UC Merced’s LGBTQ+ Initiatives hosted its 2nd Annual Building Community Awards, which recognizes distinguished leaders in the Bobcat community that have demonstrated noteworthy services to the LGBTQ+ community. The awards ceremony recognized staff, faculty, post-doctorates, community members, undergraduate, and graduate students who have continuously fought, empowered, and demonstrated their commitment to building a stronger and safer community.

The awards ceremony began with a “letting go” activity that encouraged the idea of the healing process. All audience members were given two pieces of paper and were encouraged to write any negative feelings, events, thoughts, etc. about the LGBT+ community in the paper. Angi Baxter, coordinator of the Women’s Programs and LGBTQ+ initiatives, held a lighter and set fire to the pieces of paper the audience members held. As the papers set fire, audience members were forced to let go of their negative events/thoughts as they watched the paper dissipate into thin air. This symbolic gesture emboldens the healing process and creates a sense of relief. They proceeded to write about what they hope to see in the future on another paper they were given; the papers were then submitted to the Hope Jar that glistened with positive outlook for the future.

Undergraduate Nominees and Recipient

After the healing activity, Angi Baxter began the ceremony by introducing the nominees for

the 2017 Building Community Awards- Undergraduate Division which recognized students for their continuous outstanding efforts in creating a stronger community. Such nominees included: Clara Maya Medina, Ricardo Perez Arredondo, Melanie Ochoa, Brandon Baldomero, Connie Liu, Andre Frise Valdez, and Ariell Wright. Israel Alonso, the LGBTQ+ intiaitvives intern at OSL, introduced the winner, Jovita Angel Sebastian, for the Undergraduate 2017 Building Community Award:

“Jovita serves as an officer in Lambda Alliance and serves on the production team for the Vagina Monologues, in both of these spaces she serves as a fierce and radical advocate for the LGBT inclusivity by centering the experiences of queer folks and integrating educational initiatives and discussions. Jovita is incredibly accepting and open about her own identity and constantly seeks to educate her surrounding community. In her role in Lambda Alliance, she has pushed for several educational initiatives including: Communicating with the university on behalf of LGBT issues and participating in various community campus events that educate others on LGBT issues such as the Splash Conference that educate High School students on how language can be used to marginalize or empower LGBT individuals.

Jovita serves as a role model in the production of the Vagina Monologues and creates a welcoming and inclusive space for anyone’s sexual and gender identities. She constantly encourages folks to use more inclusive language in a space that facilitates activities that represent a range of experiences. Jovita also is a inclusivity and diversity intern for the Study Abroad office and advocated for workshops and resources that provide queer students to make empowered and informed choices about their study abroad options. As a commissioner of diversity for ASUCM, she advocates for marginalized communities. Jovita demonstrates dedication and commitment to equality and dedication to furthering the lives of the LGBTQ+ community in her role as part of Lambda’s leadership team.

Throughout the years she assisted in programming, built community, identified priorities and demands for the organizations in behalf of the trans and queer student body ad celebrated queer identity and culture on campus. The time and energy Jovita has dedicated is invisible labor that may go unnoticed but will benefit many within the LGBTQ+ community. Jovita, in her role as the outreach coordinator has impacted the lives of the LGBTQ+ people by instilling an intersectional approach to our own community.  

Through Lambda, Jovita collaborates with other identity organizations such as: BSU, SALE, M.E.Ch.A, and NSA. Other organizations Jovita is apart of include Lambda Alliance, Chancellor’s Council on Campus Climate Culture and Inclusion, Multicultural Student Community in ASUCM, [and] the Vagina Monologues planning committee at the CARE office.”

Graduate Nominees and Recipient

A variety of graduate students were also nominated for the 2017 Building Community Awards- Graduate Division for their impact to the LGBTQ+ community. Such students include: Bryan Amos, Brandon Batzloff, Sage Perdue, Alex John Quijano, Marilee Shaw, Daniel Rios, and Danielle Bermudez. Angi Baxter, introduced the winner, Jamin Shih, who was awarded the 2017 Building Community awards for 2017- Graduate Division.

“This person [Jamin Shih] is consistently a positive source of kindness for others, wherever they go they create a supportive and inclusive environment for all, but, particularly for LGBTQ+ individuals. They are passionate about the work they do in honoring the lives and legacies of LGBTQ+ individuals. At UC Merced we have a small LGBT community and they contribute to making that space a welcoming space for all. They truly care about the LGBTQ+ community and is always looking forward for to salvaging the first graduate LGBTQ+ student organization at UC Merced. Some organization they are apart of include the External Vice-President of the Graduate Student Association, Vice-Chair of the graduate and professional committee of the UC Student Association, [and] member of the graduate Dean advisory council on diversity.”

Faculty Nominees and Recipient

Faculty that were nominated for the Building Community Awards for 2017 include: Irenee Beattie and Sharla Alegria. The winner for the 2017 Building Community Awards- Faculty is Emily Gale. Andre Frise, winner of the undergraduate 2016 Building Community Awards, introduced this year’s faculty winner:

“I [Andre Frise] nominated this individual because I had the privilege of being in their class this semester and I came across a lot of faculty that have talked about sexuality, gender, and queer issues, and have made their classrooms into a space that these conversations can be fostered and had. But, this individual [Emily Gale] how they transformed their small classroom space into this beautiful trans and queer space that myself, and other students began pondering these ideals for the first time- or if we considered ourselves experts, we questioned [these ideals]… We had this space to deconstruct these ideals and even question our own sexuality and trans identity and just engage [in] these ideals. It was a really authentic [and] raw space, and I really appreciated that, myself as I question my own gender identity and [as] I saw some of my peers do the same in this space they were given. That support [given to us] not only through literature that gave representation to these otherwise marginalized identities [but] by just giving this support through a role model by saying – these identities are valid …your existence is resistance, that every breathe you take is beautiful and valid, and this campus is yours as much as anyone else’s.

The way they used their GASP lecture, the way they used art as an expression, and to share your identify, to share who you are, was just beautiful and helped Lambda greatly in sharing how we can use art to further the expression of queer and trans identities. This academic year we were able to use a lot more and got a lot of really great feedback from our members saying that it really helped them release some of this pent-up, post-[election]climate tension and emotions words cannot describe. For that reason, I nominated Dr. Emily Gale.”

Staff Nominees and Recipient

Staff that were nominated for their dedication to improving the community included: De Acker, José Martínez, Taylor Fugere, and Jorge Arroyo. Angi Baxter, introduced the recipient, Onar Primitivo, who was awarded the 2017 Building Community Awards- Staff Division:

“This individual demonstrates a commitment to furthering the lives of the LGBTQ+ community by actively engaging in equity and diversity issues policies on campus. They work to improve campus climate for all marginalized communities. Their interpersonal approach recognizes all the identities within the LGBTQ+ community, not solely their queer and/or trans identify, but also the intersection of race, ethnicity, class, status, citizenship, and ability, etc. When the Orlando incident occurred, this individual [Onar Primitivo] immediately organized a space for people to process the event and grieve while being surrounded in community. They currently serve on the Chancellor’s council on Campus Climate culture and inclusion and utilizes their role to improving campus climate policies in working to make our campus a more welcoming and inclusive space for all communities, including queer and trans communities.

They also play a huge role in the initiatives for the Undergraduate Inter-Cultural Hub and has aided the undergraduate student body in advocating for a multi-cultural space, as well as creating a space into its launch… By engaging in the inter-cultural hub, this individual [Onar Primitivo]aids students in reclaiming space on campus needed for marginalized communities to build community and exist, including the LGBTQ+ community.

They act as a role model for the LGBTQ+ people by being the most genuine version of themselves. Their genuine raw personality and character are normal traits that have given this individual [Onar Primtivo] a reputation on campus of support and individuality, they inspire the LGBTQ+ students to embrace their self-identity in a world where hetero-normativity and cis-gender dominant systems of oppression intimidate and cast violence on our queer and trans identity.

They actively engage with lambda Alliance in collaborating with events and activities to advertise themselves as a resource and offers their expertise on social justice initiatives… They facilitated a workshop on identifying and embracing our diversity and deep layers of identity that make us unique and whole. Participants requested both the hand-outs and the PowerPoint’s that this individual used, if that is any context to show how empowering this workshop was. They have been specifically involved in improving the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community in the post-election climate and have also hosted monthly social justice circles talks, where attendees are given a space to process recent events that often enact and normalize violence towards our marginalized community.

Personally, this space was important for myself in processing the queerphobia and transphobia that was normalized and encouraged by Trump. Their visibility and invisible labor do not go unnoticed and we are extremely grateful to have this gentle soul providing social justice expertise in improving our campus climate as well as empowering our communities to exist. This individual [Onar Primitivo] has been engaged with LGBTQ+ initiatives before there was a staff person designated to this position. Even today when there is one. Onar is dedicated to the community- his dedication to the community is unwavering.”

Post-Doctorate Nominee and Recipient

The post-doctorate nomination and winner for the 2017 Building Community Awards is Fernanda Santos. Angi Baxter introduced the winner who has fought tirelessly for all communities:

“This individual [Fernanda Santos] is extremely friendly and welcoming. It is obvious they are busy and lead a post-doc union. Yet they always make time to listen and talk to whoever who reaches out to them and check-in with folks and many female colleagues to ask how we are doing, and demonstrating thoughtfulness outside of their own extremely busy schedule. This individual [Fernanda Santos] is sincerely committed to furthering the lives of the LGBTQ+ individuals and everyone who surrounds them, both on and off-campus. This individual [Fernanda Santos] is very uniquely themselves and everything they do is with the intention in helping others.

They serve as our W-STEM mentor, leads the post-doc workers union, and is always open to talk to anyone about anything. They are deeply valued as a post-doc member on campus. This individual [Fernanda Santos] is very approachable and trustworthy and are very open to listening to anyone, even if that someone has a very different view from themself. This often neglected in the scientific community, yet especially critical in under-represented aspiring scientist. They seamlessly balance their strong work ethic with kindness which has left a positive impact on the individual who nominated them [and other women colleagues]… [Fernanda Santos] exhibits all these traits while maintaining a humble persona. As a W-STEM mentor and post-doc leader, they always contribute to the post-doc workers union and dedicated to equal pay and rights. They are a very inclusive person with an open ear. They naturally emulate a caring persona knowing there are many mentors such as this person on campus is empowering and motivating. Organizations this individual [Fernanda Santos] is involved with include the Local WAU Union 580 at UC Merced.”  

Community Nominee and Recipient

The final awarded recipient for the 2017 Building Community Awards- Community Division was presented by Israel Alonso and awarded to Brenda Gutierrez for her never-ending fight for advocacy:

“This person [Brenda Gutierrez] is all-inspiring through their advocacy, activism, and consistent leadership, growth, and development. They are a powerful student advocate that promotes diversity, inclusivity, and social justice in all of their work. They are a great [at] community building through the embodiment practice of solidarity and intersectionality- as a student scholar and through the work in groups like M.E.Ch.A and through their research goals. This individual [Brenda Gutierrez] is involved in organizations that include M.E.Ch.A, interning at UROC, the External Office in ASUCM, and as chair of the Board of Directors for the UC Students Association.

I [Israel Alonso] just wanted to say that this person… although they are not here today, [wanted to] let everyone know that this person, personally has impacted me a lot. I’ve learned so much from them and I know I can always go to them. If I have a question about something [they are their to help] and I just wanted everyone to know that.”

Overall, the Building Community Awards recognized and honored continuous advocacy efforts from the Bobcat Community that have aided the LGBTQ+ community that does not go unnoticed. These undergraduates, graduates, post-docs, staff members, community members, and faculty members have all contributed to empowering community members and serve as role-models for the world around them. To all the nominees and award recipients, the Bobcat community thanks you for your continuous endeavors.


Photo Credits: Cover-Leonel Orzoco Slideshow-Sam Ginete

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