Iris Marion Young Award For Political Engagement | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
University of Pittsburgh

Iris Marion Young Award For Political Engagement

The Young Award for Political Engagement honors Iris Marion Young, a philosopher and social theorist of international renown.  Young was a professor in GSPIA during the 1990s before taking a position as Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago in 2000. She died in 2006 of cancer.

At Pitt, Young was a galvanizing presence, active in the Women’s Studies Program as well as within GSPIA. During her time in Pittsburgh, Young volunteered and organized on behalf of peace and social justice, fair labor practices, adult literacy, and children’s rights, among other causes, and she worked to combat hate groups and poverty.

GSPIA and the then Women’s Studies Program inaugurated the award in 2008 to honor Young’s memory and recognize a member of the Pitt community whose actions have had political impact within the University or beyond. In 2009, GSPIA established the Iris M. Young Lecture in Civic Engagement to mark the event, and Women's Studies added an undergraduate award. A graduate student award was added in 2011.

This Iris Marion Young Award call for nominations is distributed in August and awardees are honored each fall.

Past awardees:

Jackie Smith -2016 (faculty)

Jackie Smith is professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and editor of the Open Access Journal of World-Systems Research. Her research addresses relationships between globalization and social movements, and recent books include: Social Movements and World-System Transformation (co-edited with Michael Goodhart, Patrick Manning, and John Markoff), and Social Movements in the World-System: The Politics of Crisis and Transformation (with Dawn Wiest). Smith is co-founder and co-coordinator of the Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance, and serves on the national steering committee of the National Human Rights City Network. She is co-founder of the International Network of Scholar-Activists and serves on the Leadership Committee of May First/People Link, a technology and communications rights organization.

Sheila Confer – 2016 (staff)

Sheila Confer is Assistant Director of the Academic Village at Pitt-Greensburg. She also teaches in the Theatre Department. Confer brings social justice education and trainings to the campus community through Pitt-Greensburg’s Academic Village, Allies Network and Committee for Gender Equity, which she chairs. Outside of her work at Pitt, Confer serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors of Blackburn Center, Westmoreland County’s only anti-violence agency. She also works on Blackburn’s Social Transformation Committee and as the liaison for the agency’s ongoing relationship with Pitt-Greensburg. Confer is a 2014 winner of the Chancellor’s Award for Staff for Excellence in Service to the University.

Hanifa Nakiryowa – 2016 (graduate student)

Hanifa Nakiryowa is currently a H. J. Heinz fellow with the Global Studies Centre, pursuing a master of International Development-Human Security at GSPIA. She has a certificate in Global Change Leadership from COADY International Institute, Canada and a master’s degree in Economics from University of Nairobi. She has worked as a UNICEF-Uganda program monitoring and evaluation specialist, human rights advocate for Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda and tutor at the Islamic University in Uganda. She founded the Centre for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and burns Violence (CERESAV), the only NGO in Uganda advocating for ZERO tolerance to Acid Attack Violence.

Saskia Berrios-Thomas – 2016 (undergraduate student)

Saskia Berrios-Thomas is a senior majoring in social work and minoring in economics. Saskia is deeply committed to working for those affected by sexual violence and child abuse. She has conducted research projects on sexual violence prevention and has published work in undergraduate and professional journals. Saskia is currently an intern at Allegheny County CYF. She is a Pitt sexual assault peer educator and annually volunteers at a Native American emergency foster care home. She volunteers regularly with her therapy dog and also works two part-time jobs. In her free time, Saskia enjoys spending time with her horse, family, and friends.

Robin Clarke - 2015 (faculty)

Robin Clarke is a non-tenure-track faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers, a group of faculty who are organizing unions for academic workers in Pittsburgh. She was active in the fight to save Braddock Hospital and, more recently, to try to prevent her neighbors from being priced out and displaced as East Liberty undergoes gentrification. She is the author of Lines The Quarry (Omnidawn, 2013), winner of the Omnidawn 1st/2nd book prize for poetry, and Lives of the Czars (nonpolygon, 2011), a chapbook co-authored with the poet Sten Carlson. 

Abby Yochum -2015 (graduate student)

Abby Yochum is a third-year, joint-degree student in the School of Law and School of Social Work. She is a Pittsburgh native of the South Hills. She is currently the Director of Development at the Pitt Legal Income Sharing Foundation, Vice President of the Pitt Law Democrats, and Articles Editor of the Pittsburgh Tax Review. She is also a proud Planned Parenthood volunteer and former intern. She hopes to continue her career in the area of feminist advocacy and reproductive rights. 

Marko Gudic - 2015 (undergraduate)

Marko Gudic is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. He is majoring in both Politics and Philosophy and Economics. He is minoring in Statistics and Portuguese, and earning a certificate in Global Studies. As a leader on campus and in the city, he has worked to promote equality, expand political representation and participation, and foster greater collaboration between the University and the broader Pittsburgh community. He is passionate about public policy and international development, and is committed to innovating government through the advancement of democracy and the application of technology.​

Irene H. Frieze - 2014 (Faculty)

Irene H. Frieze serves as a professor of psychology, business administration, and women’s studies. She was a founding faculty member of Pitt’s Women’s Studies Program, the forerunner of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program, in 1972. Frieze directed the Women’s Studies Program from 1984-1989 as well as in 1993 and continued to be an active member of the program’s steering committee until 2014. Frieze also has served as the chairperson for Pitt’s University Senate Ad Hoc Committee for the Promotion of Gender Equity as well as the Senate’s Ad Hoc Committee for the Support and Advancement of Women. 

Yumna Rathore - 2014 (graduate student)

Yumna Rathore earned a Master of Public Administration from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs in April 2014. As a student, she served as co-president of Daya: International Consultants for Peace Initiatives, the Pittsburgh chapter of an India-based conflict-resolution nongovernmental organization. Through the organization, she launched a graduate-level internship program for Pittsburgh students to study and work in various regions of India. She has blogged and delivered presentations on women’s rights issues in the Middle East and matters of security around the world. 

Joseph Thomas - 2014 (undergraduate)

Joseph Thomas graduated in December with a BS from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. He is a founding member of Pitt’s chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy and NoSweat: Pitt Coalition Against Sweatshops, which campaigned for the University to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium. Thomas also received the University Honors College’s Brackenridge Summer Research Fellowship and the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which he won for his research on biofilm formation in Mycobacterium smegmatis

Jessie B. Ramey - 2013 (Faculty) 

Jessie B. Ramey, currently an ACLS New Faculty Fellow in Women’s Studies and History at the University of Pittsburgh.  Ramey is being honored for her activism on behalf of public education in Western Pennsylvania.  She is a founding member of the Pittsburgh Great School Coalition, an organization devoted to improving public schools and public school funding in Western Pennsylvania, and the lead author of the blog with the same goal, Yinzercation.  As a result of these efforts, Ramey has twice been invited to the White House to meet with President Obama’s senior policy advisors about educational issues.  Ramey’s scholarship supports her interest in children’s welfare and opportunities.  She is the author of Childcare in Black and White: Working Parents and the History of Orphanages (University of Illinois Press, 2012), which won the Lerner-Scott prize in women’s history from the Organization of American Historians, the Herbert G. Gutman Prize of the Labor and Working-Class History Association, and the John Heinz Award of the National Academy of Social Insurance.

Sherdina D. Harper - 2013 (Staff)

Sherdina D. Harper is being honored for her exemplary work as Coordinator of Cross Cultural Programming at Pitt.  Harper advises several student organizations at Pitt (Rainbow Alliance, Black Action Society, and Campus Women’s Organization) and provides diversity trainings and workshops, including the Allies Training for staff and faculty about how to support LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and queer) students at Pitt.  

Alicia D. Williamson -2013 (Graduate) 

Alicia Williamson (A&S ’13G), a visiting postdoctoral lecturer in English and Pitt alumnus, is being honored for helping to found Pittsburghers for Public Transit while she was a Pitt graduate student in 2010. She also has been a member of the Thomas Merton Center’s Economic Justice Committee and recently helped found the Pittsburgh Collaborative for Working Class Studies, an organization that brings together scholars from several Pittsburgh colleges and universities.

Audrey-Marie H. Winn - 2013 (Undergraduate)

Audrey-Marie H. Winn, a junior majoring in philosophy, Chinese, and nonfiction writing, has been active in AmeriCorps VISTA in the Pittsburgh area. She extended her work for social justice to a new field this past summer, when she documented the plight of migrant workers in China and then presented her findings, in Mandarin Chinese, at Sichuan University. 

Carrie R. Leana - 2012

Carrie R. Leana is a George H. Love Professor of Organizations and Management and Professor of Business Administration, with joint appointments in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, School of Medicine, and Learning, Research and Development Center at the University.  She holds her PhD in Organizational Behavior and Business Policy from the University of Houston, and her MBA and BA degrees from Baylor University.  She has won numerous awards--for research, academic leadership, teaching, and in 2003, the Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Public Service.  She has brought her academic expertise and social engagement to serve the public in an impressive array of activities--as a scholar, writing on Coping with Job Loss (1992) and Relational Wealth (2000), as a consultant and in public testimony on behalf of grassroots organizations, nonprofit groups, and lower level employees faced with the challenges of a shrinking labor economy, and especially in her ten-year commitment to the Three Rivers Community Foundation.

Deborah L. Brake - 2011

Deborah Brake is professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, specializing in gender justice, feminist legal theory, and discrimination in institutions (such as sport, the workplace, and schools). Brake earned her JD from Harvard Law School (where she was a member of the Law Review) and  her BA in Political Science from Stanford (member of  Phi Beta Kappa).  As a practicing public interest lawyer, Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, and as a professor, she uses scholarship and legal activism to shape the law to respond to gender injustice.  “I am interested in what theory can do, and not so much in theory for its own sake,” Brake writes, and her career demonstrates the powerful connections between her scholarship (notable publications include Getting in the Game: Title IX and the Women’s Sports Revolution and an influential article on “leveling down”) and more direct legal action (amicus curiae briefs, testimony before congressional committees).

Gail Austin - 2010

Read Gail Austin's speech

Gail Austin has worked for forty years as an advocate for civil rights, human rights, and peace--both at the University and in the community.  She received her BA from Pitt in French literature and has done graduate work in psychology and anthropology.  As a student in the late 1960s, she was inspired by the Civil Rights movement (and by visits to Pitt by such activists as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael).  With other activists from Pitt and the community, she helped form the Afro-American Cultural Society to increase the number of black students, staff, and faculty at the University.  She has been an advocate and resource for students in her roles as staff member of UCEP (University Challenge for Excellence Program) and more recently as Director of the Academic Resource Center.  She served on the Pitt Divestment committee, urging the University to divest its holdings in South Africa.  She has also worked in her community to improve social conditions of inner city neighborhoods.  She is currently active in Black Voices for Peace and is president of Kente Arts Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to community arts.

Melissa L. Swauger – 2009

Read Melissa Swauger's speech

Melissa Swauger is currently Assistant Professor of Sociology at Carlow University, having earned a 2008 Ph.D. in Sociology, with a Master’s Women’s Studies Certificate, from the University of Pittsburgh, and an M.A. from Duquesne’s Graduate Center for Social and Public Policy. She has received grants from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Greater Pittsburgh and Gwen’s Girls for research and curriculum development about career possibilities for at-risk girls. She has pursued her commitments to empowering working-class women and girls in both academic and public arenas. Active in numerous community organizations, including the Girls Coalition of Southwestern PA, Women and Girls Foundation, and the Carnegie’s Girls, Math and Science Partnership, she has also volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters programs and organizations for battered women and abused children.

Audrey J. Murrell – 2008

Read Nancy Glazeners interview with Audrey Murrell

Dr. Audrey J. Murrell is Director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership and an Associate Professor of Business Administration.  Murrell came to Pitt in 1987 as a faculty member in the Psychology Department, where she retains an appointment.  She has been active in the Women’s Studies Program, has been a faculty coordinator for Pitt’s Faculty Diversity Seminar, and has been Chair of the University Senate Anti-Discrimination Committee. Murrell’s institutional leadership and her social activism have already earned many awards and honors, including the Chancellor’s Distinguished Public and Community Service Award in 1998.  She participates in numerous local organizations, including Leadership Pittsburgh, Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, and the Minority Enterprise Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania. She is also a former chair of the Gender and Diversity in Organizations Division of the Academy of Management Association.

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