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Before the COVID-19 pandemic made social distancing
essential, Oyenike Olabisi, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, was honored with the 2020
Louis L. Redding Diversity Award. Joining her at the ceremony were (from left) Provost Robin Morgan, Interim Vice Provost for Diversity and
Inclusion Michael Vaughan and President Dennis Assanis.
assistant professor in the University of Delaware Department of
Biological Sciences, and Melissa Lewis, a UD undergraduate student, were
each honored with the 2020 Louis L. Redding Diversity Award for their
exceptional commitment to diversity and inclusion on campus.
The awards were presented by UD President Dennis Assanis, Provost
Robin Morgan and Interim Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion
Michael Vaughan at the annual Louis L. Redding Lecture held this spring
in Mitchell Hall. (The event was held before the coronavirus (COVID-19)
pandemic prompted the need for social distancing and the shift to remote
learning and working.) The award was created to recognize individuals
or teams whose efforts have promoted, enhanced or implemented diversity
programs or activities that have resulted in a significant change in the
campus climate and composition within the University community.
Oyenike Olabisi was honored for her work to promote and implement new
initiatives for recruitment, retention and mentoring of
underrepresented and first-generation students in STEM. Among her many
achievements, Olabisi has been instrumental in the establishment of the
Patricia DeLeon Undergraduate Research Award, a new initiative that will
provide underrepresented students with the opportunity to engage in
In 2019, Olabisi wrote a competitive extramural grant application and
secured $200,000 in funding from the U.S Department of State for the
Mandela Washington Fellow Young African Leaders’ Initiative (MWF-YALI)
Leadership in Civic Engagement Institute at UD. She served as the
academic director for 25 fellows from over 20 different countries in
sub-Saharan Africa during their six weeks of residency at UD.
“I’ve been deeply moved by Dr. Olabisi’s numerous initiatives to
improve learning experiences for all of our students, promote inclusive
practices on campus, and influence the national conversations in science
education,” said Ramona Neunuebel, assistant professor in the
Department of Biological Sciences, in her nomination letter. “Her
energy, focus, and drive have been inspirational, and I see her as a
role model not only for students of color who aspire to successful
careers in science and medicine, but also for research faculty like
myself who want to implement culturally-aware mentoring for the next
generation of scientists.”
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Melissa Lewis was also honored at the ceremony with a 2020 Louis L. Redding Diversity
Award. Joining her are (from left) Provost Robin
Morgan, Interim Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Michael Vaughan
and President Dennis Assanis.
Melissa Lewis, a junior majoring in elementary teacher education,
received the award for her promotion of racial and cultural awareness
regarding issues of diversity and social justice in the classroom and
extracurricular activities. As President of ASPIRE, a student-centered
program committed to educators from diverse backgrounds, Lewis works
directly with underrepresented members of the UD community, helping them
become confident and successful teachers. She holds this position while
balancing an 18-credit course load, a 20-hour work schedule and other
academic and extracurricular commitments.
Lewis also holds a Spanish minor and is conducting research on
English-language learners whose first language is Spanish, a
consistently underrepresented and understudied population.
“Ms. Lewis is a remarkably thoughtful, goal-oriented student,” said
Stephanie Del Tufo, assistant professor in the College of Education and
Human Development, in her nomination letter. “In my EDUC210 class, she
excelled, consistently demonstrating an ability to think and communicate
analytical questions regarding the integration of racial and cultural
awareness in the classroom. These questions are a natural extension of
her focus on inclusive learning.”
The Louis L. Redding Lecture Series was developed by the Office of
the Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion to remember the first
African American attorney admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1929. A
world-renowned civil rights advocate, Louis Redding led the 1954 U.S.
Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. In this landmark
case, he argued that issues of race and class were still embedded in
This year, the Defamation Experience headlined the lecture. The
Defamation Experience is a three-phase, interactive diversity program
that explores the highly charged issues of race, class, religion, gender
and the law. Featuring a riveting courtroom drama by award-winning
playwright Todd Logan, the premise is a civil suit in which an African
American female business owner sues a Jewish male real estate developer
for defamation. Guided by legal defense for both the defendant and the
plaintiff and a judge, the audience gets to hear both “sides” of the
The twist of the Defamation Experience is that the audience is part
of the performance, playing the jury in the case. The audience is asked
to adjudicate and then “vote” on which person has the most compelling
case based on the depositions presented. The program is followed by a
facilitated discussion where the performers engage the audience on how
and why they made their decisions. The experience is intended to
generate honest conversation and challenge people’s preconceived notions
about race, class and religion, leading to greater empathy and
understanding about different lived experiences.
“The Defamation Experience brought a fresh perspective on issues of
diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Vaughan. “The themes derived
from the program are parallel to the University’s guiding principle of
inclusive excellence and our commitment to fostering a climate of
fairness, civility, dignity and equity on campus. Its interactive format
allowed UD faculty, staff, students and members of the general public
to ask tough questions and hear the viewpoints of others, which is
critical because we all have very unique and diverse life experiences,
cultural perspectives, identities and backgrounds.”
Article by Brooklynn Hitchens; photos by Lane McLaughlin
Published May 7, 2020