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Kihurani receives Dr. Susan R. Rankin Award

Kihurani receives Dr. Susan R. Rankin Award for Leadership, Integrity, and Outstanding Contributions

Karen Kihurani, Multicultural/International Counselor for Penn State Berks, is the 2013 recipient of the Susan R. Rankin Award for Leadership, Integrity, and Outstanding Contributions to Penn State University. The award is given to individuals who demonstrate leadership in supporting students who are members of LGBTQQIA communities, integrity in the promotion of a positive identity for LGBTQQIA students throughout the University and local community, and contributions to the support services for LGBTQQIA students, faculty, and staff at Penn State.

In the area of leadership, Karen is a person who does not define her professional boundaries by “what am I required to do” but rather by “what do the students need to have.” Embracing this quality, Karen has served with considerable distinction in the role of coordinator and advisor to Rainbow Alliance since 2003. She saw a need for supporting students who are members of LGBTQQIA communities and made this a part of her office on her own accord. Karen identifies as an ally with her office as a safe space.

Karen continually displays integrity in the promotion of positive identity for LGBTQQIA students within Penn State and the community. She coordinated many events, including a “gay, fine by me” campaign. Through Karen’s influence administrators, faculty, staff, and students wore t-shirts with the “gay, fine by me” logo and showed cohesiveness in making a statement of support by posing for a group photo which was advertised on campus. Through these events, Karen has offered mediation between homophobic acts and ethnocentric fallacy. In the challenges of opposition and resistance, Karen strives for acceptance through education. Educational topics that Karen has successfully coordinated include but are not limited to marriage equality, equal rights, and documentary films shown in conjunction with guest speakers who aid in processing and dialogue. Karen has also facilitated sensitivity training for students so they can help mentor their peers in learning appropriate language and behavior to foster greater inclusivity on campus.

Through creativity, Karen demonstrates outstanding contributions in her on-going efforts to add to the support services for LGBTQQIA folks at Penn State. Each of her diversity presentations on campus, in classrooms, and in the community includes LGBTQQIA information. Karen coordinated a Coming-In party with Rainbow Alliance, where the Penn State community was invited to a pizza party to share and discuss issues related to their LGBTQQIA identity. They were also welcomed to join Rainbow Alliance. Karen supports the Noise Concert and Day of Silence, which are two large annual events on campus to bring about an awareness of the LGBTQQIA community. Karen is the key person behind the “gay, fine by me” campaign, National Coming-Out Day, and the LGBT support network campaign. Karen planned and took students to an “out for work” conference in Washington, DC, where students attended a job fair, built resumes, and met LGBTQQIA friendly companies. Penn State Berks hosted the LGBTQQIA leadership retreat November 4, 2012, where Karen attended the day and evening long weekend event as chaperone. Karen coordinates transportation and travels with students to the Lavender Graduation at University Park campus. Karen also collaborates with clubs at Penn State Berks as well as high schools to promote World AIDS Day. When funding was short, Karen collaborated with faculty in writing grants to support LGBTQQIA events on campus. In2010 Karen was instrumental in bringing FagBug to campus. She also helped organize Rainbow Alliance trips to Broadway, NYC, to see La Cage Aux Folles and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

More recently, Karen is working with The Spectrum, a local LGBTQQIA group (under the auspices of Planned Parenthood) comprised of high-school students from the Reading area. Many of these youth come from under-served populations. Karen is hoping to set up a mentoring program between The Spectrum and The Rainbow Alliance at Penn State Berks. Karen believes that the good work done at Penn State Berks should ripple through out the communities around it. She believes that her advocacy is not merely her job, but part of her identity and lifestyle.

The Dr. Susan R. Rankin Award for Leadership, Integrity and Outstanding Contributions to Penn State University was established in 2007 to be given annually to students, staff, faculty, community members or organizations who have provided leadership and service to LGBTQQIA communities and who demonstrate outstanding efforts in Leadership, Integrity, and Outstanding Contributions to Penn State University. The award will be presented to Kihurani by Dr. Susan R. Rankin on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at noon on the steps of Old Main during Pride Rally Week.

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