Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

2024 GWS and Social Justice Awardees

2024 Graduate Student Prize Winner: Kayla Marie Martensen Heading link

Photo of Kayla Martensen in her graduation cap and gown

Kayla Martensen has just earned her PhD in Criminology, Law and Justice under the mentorship of three GWS faculty members, Dr. Beth Richie and Dr. Lorena Garcia, both affiliated faculty and Dr. Laurie Shaffner, an emerita faculty; and completed the Gender and Women’s Studies Graduate Concentration. Martensen’s work is deeply informed by women of color feminisms, abolition feminism, and a commitment to equity, safety, and liberation. Her research critically examines the intersection of the carceral and social welfare states as sites of gender-based violence, with an interest in the gendered, racial, and ethnic implications of collusions between welfare and punishment. The essay she submitted to the prize committee, “Prison is Not Feminist, Service is Not Liberation: Punishment, Service and A Web of Detainment,” makes a critical set of interventions into a range of fields of study and practice including feminist studies of carcerality and the web of social services purportedly designed to support young women and girls of color who are system-involved.

2024 Undergraduate Student Prize Winner: Nia Kennedi Cunningham Heading link

Nia on the podium

Nia Cunningham graduated in May 2024 with a BA in Gender and Women’s Studies and a minor in Social Justice. This curriculum combination means that Nia has organized her undergraduate studies as fully in GWS, which also houses the SJ minor, as any student to this point. In her essay for the prize committee Nia wrote that, “Gender and Women’s Studies changed her life,” because it encouraged her to “shake [stuff*] up.” In awarding her this prize, the faculty in GWS commend Nia for her work inside and outside of the classroom and her ability to be the change she envisions.

2024 Undergraduate Student Prize Winner: Ashna Konjeti Heading link

Ashna in a restaurant

Ashna Konjeti graduated in May 2024 with a BS in Nueroscience and a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. The prize committee was moved by Ashna’s essay where she wrote, “I’ve learned [in GWS coursework] that love is a renewable resource, and that in its myriad forms, fuels not only individual growth but also collective action and social change.” We are confident that Ashna will move through her future studies in medicine with a strong grounding in feminism and a deep and abiding commitment to solidarity, all of which will allow her to be what she aspires to be: a healer of bodies and a supporter of justice, equity, and love.

Ashna reflected on winning the GWS Undergraduate Award: “I am very grateful to be receiving this award, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to engage with the Gender and Women’s Studies curriculum and community at UIC. My exposure to GWS has transformed my perspective on the world and my role within it, foregrounding love as a transformative force in both personal and societal contexts. It has instilled a deep sense of empathy, advocacy, and social responsibility within me, and as I continue towards a career in medicine, I strive to be not just a healer of bodies, but also a supporter of justice, equality, and love.”

2024 Mary B. Bialas Prize Winner: Jaquie Davila Heading link

Jaqui green short black hoodie

Jaqueline Davila graduated in May 2024 with a BA in Gender and Women’s Studies and a minor in Public Health. Since May 2023, she has worked as a research assistant with Professor Elena Gutiérrez on the Chicago Chicana Trailblazers project. She has just begun training to become a medical advocate to support women in hospital settings who have experienced violence. This is emblematic of Jaquie’s commitment to realizing reproductive justice, one she came to, at least in part, through her engagement with GWS courses, faculty and fellow students. And it is this commitment that makes her the ideal recipient of the Mary B. Bialas Award.

2024 Completion Award Winner: Themal Ellawala Heading link

Photograph of Themal Ellawala

Themal Ellawala is a PhD candidate in Anthropology under the mentorship of Professor Gayatri Reddy, and they have also completed three graduate concentrations: Gender and Women’s Studies, Black Studies, and Museum Studies. Their dissertation is an ethnography of queerness in Sri Lanka that investigates how western Liberal modernity structures relationality and explores queer forms of relations, and how modernity structures them by privileging certain ways of being in the world and effacing others. The essay they submitted to the prize committee, “Sensing Bodies, Sensual Assemblages: Masculinity and Queerness Under an Umbrella,” explores what queerness and the sensory can tell us about masculinity. Their work in masculinity studies makes them particularly well suited to this award that was endowed by GWS’s emerita faculty member Dr. Judith Gardiner, whose work on masculinity was and continues to be field setting. We are excited to see Themal continue to imagine how and where that field should go.