Earlier this week on January 29, Professor Tanya Gonzalez received the 2018 Commerce Bank and W. T. Kemper Foundation Presidential Faculty/Staff Award for Distinguished Services to Historically Under-Represented Students. Many of our colleagues support underrepresented students at Kansas State, including Assistant Professor Tosha Sampson-Choma who was honored as a nominee. We are thrilled that Tanya has been recognized with the 2018 award.
Tanya teaches and advises a wide range of students, many of them of color or the first members of their families to attend college. She has previously served as faculty advisor for three student organizations (United Multicultural Women, Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, and the Hispanic American Leadership Organization), and she currently advises Kappa Delta Chi, a new historically Latina sorority on campus, as well as the Student Organization for Cultural Studies (SOCS). She also serves as the Faculty Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry (OURCI) and contributes to the Developing Scholars Program (DSP).
Tanya’s time-intensive, compassionate mentoring considers the many aspects of her students’ lives, recognizing how one area can affect success in another. As Tess Hobson (Interim Assistant Director, OURCI) explained in her letter of nomination, Tanya brings “humanity to what otherwise seems like an inflexible system.” Tanya’s integrated approach reminds us that empathy can foster academic excellence and intellectual curiosity.
Tanya also strives to create institutional change through her extensive administrative service, so an even greater number of diverse and under-represented students can have the support they need to succeed. She has been instrumental in developing a network of departments, committees, and organizations across K-State that promote and support diversity at all levels of university life, so students can thrive.
We offer here Tanya’s remarks at Tuesday’s awards ceremony. A video of Tanya sharing her remarks follows below, courtesy of Rebeca Paz (Assistant Director, Office of First-Generation Students), along with some photos of the event. Our congratulations to Tanya and our thanks to all of our colleagues who advocate for students at Kansas State.
— Karin Westman, Department Head
Thank you, Tess, for those kind words and for nominating me. And thank you to the selection committee for making a very difficult choice. I appreciate this recognition. Forty years of the Commerce Bank award is a big deal. So thank you to Commerce Bank and the W.M. Kemper Foundation for its consistent support of these efforts.
Before I begin, I want to recognize that we stand on the treaty lands of the Kaw Nation and that there are four federally recognized tribes in Kansas: The Kickapoo, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Sac and Fox, and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska.
I also want to recognize the past forty recipients of the faculty and staff award for their groundbreaking work, perseverance through adversity, and their communal mentoring of students, faculty and staff. Some of these recipients are here today and I would like them to stand to be recognized. Thank you.
Today, I want to remind us of K-State’s legacy of bringing diverse leaders to campus to inspire and encourage us in this work: Martin Luther King, Jr., Dolores Huerta, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Angela Davis, and many others. I want to acknowledge that early in K-State’s history, African Americans received degrees at K-State when that opportunity was closed to them elsewhere, but to also remind us that that African American masons constructed many historic limestone buildings around Manhattan. Because there are many ways to be groundbreaking.
I want us to think about legacies of struggle and perseverance, and different ways to leave our mark, because lately the rhetoric against workers, women, immigrants, and people who do not seem to fit an imagined social “norm” whether because of religion, sexuality, race, ethnicity, political position, etc. —that rhetoric has been very noisy. As an institution of higher learning, we have an obligation to rise above that noise, or at least to create spaces to intelligently reflect on what is happening around us.
A university is special, integral to the working of a healthy society. It is a spot where we can study ideas from the most idealistic philosophers to the most pragmatic, application-driven researchers. The university is a place where we hope our students can learn how others speak, think, imagine, investigate, and create—so that they can go into the world with the skills to adapt, adjust, improve, dream, and handle the challenges of the future with confidence and courage.
Being an underrepresented student on a college campus can be daunting. Especially if you are constantly racialized and othered. Especially if you are an immigrant, a dreamer, LGBTQ, poor, hungry—sometimes all of above. As a first-generation college student from an underrepresented population myself, I know the anxieties that come from trying to navigate academics and social life on campus alongside overwhelming feelings of responsibility to family and communities at home. It’s a lot of added pressure.
Those feelings don’t completely go away as an underrepresented, first-gen University Professor, especially when you first start your career. Faculty Staff Affinity Groups, diversity committees, mentoring student groups who share some of my experiences have been, quite honestly, the main reasons I have persisted at K-State. And then, of course, there are the undergraduate researchers who inspire me every day. Thank you, Anita & Tess, for allowing me to be a part of the high impact program that is so special and integral to our diversity and retention efforts.
It takes work to make K-State a welcoming home for our underrepresented students, faculty, and staff. It means a constant state of developing, building, and becoming. If I have made those efforts a little easier to bear for our students, or for anyone on this campus, I have done so because my students, and all of you, make it easier to bear for me, every day. I wish there was another award, one for distinguished service to underrepresented faculty and staff at K-State, because I would award it to so many of you sitting here today.
There are a lot of new additions and changes happening here, and I’m excited that so many of them are related to making K-State a better place to listen, to learn, and to live. As we continue to grow and change with new leadership, a new multicultural student center, let’s move in coalitional solidarity and love toward equality and justice. Let’s move in the radical care we have for this place and for each other. Let’s be groundbreaking. Thank you.
— Tanya Gonzalez, Professor