Four Pitt Community Members to Receive Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement

Issue Date: 
October 21, 2013

Four members of the University of Pittsburgh community will be honored with the Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement at a ceremony that will begin with a keynote address at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, Pennsylvania Room, 4215 Fifth Ave., Oakland. The award ceremony is expected to begin at 4:45 p.m.

Featured speaker Nancy Scheper-Hughes, activist and professor of medical anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, will deliver an address titled “The Revolution in Maternal Thinking and Child Survival in Northeast Brazil: The Political and Moral Economies of Mother Love.”

Now in its sixth year, the Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement is given to one or more Pitt community members who are working to promote social justice and democracy, as was the mission of the late Iris Marion Young, an internationally renowned philosopher and activist for gender equity and a former faculty member in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

This year’s winners include two Pitt faculty members, a staff member, and an undergraduate student. Information about them follows.

Jessie B. Ramey, an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow in Women’s Studies and History, is a founding member of the Pittsburgh Great Schools Coalition and founder of Yinzercation, a grassroots movement to save regional public schools. As a result of her activism on behalf of public education, Ramey has twice been invited to the White House to meet with President Obama’s senior policy advisors on education issues.

Sherdina Harper, coordinator of cross-cultural programming at Pitt, is an advisor to the Rainbow Alliance, Black Action Society, and Campus Women’s Organization. She provides diversity training for staff and faculty on how best to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning students at Pitt.

Alicia D. 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, 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.

The awards event is sponsored by Pitt’s Women’s Studies Program and Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, with additional support from the Office of the Vice Provost, the Dean of Students, the Office of the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies, the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, and the Center for Bioethics and Health Law.

About Speaker Nancy Scheper-Hughes

In her position at the University of California, Berkeley, Nancy Scheper-Hughes directs the doctoral program in Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body. Her lifework concerns the violence of everyday life examined from a radical existentialist and politically engaged perspective. She is perhaps best known for her books Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland (University of California Press, 1979), about schizophrenia among bachelor farmers in County Kerry, and Death without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (University of California Press, 1993), about the effects of hunger and infant mortality on the maternal experience in that country. Scheper-Hughes is an early example of an anthropologist who did not just arrive at the site, do fieldwork, and then leave, but rather became engaged with members of the community and helped them in any way she could. This trend toward anthropologists and sociologists taking an ethical responsibility toward the communities they study continues to gain momentum.

About Iris Marion Young

Iris Marion Young, a philosopher and social theorist of international renown, was a professor in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and an active member of Pitt’s Women’s Studies Program during the 1990s before taking a position at the University of Chicago in 2000. She died of cancer in 2006. During her time in Pittsburgh, Young volunteered and organized on behalf of peace and social justice, fair labor practices, gender equity, adult literacy, and children's rights, among other causes, and she worked to combat hate groups and poverty.