Giving Voice to Gender Justice

Monday, April 14


Following in the footsteps of strong leaders on the University of Idaho campus working to advance and advocate for women, three honorees were awarded the Virginia Wolf Distinguished Service Awards on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. The awards were given at the celebration marking the 40th Anniversary of the signing of the Conciliation Agreement, hosted by the Women’s Center; Office of Human Rights, Access, and Inclusion; the Office of Undergraduate Admissions; and the Idaho Commons and Student Union.

Student Kaitlin Moroney, staff member Yolanda Bisbee, and community member Deb Payne were honored by the Women’s Center for their commitment to gender justice activism. Recipients are selected by a panel of past award winners.

The awards, named after physical education professor Virginia (“Ginny”) Wolf , who taught at the University from 1964-1982, began in 2002. Wolf took an active role in addressing issues affecting women on campus, including chairing the University’s Women’s Caucus and helping to launch the campaign that brought about the establishment of a permanent Women’s Center.

"Activism for gender justice is as important today as it was forty years ago when Ginny Wolf chaired the Women's Caucus during the negotiations for the Conciliation Agreement," said Kay Keskinen, member of this year's awards selection committee who also was a personal friend of Ginny. "The award named after Ginny recognizes others whose work for issues of gender justice goes beyond their office walls and their community boundaries."

This year’s winners include:

Kaitlin Moroney, Managing Editor for The Argonaut, Senior in Journalism
Kaitlin Moroney is an outstanding student, outspoken in her advocacy for feminism and the feminist perspective. As the Managing Editor for The Argonaut, Kaitlin is inclusive, sensitive, and hyper aware of how her work is received by and affects others. Kaitlin believes in serving her community. And in return, her community trusts and believes she cares about things that are important to them. Kaitlin Moroney makes a huge difference in departmental and campus culture. She is an outstanding journalist, with a strong foundation in fundamentals and a vision for where the profession should go in the future. That vision clearly is of an inclusive business model that supports equity within its structure and challenges society at large to change as part of its external advocacy. Kaitlin models this behavior in her own life. Her choices and her life are not typical of many of her peers. She is a married mother and an elite student who is also one of the most aggressive and successful student journalists ever to work for Student Media. She also works another almost full-time job to support her family as her partner works his way through school. Some of her adviser's favorite “Moroney Moments” are when anybody suggests she should be home caring for her child. It is then when she is at her best: pointed, funny, and ferocious. She is a tremendous manager for The Argonaut newsroom and a willing public face for feminism through her Friday “F-Word” columns, where she skillfully analyzes issues from a perspective of inclusivity and occasionally skewers whatever happens to need it at that given time. And that’s a beautiful thing, especially in a state like Idaho, as any movement that has Kaitlin Moroney in its corner has a powerful force within its ranks. Kaitlin is a fierce advocate, but bolsters her beliefs with a great deal of skill and maturity. She is never the loudest person in the room and is perhaps the best listener her adviser has ever met. She has great patience with those who no doubt deeply offend her, but she has no fear of looking them dead in the eye and dropping truth bombs. She does not seek conflict, but has zero fear of it and, in that way, is both a successful model of feminism and an ideal journalist.

Yolanda Bisbee, Director for the College Assistance Migrant Program and Executive Director of Tribal Relations
Yolanda has worked at the University of Idaho for over 20 years, and has helped many campus women grow personally and professionally. She has served the University of Idaho as an Administrative Assistant, Residential Counselor, Program Coordinator, and for the past ten years, as the CAMP Director. Yolanda was recently appointed the University’s Executive Director of Tribal Relations. In every position that she has held, Yolanda has always been a great role model and inspiration for young multicultural women. She received her Bachelor’s, Master’s, and recently, her Doctoral degree from the UI. Her journey in completing her Doctorate of Education was not an easy one. She was a first-generation, single mother, maneuvering through the academic realm. As she has shared with all of her female students, no matter the difficult obstacles that we encounter, it is important to continue one’s education and be independent, as this will result in happiness and fulfillment in the long run. Yolanda’s story is one of persistence, determination, and motivation, which makes her the perfect person to direct the College Assistance Migrant Program, and to receive this award. Yolanda has not only touched thousands of women’s lives at the University of Idaho and in the Native American and Hispanic communities, but has changed their lives for the better. Yolanda has been a key liaison in recruiting young women to the University of Idaho from Latino and Native American communities. Many parents of multicultural female students are not comfortable with the idea of their daughter leaving home to go to school far away without building a relationship with a female representative of the institution. As soon as they speak to Yolanda, they feel the trust and support she will provide to their daughters. She plays a huge role in many traditional Latino and Native American families agreeing to support their daughter’s dream of a college education. Due to the mentoring and support that Yolanda provides to students, she is known to many of them as “Big Mama.” A significant number of multicultural recruitment and retention successes at the UI can be attributed to Yolanda’s vision and foundational work, but most significant is her unwavering commitment to these young women. A few years after CAMP was funded at the UI, a group of young multicultural women felt that their voice was not being represented on campus. They asked their mentor, Yolanda, to be the advisor to a newly-formed campus chapter of the Women of Color Alliance. Yolanda saw this as an opportunity to support and foster a welcoming environment for multicultural women attending the UI, and accepted the request. Yolanda is inspiring not just to students, but also to many men and women in the education profession. Yolanda has taken on leadership roles in various campus organizations and committees. She is often one of the few women representatives at the table among many men. Her presence and expertise radiates throughout meetings, and she speaks her mind without fear of holding back. Yolanda brings a critical and important perspective that too often goes unvoiced at this institution. She is passionate in her career and is always making sure that cultural barriers are destroyed in order to create a welcoming and safe environment for all.

Community Member Recipient
Deb Payne, Bookkeeper, Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse
Deb has a long herstory of gender justice activism; however, it is not the familiar, obvious path that most activists take as academic or field feminists. Deb worked in the Idaho Cedar Mills in Troy for twenty years, ten of those years as the only woman in this very male-dominated industry. In this environment, gender equality was not even up for discussion. Deb’s strong sense of self and innate leadership qualities resulted in numerous job successes, as well as leaving the mill with the respect of those she had worked with. Deb upholds the tenets of activism and gender justice, and fifteen years ago she was able to transfer these to her professional life, first working for Planned Parenthood, and currently with Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse. Deb has worked for ATVP in an administrative role for over eleven years now, and is a key member of the organization’s team. Deb carries out any number of administrative activities that are essential to shore up a non-profit business—no mean feat given that ATVP currently has over twenty funding sources all with wildly differing requirements. Her hard work, diligence, willingness to go the extra mile, and turn her hand at whatever is needed, has ensured ATVP has been consistent in securing and successfully managing crisis intervention and prevention programming grants that address gender violence right here on the Palouse. Beyond her given role, Deb has assumed another over the years – that of role model and mentor to young women and men who join ATVP and work on the front lines addressing misogyny, sexism, and gendered violence. Deb has helped to nurture and sustain young women and men as they learn and grow in addressing these issues first-hand. Deb is readily available, generous in her support, and kind in her advice. Without a doubt, Deb’s influence has, and will continue to sustain future activists’ dedication to gender justice. Deb is truly a hidden gem. A stalwart, she has the flair to inject creativity and beauty into this difficult and impassioned work.