Pictured from left to right: Kayla Keener, and Dr. Emily Culpepper, founding Director of Women's Studies at the University of Redlands.
In 2009 the Emily Culpepper Award for Outstanding Work in Women's and Gender Studies was presented to Kayla Keener by Dr. Emily Culpepper.
The following text was read by Dr. Emily Culpepper at the Honors and Recognition Convocation on May 22, 2009 at the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel.
This year the Women's and Gender Studies faculty has chosen Kayla Keener as the recipient of the Dr. Emily Culpepper Convocation Award. Kayla has been accepted at George Washington University where she will pursue her Master's degree in Women's Studies. I am delighted today to be presenting - for the very first year - the new, annual Dr. Emily Culpepper Award for Outstanding Work in Women's and Gender Studies."
We created this award to mark the conclusion of my twenty years as Director of Women's Studies, which has now happily been re-named "Women's and Gender Studies," with our new Director, Dr. Jennifer Nelson. While I am Emily Culpepper, we want to be clear that this award is decided by the full Women's and Gender Studies Faculty Committee. The criteria include academic excellence AND – because we are an interdisciplinary program rooted in social justice concerns – our criteria also include looking for qualities of creativity, leadership, and activism.
Kayla Keener is a Johnston student whose Senior Project in Women's and Gender Studies focused on complex questions about changing cross-cultural understandings of transgender identities and issues. She has earned Honors in Women's and Gender Studies for this senior project. She will pursue her interests in Women's and Gender Studies in graduate school this fall. We hope that the modest check that comes with this award will be helpful with that.
Kayla has also been a real feminist activist presence on the University of Redlands campus. She has worked tirelessly and with passion with our Pride Center and especially with the Safe Space Allies program, which hold trainings on what it can mean and various ways to be an affirming ally for LGBTQ students. First as a student co-chair, and then as sole chair for Safe Space Allies, Kayla has taken important and much needed initiative to strengthen and expand the Safe Space Allies Program. Specifically, Kayla saw the need for more specialized trainings to address particular questions and concerns of diverse communities on our campus pp such as the Greek groups, campus religious groups, and students with religious concerns about Safe Space training. This year, Kayla began meeting with our Religious Studies faculty, other faculty and students who wanted their faith perspectives more fully addressed in Safe Space Trainings. Kayla has begun the work of developing mentors, resources, training guides, and more. Especially important, she has recruited other students (and faculty and staff) to continue this project after she graduates. Too often wonderful work may not continue or have a rocky path when a student leader has graduated. So Kayla's leadership has included making sure others will be continuing these projects.
In presenting this award, I want to emphasize that another outstanding aspect of Kayla's work here is that these steps definitely took her outside of her comfort zone! Kayla often felt like a novice to these religious questions. Yet, she clearly saw this pressing need -- so intensified by the contentious debates around Proposition 8. I've just learned that the California Supreme Court decision will be announced this Tuesday at 10 am. There will be strong responses all around whatever that decision is. So, when you see these, think about Kayla and how she has helped better prepare our campus for the vital conversations we will need to keep having about this social change.