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VCU recognizes five at annual PACME celebration

Awards ceremony honors individuals who have made significant contributions toward enhancing VCU’s commitment to diversity, excellence and inclusion.

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Charlene D. Crawley, second from left, receives the Riese-Melton Award, given for contributions to cross-cultural relations. (Tom Kojcsich)

Five members of the Virginia Commonwealth University community, including the chair of the Department of Psychology and a longtime professor in the Department of Chemistry, were honored Thursday at the 2017 Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment.

Wendy Kliewer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and department chair, and Charlene Crawley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry, were joined by Austin Higgs, Selamawit Hailu and Sasha Spruill as 2017 PACME honorees. The event featured remarks from VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves, Ph.D., associate vice president for inclusive excellence.

“So much of what we do as an institution is shape society. We have a large number of people who come [to VCU] and relatively quickly graduate and move out and become leaders,” Rao said. “And the kind of leadership they provide [in] thinking about other people and how other people need to be included — must be included — becomes an important part of not just our reputation but what we feel good about in terms of what we’ve done in society.”

Austin Higgs addresses the crowd after receiving the PACME staff award. (Tom Kojcsich)
Austin Higgs addresses the crowd after receiving the PACME staff award. (Tom Kojcsich)

The Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment honor individuals who have made significant contributions toward enhancing VCU’s commitment to diversity, excellence and inclusion. Four separate awards are designated to recognize students, faculty, staff and administrators. In addition to the award, each recipient receives $500.

“I am very moved by this award,” Kliewer said, “and I am deeply, deeply grateful to all the individuals with whom I get to interact in this wonderful, diverse place every day.”

A glance at the 2017 honorees:

  • Administrator award: Wendy L. Kliewer, Ph.D., professor and chair, Department of Psychology, College of Humanities and Sciences
  • Faculty award: Charlene D. Crawley, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Chemistry, College of Humanities and Sciences
  • Staff award: Austin L. Higgs, operations coordinator, Equity and Access Services
  • Student award: Selamawit Hailu, graduate student, Department of Psychology, College of Humanities and Sciences; and Sasha Spruill, senior, Departments of Political Science and African American Studies, College of Humanities and Sciences
VCU President Michael Rao, second from right, with the 2017 PACME honorees and ceremony hosts. (Tom Kojcsich)
VCU President Michael Rao, second from right, with the 2017 PACME honorees and ceremony hosts. (Tom Kojcsich)

Crawley, a two-time VCU graduate, was also recognized Thursday with the Riese-Melton Award, given for contributions to cross-cultural relations. The PACME capstone award honors the late Walter Riese, M.D., a professor of psychiatry, and the late Herman Melton, a longtime medical center employee.

“When I think of VCU, I think of family,” said Crawley, a Richmond native who remembers taking classes at VCU in 1973 during the beginnings of the university’s Advanced Scholar Program. “Whether you are a student or colleague, I consider you to be part of my family. I come from a family of 14 siblings, so believe me, there are few interactions that I have had at VCU that I have not encountered in my family.”

The honorees spoke of their commitment to enhancing diversity and inclusion at VCU, and charmed the audience with personal stories. Higgs and Hailu, in particularly moving moments, thanked their families for being sources of inspiration and support. 

Spruill, frequently glancing back at her fellow recipients, said she was overwhelmed.

“We come from all over the world,” she said. “We have different backgrounds, compassions and interests. Yet our common theme has led us all here today.”