University of Pittsburgh
November 16, 2016

2016 Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement

Four members of the Pitt community—faculty, staff, and students—honored for their work on causes of social justice and democracy, Nov. 17
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PITTSBURGH—Hanifa Nakiryowa advocates for the health and safety of acid-attack survivors. Sheila Confer instills the values of tolerance and social consciousness amongst students. Jackie Smith investigates issues related to globalization and social movements. Saskia Berrios-Thomas counsels those affected by sexual violence. Collectively, they are the recipients of the University of Pittsburgh’s 2016 Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement.

The award annually recognizes one Pitt faculty member, a graduate student, a staff member, and an undergraduate student for Iris Marion Young, award namesaketheir work to advance various social causes. It is named for the internationally renowned philosopher and activist for gender equity, who once served as a Pitt faculty member. The awards are sponsored by Pitt’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program and Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

The 2016 Iris Marion Young Awards for Political Engagement will be bestowed at the Iris Marion Young Memorial Awards Ceremony. The affair will begin at 5 p.m. Nov. 17 in the Kurtzman Room of Pitt’s William Pitt Union, 3959 Fifth Ave., Oakland. The event is free and open to the public.

“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.”

Biographical information for the 2016 Iris Marion Young Memorial Award winners follows:Ms. Saskia Berrios-Thomas

Undergraduate student recipient Saskia Berrios-Thomas is a committed advocate for those affected by child abuse and sexual violence. In addition to her undergraduate coursework at Pitt, she recently completed an independent research project, studying 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 within 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.

Staff recipient Sheila Confer plays a key role within a number of organizations that foster a welcoming living and learning Ms. Sheila Conferenvironment 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 large-scale tolerance and 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.
Ms. Hanifa Nakiryowa
Graduate 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 live 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 a H.J. Heinz fellow within Pitt’s Global Studies Center and is pursuing a master’s degree in international development-human security within the University’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Faculty recipient Jackie Smith, a professor in Pitt’s Department of Sociology within 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 Dr. Jackie SmithCity 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 also is 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 Transformation (Routledge, 2016).



Ms. Saskia Berrios-Thomas

Ms. Sheila Confer

Ms. Hanifa Nakiryowa

Ms. Jackie Smith