What are the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Awards?

Each year the Center for Social Justice honors one student, one faculty member, and one staff member who works to make our world a better place. Nominations are reviewed by a committee, and awards are presented each May. Nominees are people who demonstrate courage, compassion, and leadership while working to eliminate discrimination, oppression, and injustice locally and globally. The Social Justice Awards highlight individuals’ tireless efforts to impact our world, and inspire others to do the same.


The nomination form for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award is available here.

Criteria and Application Instructions

  • Nominees for The Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Awards must be part of the University of Oklahoma community, all departments are accepted. They must be strongly involved in a project/organization dedicated toward some issue of social justice. The nominee must demonstrate leadership by acting as an advocate and role-model for their chosen causes within the university and the wider community.
  • To be considered for these awards, nominators must submit a completed application, consisting of the nomination form, a copy of the nominee’s CV or resume, and a letter of nomination.
  • The letter of nomination should contain clear references to how the nominee has demonstrated leadership, courage and compassion in his/her work as a social justice advocate as well as indicate how long the nominee has been working as an advocate or role model for his/her chosen cause.

The completed application packet must be submitted to the Center for Social Justice in Robertson Hall, Room 103 by March 31st, 2017. Applications can also be submitted by email to center.for.social.justice@ou.edu.

Previous Winners

2016 Winners  

LaVonya Bennett, Center Coordinator-Residence Life: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award for the creation of space in Residence Life that is committed to diversity, inclusion, and ideas of social justice. In addition to Residence Life, LaVonya teaches an introduction to college class, is an adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Sciences' Human Relations program, serves as the adviser for the student group Women of Power, and is a mentor in the Black Student Association. "She is a champion for the underrepresented and those whose voices are not often heard or acknowledged by those making decisions on out campus. She is what we hope all staff and professionals on our campus would be: committed to students and committed to change for justice equity."- Erin Simpson, nominator. 

Kami Day, Instructor, Department of Women's and Gender Studies, College of Arts & Sciences: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award due to her dedication to becoming an advocate of social justice in a variety of arenas throughout her time at OU and several other institutions of higher education. Besides Kami's understanding and advocacy for social justice, she also dedicates her time to her students learning and success through remarkable social skills and robust passion for social justice. "Her dedication to the constant pursuit of social justice in all avenues of life causes her to shine as a beacon of hope for numerous students and comity members." - Lena Tenney, nominator.

Lena Tenney, Graduate Student of M.Ed. in Adult and Higher Education and M.P.A in Education Policy: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award as a student who for the past six years has devoted herself to keep OU students, staff, and faculty from drowning in a sea of indifference. Lena has become a leader of many organizations on campus at OU such as, the co-founding of QuIC (Queer Inclusion on Campus), the inclusive language workshop that she developed for OU students, faculty, and staff, and that many other lectures, workshops, and events that she has organized, presented at, or attended that grapple with issues of inclusivity. "All have witnessed how Lena's selflessness, her bravery, and her empathy have made this place, our place, a better place because she has chosen to do social justice work of perception, no matter how hard it gets. With one hand guiding the OU community forward and the other gently pushing us to our goals, Lena embodies the qualities that the Robert  D. Lemon award recognizes, and then some." - Julia Ehrhardt, nominator. 


 2015 Winners 

Rodney Bates, Center Coordinator for the Adams/Walker Center: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award due to his work ethic to create a space in Residence Life that is committed to diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Rodney Bates values and works towards racial equality among his staff of Resident Advisers. "He has helped students see the voice, strength, and impact they can have on an institution and community. He has shown wisdom, caring, commitment, and the willingness to persist through exhaustion." - Sherri Irvin, nominator. 

Rockey Robbins, Choctaw-Cherokee professor of Counseling Psychology: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award for his courageous, compassionate, gentle devotion to social justice for American Indians. Although his social justice advocacy focuses on American Indians, he advocates also for other people of color, for sexually diverse people, and for diverse women as well. "When there has been substantial overlooking of perspectives or particular individuals or constituencies, he has helped shift the attention of the group to consider issues in a different light or from another angle, and never in a way that produces shame or defensiveness; always in a way that inspires others to be more inclusive and mindful." - Susan Laird, Amy Bradshaw, Kami Day, Michele Eodice, and Melli Velazquez, nominators. 

OU Unheard, Student Activist group: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award due to the countless hours to not only raise awareness on issues of racial inequality but also to propose real solutions. Unheard is an organization of Black and African American Students who work toward implementing greater social justice focused on building greater institutional racial equalities and opportunities. The goal for this student activist group is to eliminate discrimination, oppression, and injustice on OU's campus. "Through Unheard's critical efforts, formative town hall meetings have taken place, faculty and students have been inspired and mobilized, individuals and organizations have had opportunities to recognize their unearned privileges afforded to them through systems of racial, sexist, classist, and heterosexist oppressions, and OU administrators have become more meaningfully invested in diversity and inclusivity." - Megan Sibbett, Kelly Damphousse, Kunal Naik, nominators. 


2014 Winners

Kasey Catlett, graduate student in the College of Education: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award because Kasey’s most significant accomplishment this year has been leading the first ever Sooner Mosaic Social Justice Symposium in March 2014 where over 100 people attended 21 different student led workshops. Kasey graduated in May 2014 and now works as the program coordinator at the OU Women's Outreach Center working with the LGBTQ Program Advisory Board, Ally Programs, and health related programs. "...he had a vision for creating a space on our campus for students to explore the many issues of social justice. He took that basic idea, then, working with a committee of students, developed a platform in which students could share ideas, research, and create dialogue about unique ways to advance justice" - Kathy Moxley, nominator.

Moira Ozias, Associate Director of the OU Writing Center: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Staff Award by two colleagues for her commitment to social justice in all areas of her academic, professional, and personal life. "The Writing Center has been transformed into an oasis of inclusion and a space for people to gather around shared ideas of advocacy, activism, and yes, writing...Moira is on the front lines of our campus efforts to be an institution that clearly values social justice initiatives" - Erin Simpson, nominator.

Ami Stearns, Graduate Instructor, Department of Sociology: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Faculty/Instructor Award because of Ami's work to improve the lives, situations, and connection between women prisoners and their children. "She ... founded the 'Cards for Kids' program to get greeting cards to children of incarcerated parents to send their parents... to ensure they [the children] could send their mothers a holiday greeting card." - Susan Sharp, nominator.

2013 Winners 

Ana Deisy Escalera, Energy Management Major, Price College of Business: was nominated for her activism and advocacy with Dream Act Oklahoma (DAOK), a youth-led organization that emphasizes civil rights for the undocumented community. In her work with DAOK, she educates the public and advocates for a better life and brighter future for all Dreamers."I would like to nominate Ana Deisy Escalera for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award [because] she has participated in several educational forums in the Oklahoma City metro area to inform the community about elections and political parties...Diesy has been instrumental in mobilizing seven pro-bono attorneys and around 60 volunteers. Together, they have helped approximately 400 dreamers start their dream to a better future.” - Shaila Miranda, nominator.

Emma Newberry-Davis, Women's and Gender Studies Major: is passionate about women's and LGBTQ issues, improving the campus community through activism, and sexual health education. During her freshman year, Emma started volunteering with the Women's Outreach Center (WOC), which eventually lead to a major change, and applications for internships with the WOC where she has coordinated events on sexual assault and relationship violence like Take Back the Night, the Red Flag Campaign, Safebreak, and Rape Awareness Week, to name a few. Now, she heads into a graduate degree at the University of Oklahoma Zarrow School of Social Work. "I am pleased to nominate Emma [...] as a recipient of The Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Award. I have had the pleasure of watching Emma develop as a student and social justice advocate over the past three years. [The events advocating against violence against women] were successful due to Emma's commitment, organizing skill, and enthusiasm for educating the student body to change the rape culture on our campus and educate others." - Kathy Moxley, nominator.

Meredith Worthen, Assistant Professor, Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Faculty Award by two colleagues and a student for her activism creating an inclusive campus and community for LGBTQ people. "[J]ust two years after arriving at OU as an assistant professor, Meredith single-handedly developed The Welcoming Project, a non-profit organization designed to create a welcoming community for LGBTQ individuals and their allies. Her initial objective was to encourage local businesses, organizations, and churches in Norman and throughout the United States to display welcoming signs designed to make LGBTQ individuals and allies feel welcome as patrons...I believe Meredith has done more to promote social justice in two years that a typical team of people could accomplish in many years." - Amy Kroska, nominator

Erin Simpson, Center Coordinator, Walker Center, Housing and Food: was nominated for the Robert D. Lemon Social Justice Staff Award because of her commitment to social justice in all areas of her academic, professional, and personal life. "It is with great honor that we come together to nominate Erin Simpson [...] She truly enacts the 'intersectional' commitments required for social justice work in that is an advocate and educator for issues related to gender, race, class, and sexual orientation across campus. In addition to being a staff member, Erin is a PhD student in Adult and Higher Education, where she uses her research and scholarship on the experience of women in student affairs to work toward social justice and a greater understanding of how intersecting systems of oppression impact students and staff on college campuses." - Moira Ozias, Lauren Roysten, Rodney Bates, LaVonya Bennett, and Justin Grimes; nominators.

2012 Winners

Jennifer Cox: was nominated for her activism and advocacy related to ending discrimination against sexual minorities, pregnant individuals, survivors of sexual violence, and animals. "I am nominating Ms. Cox because she stands out as an exemplary student who is deliberately and strategically devoting her life’s work—as an educator, a scholar, and a professional advocate/ activist- with compassionate, courageous leadership efforts to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ young people, survivors of sexual violence and reproductive bigotry, and vegans[...]She merits this award particularly because she is providing for her agemates and for younger students on this campus a profound model of how to build a meaningful life’s work devoted to social justice.” - Susan Laird, nominator

Dr. Susan Sharp, L.J. Semrod Presidential Professor, Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences: "Dr. Sharp has demonstrated leadership and compassion in her field by focusing her time and effort on helping women prisoners [ …] In 2009, Dr. Sharp [studied] the relationship incarcerated mothers have with their children. […] Dr. Sharp also worked with families of people who are serving [time] on death row. …I encourage you to pick Dr. Sharp [ for the social justice award] because she has put her time and effort from 1980 to the present to help improve the lives of people who are incarcerated as well as their families. She has also worked hard with students in the classroom at the University of Oklahoma, opening their minds about incarceration in Oklahoma.” Cindy Coffin, nominator.

Sam Fellows is the first recipient of the staff social justice award. Fellows was nominated for his advocacy in the Staff Senate on behalf of staff members with same sex partners. "It is with sincerity and enthusiasm that I nominate Sam Fellows to be considered for the Social Justice award. Sam has advocated tirelessly for the rights and equal treatment of gay faculty and staff at the University of Oklahoma for several years and has never wavered [...]Sam was brave and stood up for what he knows is fair and just. He made this campus a more welcoming, fair place to work.” - Jenn Doughty, nominator.


2011 Winners

Jordan Ward, WGS Major: was recognized for her service to the university community through her courageous advocacy for changing the sexual assault policy at OU. When Jordan first started her campaign the policy was that sexual assault had to be reported within 30 days. Jordan decided that she would change this policy and so began a year long effort to educate the student body and the university administration about the realities of sexual assault on campus and the need to extend the statue of limitations. She persisted in her efforts until the president of the university responded and changed the status of limitations to one year and began an overhaul of OU’s sexual assault policy, including police training. “Jordan should be a constant reminder to us that our silence does not protect us and that by speaking out against injustice, you begin the foundation for fundamentally changing the society that we live in.” –Sandra Criswell, nominator

Dr. Martha Skeeters, Associate Professor in WGS: Recognized for her service to the Oklahoma community through her advocacy through bringing awareness about state legislation that severely restricts women’s reproductive autonomy. In May of 2010, Dr. Skeeters organized an initial meeting of over 60 people to be present at the State Capitol to remind legislators that there are Oklahoma citizens fighting for women’s rights who will not be silenced. Dr. Skeeters created the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice (OCRJ), in which she serves as president. “Martha has worked tirelessly for reproductive justice…. I find Martha’s most compelling trait to be her bravery in taking stand for reproductive justice. She has given a voice to those afraid to speak out and provided hope for those who felt defeated. She is a role model for so many and living proof of what advocacy and dedication can do for social justice.” –JoAnna Wall, nominator

2010 Winners

Velvet Brown, Graduate Social Work Student in the Anne & Henry Zarrow School of Social Work: “Ms. Brown, a tireless and deeply committed advocate for people living with sickle cell disease, and their family members, has devoted her professional development to mastering those areas of advocacy practice that enable her to bring to fruition an exemplary support system responsive to some 1300 individuals and families within Oklahoma who are coping with the physical, psychological, and social consequences of this disease.” - David Moxley, nominator

Dr. Melissa Frey, Associate Professor, Counseling Psychology, College of Education: “Dr. Frey is a true advocate for social justice--both within the university and beyond. As a feminist, it has been particularly meaningful for me to experience Dr. Frey actively addressing issues of inequality and discrimination in her work as a faculty member and psychologist. Especially meaningful, has been her willingness to “walk the walk” even when it is difficult or unpopular.” -Rebecca Hurst, nominator