Wingate University’s MLK Awards – given each year to a student, a staff member and a faculty member who are living out the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. – were presented to Emiyah Watkins, April Smith and Lavette Shirley Elee during a Jan. 18 reception in the rotunda of the George A. Batte Jr. Fine Arts Center.
A member of the Class of 2023, Watkins is a political science major from Gastonia. A first-generation college student and a mentor to other first-gen students, Watkins also serves as a member of the student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, historian of the Black Student Union and president of the Plant Positivity Club. She is a student worker at the Unity House Multicultural Center and a Lyceum ambassador.
Ben Sidbury, the University’s general counsel and a senior vice president, described Watkins as “a strong student and thoughtful social change agent in the classroom.” He was one of three people to nominate her for the award.
Chelsea Kaufman, political science professor, says Watkins demonstrated a strong commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and justice in her Global Issues in Race, Ethnicity, and Gender class.
“She wrote a well-researched paper on reparations to African-Americans for slavery which she presented to the class,” Kaufman wrote in her nomination.
According to nominator Nancy Randall, Smith exemplifies both King’s legacy of promoting diversity, social justice and equity and Wingate University’s motto of Faith, Knowledge, Service.
The University’s assistant vice president for community standards, Smith must balance the interests of individual undergraduate students with those of the Wingate University campus community. She has served on the DEIB Council and oversees the Honor Council, which promotes academic integrity and appropriate student conduct.
“She strives to resolve allegations of misconduct in a timely and equitable manner, as well as aims to create and sustain a culture of respect and responsibility,” Randall wrote. “In addition, as personal service to the community, Smith serves as an elections worker, doing her part to contribute to the nation’s democratic processes.”
Last but not least, Randall says, Smith is “simply kind, thoughtful and helpful.”
Lavette Shirley Elee
A professor in Wingate’s physician assistant program, Elee established the program’s DEI committee and provided faculty-development exercises and information sessions on diversity and implicit bias, according to David Weil, the program’s director.
Weil credits Elee with transforming efforts to achieve a more diverse PA cohort by recognizing the need to familiarize more young people of color with the profession.
“She has led programs and provided education at multiple local middle and high schools in order to spread the word about our profession,” Weil wrote in his nomination of Elee. “Likely the largest and most impactful project she developed was the creation of a mentorship program for Under-Represented in Medicine (URiM) undergraduate students here at Wingate.”
The program allows URiM undergrads to interact and learn with current PA students and recent PA alumni formally trained in mentorship.