35th annual Women of Color at Penn awards

In a virtual event, the awards honored six women who have fostered and supported community.

Side-by-side portraits of two smiling women
Shaquilla Harrigan (left) and Nicole Harrington (right) were the graduate and undergraduate honorees of this year’s Women of Color awards. 

The Women of Color at Penn (WOCAP) hosted their 35th annual award ceremony on March 18 with a virtual celebration. WOCAP is housed in the African American Resource Center (AARC). This year’s theme was empowering women of color in business, and the organization created a resource booklet, business directory, and a series of financial literacy workshops.

“For more than three decades, Women of Color at Penn has served to remind us of the remarkable work so many women of color perform across and really in every context of our daily lives,” said Interim President Wendell Pritchett, who delivered opening remarks. The award ceremony, he said, is “an important reminder because, while their efforts may sometimes go unremarked, they should never ever be unappreciated.”

The Helen O. Dickens Lifetime Achievement Award went to Isabel Sampson-Mapp and the Joann Mitchell Legacy Award to Pamela A. Robinson. The other honorees were junior Nicole Harrington, Ph.D. candidate Shaquilla Harrigan, staff honoree Karima A. Williams, and community honoree Margaret Livingston.

Undergraduate Nicole Harrington grew up in Philadelphia. College “was a rough transition,” said the neuroscience major. “It felt like I was never doing enough, I was never proving myself and proving that I really belonged in this institution,” she said.

Harrington is currently taking an ABCS course through the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, which “has just absolutely been transformed my college experience,” she said. Within the course, Harrington and her classmates are mentoring local high school students, discussing social injustice in Philadelphia, and proposing solutions. “Being of service physically and intellectually has helped me mitigate those feelings of inadequacy,” she said. “This class made the connection for me that learning and action go hand in hand.”

Shaquilla Harrigan, the graduate honoree from Winder, Georgia, is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and was a 2019-20 Perry World House Graduate Associate. Harrigan, who serves as chair of the Graduate Sociology Society and volunteers with an organization for African and Caribbean immigrants and refugees, hopes to collaborate with others in the Penn community to work for justice. “It’s really an honor to also do this at Penn and to be in Philadelphia, considering the legacy of W.E.B. DuBois and so many other Black activists in this area,” Harrigan said. “I hope to carry on their legacy.”

Karima A. Williams, associate director of human resources at the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), has served on the WOCAP planning committee since 2013. Williams was honored for work to include and expand the participation of women of color. Williams was grateful for the collaboration at SP2 to create more opportunities, seen in “the hiring of more women of color into new faculty roles this year,” she said, along with the expansion of SP2’s financial aid program, which help make the school “an attainable option for students of color and underrepresented populations.”

Community honoree Margaret Livingston has made the Walnut Hill neighborhood home, raising her children on the same block where she grew up. “Families can make good strong communities,” she said. “I wanted to ensure that my community—and beyond—would always be informed about any opportunities to live in safety and have walkable green spaces, information on affordable housing, quality education in our area, and information on proper health care, as a way to improve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Livingston is president of the Walnut Hill Community Association and a board member of the University City District. “Walnut Hill Community Association, along with my dedicated board, will continue to work diligently on providing information and opportunities to all,” Livingston said. “We must continue to fight for inclusion and justice for all,” she said. “I will continue advocating that it takes a village.”

Pamela A. Robinson, former associate director for College Houses and Academic Services, received the Joann Mitchell Legacy Award for her work to improve the lives of women and people of color at Penn. Robinson quoted one of her favorite gospel songs saying: “We don’t feel no ways tired. We’ve come too far from where we started from. Nobody told us the road would be easy.”

Isabel Sampson-Mapp was honored with the Helen O. Dickens Lifetime Achievement Award for her 35 years of leadership and service. As associate director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and director of Penn Volunteers in Public Service, Sampson-Mapp has used her position to give back to the community. She never imagined being honored for her work, Sampson-Mapp said. It simply felt important, and she hoped it would make a difference to others. “I want to thank those people who so kindly gave, and those people who so graciously received, and those people who gave me the space, the time and the freedom to do good,” Sampson-Mapp said.

“Let us remember,” said Colleen Winn of AARC, that “one book, one pen, one student, one teacher, one act of service can change the world.”