They highlight inequities and work to overturn them. They strive to ensure equitable access to education. They fight for social justice.

With Chico State’s deep commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, the University is filled with champions who lead transformational programs, guide day-to-day efforts, and continue to push for improvement. In May, nine were honored for their contributions and dedication during the 14th annual Conversations on Diversity and Inclusion (CODI) Awards.

Faculty and staff have long hosted a series of discussions that focus on the complexities of group and individual identities. It is through education and conversation that we can bring about enlightenment, understanding, and acceptance.

The (CODI) conversation series aims to expose and treat the various ills reflected on our campus and in our community—xenophobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, classism, ignorance, apathy, etc.—as well as celebrate our differences in hopes of bringing about enlightenment, understanding, and acceptance.

Every spring, the CODI planning committee, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the Department of Multicultural and Gender Studies, and the Gender and Sexuality Equity Coalition honor those who exemplify the ideals of the series. The 2022 awards ceremony was held virtually due to COVID-19, but it was still filled with an outpouring of support and praise for the University’s diversity champions.

Meet this year’s recipients:

Promising Newcomer Award

Gabby Medina Falzone, Multicultural and Gender Studies

Gabby Medina Falzone

Since arriving on campus in August 2021, Gabby Medina Falzone’s commitment to social justice and equity for several distinct communities has been profound—she has advocated for youth rights and rights for the formally incarcerated at the most basic levels of access and inclusion; she has served as co-facilitator for “Ableism 101” and part of the CODI series; she has been part of the Teaching Racial and Social Justice Series for the Office of Faculty Development; she has taken on an advisory role with Project Rebound, an organization for those who were formally incarcerated or whose life is impacted by a family member being incarcerated; and she has done work with those who are unhoused and food insecure in the broader Chico community. All this in only 10 months of employment on campus!

If that isn’t enough, Gabby is working with faculty members Susan Roll and Jennifer Wilking on an evaluation of the Basic Needs Project. They will be conducting focus groups with students about their experiences at the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry, then they plan to work with student researchers to analyze the data to inform the program and give students an opportunity to conduct a study using the central tenets of participatory action research.

It is for this work, and Gabby’s total commitment to Chico State and the wider community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and her first year as a faculty member, that she was honored and recognized as an extraordinary individual whose fresh perspective and energy galvanize campus EDI work and help facilitate new approaches to old problems.

Behind the Scenes Award

Gloria Godinez, Director of Equal Opportunity and Compliance

Gloria Godinez

Much of the important work to support equity, diversity, and inclusion at Chico State happens outside of public view, performed by passionate and committed individuals who see the value in every effort, no matter how large or small. Gloria Godinez is one of these people. She has been called “a soldier for justice” who “walks the walk” by her colleagues, and her impact can be felt throughout campus in countless ways.

Approaching all that she does with an EDI lens, she focuses on the most crucial details to ensure that the work is performed in line with not only the policies and the law, but with an eye on how what is learned in the process can be used to improve our campus community.

Issues of increasing workforce diversity have been championed under her guidance, and she and her team have worked diligently to promote national best practices, such as recommending policy changes that have led to stronger EDI language in vacancy announcement materials, reducing institutional barriers to diversify applicant pools, and evaluating the possibility of a pay variance for certified bilingual employees.

Gloria’s efforts have contributed tremendously to supporting diverse employee recruitment and retention that continues to nourish Chico State as a welcoming and inclusive campus—and much of this work is outside the original scope of duties for her position.

“Almost immediately upon arriving on campus six years ago, she completed the diversity certificate program and has been leaning in ever since to have an impact on our EDI strategic priorities and efforts,” said Interim Chief Diversity Officer Michelle Morris. “In everything Gloria does, she brings a critical consciousness—contributing greatly to equitable access and outcomes for everyone.” 

Walk the Line Award

Juan Araujo Sariñana, Department of Biological Sciences

Juan Araujo-Sariñana

This award recognizes that the work to achieve social justice can be demanding and risky, and that many who take it on do so without the protection of privilege or a safety net such as tenure or full-time employment.  Juan Araujo Sariñana has been on the front lines as a social justice activist since his undergraduate days at Chico State, taking part in many protests with his colleagues in service of equity, diversity, and inclusion. And now, through his work with Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) and the Alpha Chapter of Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and as an alumni and lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, he has juggled multiple roles while increasing his activism on campus and in the community.

Juan serves as a role model for students of color, particularly in the STEM fields, and has taken an active role in the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, working on the complicated issues of house-lessness across organizations throughout Chico, such as the Chico Housing Action Team. He is also a member of the faculty union and has been a leader for positive action on a wide range of crucial issues, such as organizing a community table emphasizing the principles of mutualism, fostering activism and dialogue around the pending Roe vs. Wade decision, running a bicycle brake light repair clinic, and addressing issues of mental health and policing on campus.

While the health and well-being of all Chico’s residents shouldn’t be controversial, sometimes these issues are political, and it is for this type of work and more that Juan is recognized and celebrated as an extraordinary faculty member who has been brave enough to walk the line for social justice.

Teach Back Award

Al Neamhain, Psychology Major

Al Neamhain

While students most often learn from their professors, students also teach their instructors and peers. The “Teach Back Award” honors students who have been consistently active either inside or outside the classroom and who have contributed significantly to diversity education on campus. As a staff member at the Center for Healthy Communities and also in the classroom, Al Neamhain embodies all of these traits, and they do it with courage, confidence, and compassion. As a student they have been committed to making Chico State better not only for themselves, but for other students who are still to come. Al’s efforts as a model and advocate of equity and inclusion in all areas of campus are an inspiration.

Yvette Zúñiga, associate director for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, echoes these sentiments when describing Al’s contributions to the University: “Al is a student who continuously educates faculty when they don’t see themselves represented in the curriculum. They recognize that it is not their burden to inform others, but rather they deeply value creating safe spaces and want to share that experience with others.”

Taking it to the Streets Award

Melys Bonifacio-Jerez, Sociology Major

Melys Bonifacio-Jerez

Melys is known across campus as not only selfless and kind, but as a fierce, unapologetic warrior against inequity in all forms, and they have impacted hundreds of people as a leader in social justice for BIPOC and working-class students, faculty, and staff.

Melys is a conduit for bringing academia to the streets and the streets to academia—in their work, they have targeted policing and incarceration, racism, homophobia and transphobia, mental health services, and economic well-being. They have also led programs on the history of policing originating from slavery and how current policing and incarceration practices (including immigration and detention programs) are structurally racist and continue to perpetuate inequality and lack of safety for students, and they have addressed structural racism and wealth inequality in broader society through their work with the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which focuses on mutual aid and those who are unhoused and food insecure in our area—especially Chico State students. They address these issues through their daily work and social media, hosting educational events, and direct action, such as hosting a renters’ rights workshop or a free car-repair workshop with mask and COVID-19 test distribution.

Melys’s efforts enhance understanding of diverse communities on campus and in the wider Chico community, and they work to bring organizations across the region together on issues in common.

Susan Green, chair of the Department of Multicultural and Gender Studies, says of Melys: “They truly embody intersectionality in their work by uniting BIPOC folx around their whole selves and communities, and by educating White folx about what they need to be doing to be not just good allies, but anti-racists and co-conspirators in ‘good trouble.’”

Pulling us Together Award

Michelle Morris, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Michelle Morris

“Michelle is good people.” This is a refrain heard again and again to describe Michelle Morris’s impact on those she works with and the campus community that she serves. As the University’s interim chief diversity officer, she has successfully implemented her vision for drawing people together to take a bold step toward social change, and she has reimagined the possibilities of EDI at Chico State with her own brand of innovative and careful leadership.

Michelle goes above and beyond the qualifications for this award, which celebrates individuals who teach the difficult but important lessons about diversity issues, and who represent and advocate for people who are often marginalized in the United States. Lauded as a “rock star” in her role, Michelle brings a dedication and passion for equity and inclusivity on campus that is contagious.

During her tenure, she has reinvented the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and been recognized for moving crucial EDI initiatives forward in a collaborative and transparent way.

“Her ability to unite different groups on campus under the same common goal is deeply admired,” said Yvette Zúñiga, associate director for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Taking it to the Classroom Award

Matthew (Matty) Teague Miller, Department of Music and Theater

Matthew Teague Miller

This award honors an outstanding faculty member who possesses the courage and creativity required to successfully engage diversity issues in the classroom. Matthew, known affectionately as “Matty,” is known across campus for his commitment and dedication to anti-racist practices and social justice in theatre.

The positive impact that Matty has had may best be described by one of his students, Raymundo Ballejos Jr., who praises his ability to deal with sensitive and challenging subjects honestly, openly, and with deep awareness for the well-being of his students.

Raymond describes Matty as a consistent fighter for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Chico State, who uses his privilege for good.

“There have been days where we put our assignments aside and dive deep into extremely important conversations to ensure that our needs as students are met,” says Raymond. “I feel there isn’t a subject or theme that could be brought up that Matty couldn’t handle with grace and eloquence, and I am confident that his courage to speak out against racism will carry with me when I am the one in front of the classroom.”

The After Chico Award

Rick Callender, (Industrial Technology, ’94)

Rick Callender

Rick wears many hats—including running a hat store!—and he is an unparalleled fighter for equity and justice. His extraordinary record as a leader and activist is proof that a good education is what you do with what you learn, and with this award, his outstanding contributions in the fields of diversity activism, service, and education are celebrated.

Rick graduated from Chico State in 1994 having served two years as AS president, then later completed a master’s degree in public administration and earned a law degree. Rick says that Chico State was the first place he started to fight for representation for himself and other underrepresented groups, and he has continued to do so.

Rick is currently the CEO of Santa Clara Valley Water District, where he is not only the first African American to serve as CEO in the district’s 90-year history, but he’s also the only African American CEO of a major water and flood protection organization in the United States. Through his important work providing clean and safe drinking water for more than 1.9 million residents, he also is working to dismantle structural racism in the water industry.

In fall 2020, Rick was also named president of the California-Hawaii chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As the chapter’s first new president in 20 years, he’s working hard to build off the remarkable successes of his predecessor while also bringing new vision and embracing national momentum to confront racism and improve equity.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Eddie Vela, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Eddie Vela

This award recognizes that understanding and advocating for diversity takes a lifetime of sustained commitment, and Eddie’s extraordinary record at Chico State exemplifies this work.

Eddie is an ally, activist, and awesome administrator who is never too busy to champion equity, inclusion, and student success. He offers consummate support for those in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSS) and across colleges and divisions. Eddie uses his privilege and power as the dean to promote policy and practice that advance EDI priorities and contribute to historically marginalized student and employee success.

Eddie has served on the University Diversity Council (UDC) since its inception and he encourages diversity of thought in every interaction. He puts his money where his mouth is, offering to financially and structurally support EDI initiatives and events whenever asked, and he understands the value of moving the campus beyond diversity and inclusion toward equity and justice!

“Whether it’s funding a program or a student in need, addressing harm caused by someone in this college or critically examining and then acting on changes in policy and procedures to align with our strategic priorities and student success across campus. I can pick up the phone, Eddie answers, and we work together to move the needle,” says Michelle Morris, interim chief diversity officer.

From humble roots in West Texas to an illustrious career that now spans three decades, Eddie’s held numerous leadership positions on campus, including director of the Center of Excellence in Learning and Teaching and chair of the Student Evaluation of Teaching Committee, and he’s received numerous awards and honors for his teaching, including his selection as a Master Teacher in 2000 and receiving the 2000–2003 Chico State Outstanding Teacher Award.