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Celebrating DU’s Outstanding Women at HerDU

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Nicole Militello

Senior Media Relations Specialist

Nicole Militello

News  •

In the interest of building a greater sense of belonging and promoting an inclusive community, this year’s HerDU conference, held virtually from April 5-9, focused on celebrating all women. For the first time, the conference was entirely organized and run by volunteers, who put in more than 1,500 hours of work to craft and design the five-day virtual event. The week included panel conversations on such topics as imposter syndrome and health relationships, as well as daily coffee break conversations allowing women to connect across campus. The conference also featured a keynote speech from activist and storyteller Mia Birdsong.

Each year, the conference recognizes those at DU who go beyond their job responsibilities to advocate for women on campus with the Robin Morgan Outstanding Woman Awards. Named after an award-winning poet and novelist known for championing women’s rights, the awards go to a faculty member, staff member, graduate student, undergraduate student, alumna and ally. (Morgan served as a visiting professor in residence at DU in 1996.)

This year’s award recipients are:

Faculty: Anna Sher

Anna Sher is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. She is an international expert in ecology and the management of invasive Tamarix trees. Among other topics, her research includes restoration ecology and invasive species biology.

In materials nominating Sher for the award, colleagues praised her emphasis on inclusivity:

“It all starts at her door, which welcomes and promises to advocate for people of any gender, race or sexuality. Anna organizes a monthly brown bag for DU women in STEM fields that promotes positivity, support and networking. She is also currently leading an NSF-Advance grant application to improve equity at DU for STEM faculty, coordinating between upper administration and STEM faculty. As the only female full professor in [the biology department], she reaches out to new female faculty, providing advice and insight into the department and Denver in general. She also put together a ‘Getting Started’ worksheet for new faculty to introduce them to DU, which was passed on from faculty to faculty for years. She also organizes social events for biology faculty, including welcome lunches for new faculty, coffee hours, baby showers, etc. In short, Anna volunteers her time and energy to promote the well-being of women at DU, especially the underrepresented women in STEM.”

Staff: Rufina Hernández

Rufina Hernández is DU’s associate director of equal opportunity and ADA coordinator.

Among her colleagues, Hernández is celebrated for generous support of women’s advancement:

“Since first arriving at DU for her second stint, Rufina has always gracefully stepped outside of the boundaries of her position to ensure that women were in the know by providing as much information as possible to aid in the advancement of women at the University of Denver. Given her position and the level of confidentiality it calls for, Rufina is not at liberty to share much information. That said, Rufina is very skilled at leveraging other ways of advocating for women and creating space at the ‘big’ table.  She constantly encourages women to get involved in major strategic events happening at the school and to allow their voices to be heard. She counsels everyone to not be afraid to lend their experience to the conversation. This constant encouragement has led to increased participation, increased confidence and a heightened sense of belonging. These small steps are imperative in the quest toward diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Graduate Student: Naomi Wright

Naomi Wright is a graduate student studying violence against women. She made Women’s Coalition history by receiving more individual nominations that anyone previously.

Those nominations reflect widespread respect for her leadership skills:

“Naomi is a graduate student in the Department of Psychology who studies violence against women. As her research mentor for the last 4.5 years, I have seen her go above and beyond her role to become an extraordinary leader who advocates for women — DU students as well as survivors of violence who participate in research. Over the years, Naomi has taken on co-curricular leadership roles in the department and pursued both informal and formal ways of advocating for and empowering women. She has long recognized that a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has to include as well as go beyond interactions with individuals. … She has been a leader in advocating for gender equity in policies to create formal system change in the department while also being available to women peers to informally help them problem solve and strategize when addressing challenges. She is a fierce advocate for survivor-centered, feminist research on violence against women that focuses on disrupting systems of oppression. For example, she has developed skills in public scholarship in order to use op-eds and blog posts to disseminate psychological science and agitate for gender equity as it relates to intimate violence. She does all this with humility, a strong ethical compass and kindness. She’s a valued mentor to undergraduate and graduate students alike. Naomi is extraordinary.”

Undergraduate: Ashley Navarro

Ashley Navarro is a member of the Colorado Women’s College Scholars.

In materials nominating her for the award, Navarro is recognized for her resilience and ingenuity:

“Ashley Navarro is a survivor. In the past year, she bravely shared her story and since then has been on a path of growth and change. She now works hard to bring about awareness and love for other survivors. She created a clothing line with the phrase ‘Love is not abusive, Vivas nos queremos.’ Ashley is even launching a brand and public education effort called Sonriendo Pa’lante. The funds from her clothing line go to the Latina safehouse. Ashley has taught us all how to speak freely of what we want and what we deserve. I met her as a young freshman, and although she is younger than me, she inspires me so much. Ashley not only embraces her Latina culture but actively seeks to bring in culture, language and identity into issues like domestic violence. Ashley believe that sex education and relationship building is vital in how young children understand themselves and their relationships.”

Alumna: Megan Williams

Megan Williams (BA ’07) works for the City and County of Denver as the Denver Peak Academy Continuous Improvement Specialist. 

A letter nominating her for the award emphasizes her enthusiasm and commitment to solving problems:

“Megan is an advocate for women in her community. She single-handedly manifested and brought to successful execution the inaugural Colorado Women Leading Government Conference in 2018. Megan loves supporting smart, determined and funny people in pursuing their dreams through connecting them to other amazing people, breaking down barriers to success and being the most enthusiastic cheerleader around. She is an expert at solving problems, not just by talking about them, but by actively creating and implementing solutions targeted at root causes and the audiences they affect. Those who have worked with her describe her as a supportive leader who is tenacious in the pursuit of what is right, and a catalyst for change at an organizational level.”

John Nichols Male Ally Award: Mo Lotif

Mo Lotif is a program manager for the Office of Student Engagement at DU.

The nomination letter for Lotif cites his gift for reflection and passion for inclusivity:

“Mo has served as the Student Affairs and Inclusive Excellence owner’s rep for the Community Commons project for the last few years. In this role, Mo aims to represent the interests of the ‘owner’ of the project — the student affairs division/vice chancellor. If you take one look at the team of architects and others who have been involved in this project, you will only see one or two women in a very large group of men. As a colleague, I have listened to Mo over the years talk about the gendered dynamics within the world of architecture and real estate at large. In these conversations, I have listened to him thoughtfully reflect and engage in actions to address the gender disparities manifesting within the world of design and architecture. When decisions are made without women in the room — I have personally witnessed Mo’s advocacy regarding the inclusion/exclusion of his women-identified colleagues. Outside of the Community Commons project, Mo serves as a strategic thought partner to our divisional leadership and is often in rooms where women of color, like myself, are not. I am comforted in knowing he is in these rooms because I know that he advocates for inclusion across race, gender and ability status.”

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