Social Scientists Honored for Diversity Leadership

Laura Milani Alessio, preface by Renee L. Basick
Photo Credit: 
Chris Strong, Rob Kozloff

Three of this year's recipients of the University's prestigious Diversity Leadership Award have strong ties to the Division of the Social Sciences. Timuel Black, AM'54 is an alumnus of the Division and Cathy Cohen is Chair of the Department of Psychology and the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science. Since its founding in 1890, the University of Chicago has been continuously integrated with respect to gender, race, and religion, admitting African American men and women already in its first class. By 1943 the University of Chicago had awarded at least forty-five PhDs to African Americans, more than any other university in the world. As early as 1908, the Divisions were granting degrees to a diverse student body. That year, Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History Month,” received his BA and MA in history from the University. 


Timuel Black, AM’54, the alumni recipient of the University of Chicago’s 2015 Diversity Leadership Awards, has been a resident of the city’s South Side for virtually all of his 96 years.

From his current Hyde Park home, Black said, “I could literally walk to almost every place I’ve ever lived – if I still had the energy.”

While he jokes about lacking some of the pep he once had, Black maintains a tireless passion for social justice first instilled in him by his parents, children of former slaves who moved the family to Chicago’s “Black Belt” from Alabama when Black was 8 months old. His passion was fueled by atrocities he witnessed as a WWII Army soldier touring newly liberated concentration camps in Germany, and cumulated when he left his University of Chicago doctorate program to work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the civil rights movement began to gather momentum.

The decision to set aside his studies to join Dr. King was not easy, but emblematic of Black’s lifelong commitment to both academics and activism to bring about social change. It’s an approach also shared by this year’s faculty and staff Diversity Leadership Award winners: Cathy Cohen, chair of Political Science and recipient of the inaugural Faculty Diversity Leadership Award; and Veronica Hauad, director of Equity and Access Programming and senior associate director of Admissions, recipient of the Staff Diversity Leadership Award.

“Adding the faculty category to our Diversity Leadership Awards this year provides an opportunity to recognize those longstanding faculty champions who are committed to diversity issues,” said William McDade, co-chair of the Diversity Leadership Council.  

McDade noted that the faculty award recognizes those who foster a diverse and inclusive environment both on and off the UChicago campus. “The award will honor those who believe in these values and see them as an important goal worthy of considerable time and effort.

“As the inaugural recipient of the Faculty Diversity Leadership Award, Cathy Cohen embodies the passion, intelligence and persistence needed to improve diversity on campus and in our community,” said McDade.

McDade said the University is honored to have such strong advocates for diversity, equality and social justice. “Timuel Black has been a leading figure in the civil rights movement and we are proud to have him as an alumnus. Veronica’s leadership in outreach to pre-college students in Chicago has opened doors that seemed closed to many college-ready scholars.”

Sonya Malunda, senior associate vice president for community engagement, who co-chairs the Diversity Leadership Council, said: “As a member of the UChicago community of scholars, students, researchers, and staff, I believe we all are fortunate to have such inspiring and amazing leaders living and working among us, and demonstrating the values and goals of Dr. King.”


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