Iris Marion Young Awardees Honored

Issue Date: 
December 1, 2016

Saskia Berrios-Thomas counsels those affected by sexual violence. Sheila Confer helps promote the values of inclusion and equality throughout campus. Hanifa Nakiryowa advocates for the health and safety of acid-attack survivors. Jackie Smith investigates issues related to globalization and social movements. Collectively, they are the recipients of the University of Pittsburgh’s 2016 Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement, presented Nov. 17.

The award annually recognizes a Pitt faculty member, a graduate student, a staff member, and an undergraduate student for their work to advance various social causes. Named for the renowned philosopher and gender-equity activist, the awards are sponsored by Pitt’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program and Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

“Iris Marion Young was an inspiring faculty member during her time at Pitt in the 1990s. She was highly active in Pitt’s then-Women’s Studies Program as well as in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. During her time living in the city of Pittsburgh, Young also worked tirelessly for causes such as peace and social justice, fair labor practices, adult literacy, and children’s rights, to name just a few. Her work extended to combating hate groups and poverty as well,” said Todd Reeser, director of Pitt’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program.

“The annual Iris Marion Young Awards aim to celebrate her legacy by honoring Pitt faculty, staff, and students—people in our midst—who have made fighting for issues of social justice part of their daily lives. Our 2016 honorees have dedicated themselves, both personally and professionally, to making the world a better place in which to live. Never has this kind of recognition been more important than it is today.”

Saskia-ThomasUndergraduate student recipient Saskia Berrios-Thomas is a committed advocate for those affected by child abuse and sexual violence. In addition to her coursework at Pitt, she recently completed an independent research project that examined the effectiveness of parent-centered prevention programs on child sexual-abuse prevention. As a Brackenridge Research Fellow—through Pitt’s University Honors College—she studied the effectiveness of sexual-assault prevention programs at seven Pennsylvania academic institutions. She works as an intern in Allegheny County’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, and volunteers as a sexual-assault peer educator and a therapy dog handler. Berrios-Thomas is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in social work and plans to graduate in 2017. 

ConferStaff recipient Sheila Confer plays a key role within a number of organizations that foster a welcoming living and learning environment at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. A Pitt-Greensburg staff member since 1999, she is the assistant director of the Academic Village—a residential community for high-achieving students—and has spearheaded a number of initiatives to raise consciousness of social issues among residents. She serves as the advisor to the University’s Gay Straight Alliance and co-initiated the Allies Network Training program, which provides sensitivity training for Pitt-Greensburg faculty, staff, and students. Outside of Pitt-Greensburg, Confer serves as the vice president of the Board of Directors for Blackburn Center, Westmoreland County’s only anti-domestic and sexual abuse agency.

NakiryowaGraduate student recipient Hanifa Nakiryowa, the survivor of an acid attack by her then-husband in Uganda, has dedicated much of her life to helping other acid-attack survivors return to normal and healthy lives. In 2012, she founded the Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence, the only nongovernmental organization in Uganda advocating for victim’s rights and zero-tolerance laws against acid-attack violence. She has worked as a human-rights advocate for the Acid Survivors’ Foundation Uganda as well as UNICEF. Nakiryowa is an H.J. Heinz fellow within Pitt’s Global Studies Center and is pursuing a master’s degree in international development with a major in human security within the University’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

SmithFaculty recipient Jackie Smith, a professor in Pitt’s Department of Sociology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, is the cofounder of the Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance as well as the International Network of Scholar Activists. She holds leadership positions within the National Human Rights City Network and May First/People Link, a technology and communications rights organization. She researches issues related to globalization and social movements. She is the editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research, the official journal of the Political Economy of the World-System Section of the American Sociological Association. Smith is also the author and editor of numerous books on transnational social movements and the global political economy, including the recently released Social Movements and World-System: The Politics of Crisis and Transformation (Routledge, 2016).