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Virginia Wolf Distinguished Service Awards

2017 Virginia Wolf Distinguished Service Awards!

Each year, members of the campus and local community are recognized with the Virginia Wolf Award for their continuous dedication to activism for gender justice.

Virginia (Ginny) Wolf was a professor of physical education at UI from 1964-1982. Ginny took an active role in addressing issues affecting women on campus, including chairing the UI Women’s Caucus and helping to launch the campaign that brought about the establishment of a permanent Women’s Center.

The award was created in 2002 to recognize individuals who reflect a similar level of commitment and demonstrate a level activism reverent of what Ginny gave more than 30 years ago.

Selection of awardees is by review from a panel composed of past honorees. Women’s Center staff members serve as advisers to the nominations review committee, but do not participate in the review process.

March 29, 2017

5 to 6:30 p.m.
Summit Conference Center
Fourth Floor, Idaho Commons

2017 Virginia Wolf Award Winners (left to right) Erin Tomlin, Madeline Scyphers and Rula Awwad-Rafferty.
The 2017 Virginia Wolf Award Winners are (left to right) Erin Tomlin, Madeline Scyphers and Rula Awwad-Rafferty.

2017 Recipients

Madeline Scyphers | Senior, Mathematics and Physics

Madeline’s nominators wrote:


Madeline has been highly active in the Gender and Sexuality Alliance club here at UI for several years. Her leadership as Co-Chair last year positioned her as an important voice for gender justice, and as a spokesperson and representative for LGBTQIA+ folks; and, while she has stepped down this year (as good leaders do, making space for others to develop their skills), she continues to be a key player in on-campus activism. She has willingly volunteered her time on multiple occasions to help educate first-year students in my gender ISEM class by holding office hours so they could drop in to ask questions. She has served on the LGBTQA Speakers’ Bureau, which provides educational outreach by visiting classrooms, for several years. And she has been highly active in efforts to make campus a safer,
more comfortable, and more inclusive place by working for changes that would allow students to use chosen names on BbLearn (an online forum that currently forces students to be publicly visible to their classmates under names that can cause them emotional harm or even put them at risk of physical harm) and by working with university administrators to establish bathroom access policies that treat gender diverse people with respect and kindness.

Madeline has also organized multiple clothing exchanges, ensuring that trans students and other gender diverse students have greater access to clothing that they can feel like themselves in. For those who haven’t thought about this in depth, a clothing exchange might not seem like a radical act of gender justice, but I assure you that it is. Many young people have gender-normative wardrobes, purchased by parents or other family members who do not understand or do
not approve of free self-expression when it comes to gender. Many trans individuals face the overwhelming (and often insurmountable) expense of acquiring a whole new wardrobe. And many LGBTQIA+ folks find shopping in mainstream stores, with their oppressive binary divisions, to be a painful and stressful experience. Madeline’s understanding and compassion led her to collect donations of clothing donations organize a fun and safe “shopping” experience that alleviates a lot of gender stress.

If that all wasn’t enough, Madeline has also been highly active in community work. She has served on the board of Inland Oasis for two years, and as a panel speaker for our local chapter of PFLAG, offering education and outreach to the community. And she has been highly involved in organizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil for several years now. This event, which occurs in late November, is a solemn gathering to remember trans individuals whose lives were lost through gender-based hatred and violence. This past November’s vigil was an especially moving and necessary event. Madeline served as the main speaker and organizer, leading the mourners through a ritual of communal grief and showing impressive courage at a moment when we were all trying to withstand the immediate aftershocks of the election. One UI student said that Madeline’s leadership and guidance at the event made him feel “safe and connected” and created “a space where we could come together and acknowledge and mourn our losses as a community.” He added that “her voice . . . has always been one of kindness and acknowledgement, and her presence a positive one."

Lastly, Madeline’s participation in this year’s production of the Vagina Monologues at UI. Being part of this show is, in itself, an act of gender justice. I fully understand that and value the important work the show does. And yet, for many LGBTQIA+ folks, myself included, there’s a layer of uneasiness, discomfort, and ineffable outsider status mixed in with all the good. I’ve heard from a number of students that Madeline’s performance was an impactful antidote to this, and I’m so proud of her for taking the stage. One said that he’s “always felt the monologues were missing something,” and that after hearing Madeline’s piece, he understood that what had been missing from performances he had seen was good representation of trans women and the message “that not having a vagina doesn’t mean you’re any less of a woman.” Another student told me she’s always “had a tough time with” the Vagina Monologues, but decided to attend this year’s performance when she heard that Madeline had written her own piece. She said, “Hearing her speak moved me to tears, and it was the first time I ever wanted to give a standing ovation during the middle of a performance. She is such an incredible and powerful woman, and I am so lucky to have heard her speak.”

Erin Tomlin | Prosecutor, City of Moscow

Erin's nominators wrote:

Erin currently serves as Prosecutor for the City of Moscow and teaches at the UI College of Law as an adjunct instructor. Passionate about social justice and gender equality, Erin won the Idaho Victim Assistance Academy Stand Out Student Award in 2015. As the City Prosecutor, Erin has raised awareness of issues victims of domestic violence, majority women, face. She has She advocates for increased resources and training among service providers and community members so that victims and survivors can be better served. Erin serves as an integral resource herself working with the UI Women's Center, Idaho Legal Aid Services, and Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse to provide victims and survivors with options so that they may determine their own best path. She also serves on the Latah County Victim Rights Task Force and the Latah County Child Abuse Task Force. Through her work, she fights diligently for the legal rights of women and children. In her personal life, she encourages women to persist in accomplishing both personal and professional goals.  

In addition to her legal advocacy, Erin is currently taking classes to finish a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Idaho. After the November 2016 election, Erin became concerned for the comfort and safety of Muslim women in our community. Thus, she began organizing a group called, Unity Buddy which matches women volunteers to accompany Muslim women who would like an ally present while running errands. She continues to recruit interested community members for this organization.

Erin participated in the Moscow Women's March on January 21st with her three sons. She is dedicated to improving issues women face such as sexual assault, poverty, healthcare choices, reproductive rights, and immigration rights. She is a humble Vandal alumna, a committed community member, and deserving of the Virginia Wolf Distinguished Service Award. 

Rula Awwad-Rafferty | Professor, Architecture & Interior Design

Rula's nominator wrote:

Rula Awwad Rafferty is an irrepressible force of advocacy and action for human rights, including gender equity and justice. It is my pleasure to nominate her for this year’s Virginia Wolf Distinguished Service Award in the Faculty/Staff Category.

By temperament and deed, Rula is well-matched to the selection criteria. Her diverse background, courage and perseverance under challenging circumstances, ability to integrate wide-ranging subjects, authentic compassion for others, commitment to ethical fairness and respect, and seemingly inexhaustible levels of community outreach and engagement have impressed and influenced me since the day we met 17 years ago. As was recently demonstrated so powerfully in Women’s Marches on the Palouse and around the world, women’s rights are human rights. Gender-based concerns are inseparable from social and environmental justice; rights for immigrants, voters, and people with disabilities; access to basic needs like affordable healthcare and food; and other such challenges of our time. All require our vigilance and hands-on attention. Like this award’s namesake, Virginia Wolf, Rula is not afraid to challenge the status quo, to stand up for those who are oppressed, and to persuade those in power to change things for the better.

Rula is program head and a professor in Interior Design at the University of Idaho. Her bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in architecture, and her PhD is interdisciplinary, integrating architecture, political science, interior design, and anthropology. Her classes involve landscape architecture, bioregional planning, psychosocial and environmental factors affecting quality of life, and conflict, security, and place attachment. Rula’s passions and talents cannot be compartmentalized or extinguished. She expands her factual knowledge, broadens her own world view, and grows in emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity, even as she teaches students about ways humans inform and are informed by the spaces we occupy. She guides her mentees toward understanding the power and nuance of cultural
traditions, and how to listen with one’s heart, while exemplifying high professional standards. As Rula says on her UI web page, “I embrace a scholarship of outreach and engagement, pedagogy, and discovery; from participatory/emancipatory approach; weaving many narratives to understand the numerous authentic stories of place, identity, and people. I love working across many paradigms and disciplines, always pushing a boundary or exploring a possibility."

Befitting eligibility criteria for the Virginia Wolf Distinguished Service Award, Rula serves as a faculty adviser for UNITY, the umbrella multicultural student organization whose mission includes “(creating) energetic and constructive dialogue among…underrepresented populations” and “(advocating) understanding by creating a campus environment that… acknowledges our deepest convictions through active participation across lines of differences.” In addition to serving on the President’s Diversity Council, Athena, and the City’s Human Rights Commission, Rula regularly speaks about women’s issues in the context of human and civil rights, access and inclusion. Her impressive list of presentations includes Sacred Journey: Islam, women, and globalized narratives; Seen and Unseen: (Dis)covering the meaning of the
Veil Symposium (The Complexity of Invisibility (2011)); Faith and Feminism (2010); Women’s Voices and Visions: Standing together (2009); Women, War, and Occupation (2008); U of I Women’s Leadership Conference: Exploring your world, charting your future (Women of Color Leadership Panel (2007)); Women, War and Peace (Borah Symposium, 2007); Women and Islam: Exploring women’s rights to education (2005); Challenges and Successes for Women in Science (2002); and Women in Higher Education Mentoring and Leadership Forum (2002).

In 2012, the Latah County Human Rights Task Force honored Rula with the Rosa Parks Human Rights Award for her longstanding leadership in human rights causes and her courageous record of commitment to opposing bigotry and celebrating diversity. Rula continues to inspire me, and gives me hope and a measure of comfort at a time when so many hard-won rights seem simultaneously threatened. She is ideally suited to joining the august company of previous recipients of the Virginia Wolf Distinguished Service Award. I hope you will agree, and support this nomination of Rula Awwad-Rafferty as this year’s faculty recipient. 

Past Recipients

2016 - Courtney Kersten (student), Ryanne Pilgerem (faculty), Sally Fredericks (community member)

2015 - Sara Spritzer (student), Maribel Franco (student), Laura Putsche (faculty), Kathy Sprague (community member)

2014 - Kaitlin Moroney (student), Yolanda Bisbee (staff), Deb Payne (community member)

2013 - Whitney Chapman (student), Colleen Kulesza (student), Virginia Solan (staff), Heather Shea Gasser (staff), Lela Ames (community member)

2012 - Micah Kehrein (student), Jane Lear (staff), Jama Sebald (community member)

2011 - Lynn McAlister (student), Chelsia Rice (student), Christine Moffitt (faculty), Christopher Bidiman (community member)

2010 - Rachel Todd (student), Francesca Sammarruca (faculty), Liz Sullivan (community member)

2009 - Anne-Marije Rook (student), Rebecca Rod (staff), Joann Muneta (community member), Jeannie Harvey (lifetime activist)

2008 - Tara Malmquist (student), Liz Brandt (faculty), Amy Stone Ford (community member)

2007 - James French (student), Traci Craig (faculty), Mary Jo Hamilton (community member)

2006 - Cassie Searle (student), Kathy Aiken (faculty), Ginny Foote (community member)

2005 - Selena Lloyd (student), Betsy Thomas and Valerie Russo (staff)

2004 - No awards given

2003 - Lori van Buggenum (student), Debbie Storrs (faculty)

2002 - Emily Sly (student), Kay Keskinen (staff)

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