.

Bryan Popa, an IU alumni and COMU member, said he was excited to see those who have worked tirelessly to promote diversity.

“It’s a great opportunity to show these people that their work is important,” he said. “It makes me feel both proud and humble to know that these people, who are responsible for making our mission a reality, are being respected and honored.”

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