37th annual Women of Color Day at Penn

Students Sade Taiwo and Kyndall Nicholas, community member Janice Sykes-Ross, faculty member Eugenia South, and staff member Colleen Winn were honored for their leadership and service to the community.

Valerie Dorsey-Allen poses with Colleen Winn, who holds her award
Valerie Dorsey-Allen (left) poses with Colleen Winn (right), who won the Joann Mitchell Outstanding Legacy award.

The first Women of Color Day at Penn was held on March 1, 1988. What began decades ago with dozens of people has blossomed into an annual event attended by hundreds, with an awards luncheon honoring students, staff, and community members for their work.

In his remarks at the 37th annual Women of Color at Penn (WOCAP) awards on March 15th, Interim President J. Larry Jameson paid homage to the event’s history and growth, noting the importance of recognizing diversity and community involvement at Penn.

Events like WOCAP embody the University’s new strategic framework, In Principle and Practice, where the words “interwoven” and “engaged” are core values, Jameson said.

Kyndall Nicholas, a fourtand Janice Sykes-Ross of the Paul Robeson House and Museum.
From left to right: Kyndall Nicholas, a fourth-year neuroscience Ph.D. candidate, Colleen Winn of AARC, interim president J. Larry Jameson, and Janice Sykes-Ross of the Paul Robeson House and Museum.


The undergraduate award went to Sade Taiwo, a third-year from Philadelphia majoring in global health with minors in Latin American studies, urban studies, and international development. Taiwo currently runs an organization under the Netter Center for Community Partnerships that connects West Philadelphia families with free and low-cost public health resources. She has also served as community service chair for UMOJA, an umbrella organization for the Black student community, and is a founding member of Monolith, Penn’s Black arts collective.

“This award not only recognizes my efforts but encourages me to support this community work,” Taiwo, who was in South Africa at the time, said in written remarks.

Kyndall Nicholas, a fourth-year neuroscience Ph.D. candidate and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellow, received the graduate student award. Nicholas researches the relationship between diet and post-traumatic brain injury. She holds leadership positions at Penn, including serving as the Neuroscience Graduate Group recruitment chair and as president of the Ernest E. Just Biomedical Society at Penn, an organization that supports the social, academic, and professional well-being of Black and brown graduate students. She is also a fellow at both the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Innovation and the Center for Undergraduate Research Fellowships.

“I know only a couple of us are getting this award, but nothing would be possible without systems of support,” Nicholas said. Nicholas thanked her mother, her “original role model,” who raised Nicholas while earning her own doctorate degree.

Eugenia South, who was unable to attend the event, was honored for her work in health justice. South, the Ralph Muller Presidential Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, is faculty director for the Penn Medicine Center for Health Justice and associate vice president of health justice for the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Her research centers on place-based interventions—including vacant lot greening, abandoned house remediation, tree planting, and structural repairs to homes—and their impact on gun violence prevention along with mental and physical health.

“Any success I’ve had at Penn has been in large part because of the incredible team I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” South said in written remarks. “We’re all strong. And today we’re powerful. And I’ve experienced that power firsthand, when we celebrate and support and lift each other up,” she said.

Isabel Sampson-Mapp introduced Janice Sykes-Ross, who has a powerful vision with a particular emphasis on helping the local community, Sampson-Mapp said. The recipient of the community award, Sykes-Ross is executive director at the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s Paul Robeson House and Museum.

Through her management and curation of the Paul Robeson House and Museum, Sykes-Ross also nurtures young scholars in West Philadelphia. It’s about creating safe spaces with a community hub and giving artists a platform, Sykes-Ross said.

Valerie Dorsey-Allen presented the Joann Mitchell Outstanding Legacy award to Colleen Winn, who embodies the WOC mantra of “I am she and she is me,” Dorsey-Allen said.

“I am thrilled, but I am also very humbled to receive this award,” Winn said, noting her deep respect for Mitchell. Winn accepted the award “with a renewed commitment to upholding the values of leadership, integrity, and service that Joanne Mitchell continues to exemplify and has always been provided throughout a remarkable legacy,” she said.

Proclamation and voices of color

Tiffany W. Thurman, chief of staff for Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker, presented a proclamation declaring March 15 Women of Color Day. She was joined at the event by City Council member Jamie Gauthier, who noted that she is collaborating with honoree Eugenia Smith on greening Philadelphia.

Reading a 2021 New York Times article discussing South’s work “was a light bulb moment for me,” Gauthier said. “To reduce gun violence, we had to look no further than the quality-of-life services constituents call up my office for every single day.”

The program concluded with four “voices of color,” personal testimonies from a diverse group of students and staff. Stacy Pereda, an animal laboratory technician assistant, spoke of her family’s journey to escape violence in Guatemala; Tryphena Zareif, a second-year student from Commack, New York majoring in health and societies spoke of hiding from the sun so her skin wouldn’t darken and changing her name to fit in as a school child; Bona Lee Agalsi Sungay, a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education discussed her pride as a member of the Igorot tribe, a group in the northern Philippines; and Rorujorona Ferrell, global education manager at the Penn Museum, talked about memories of her grandmother’s house and her mother’s continued-education advocacy.

At the end of their testimonies, each woman repeated the refrain: “I see you. You see me. We are united. We are one.”

Next year’s theme will be “embracing change as a catalyst of growth,” said Bahiya E. Stone of University Laboratory Animal Resources, the 2025 chair. “We will reinvent and expand the ways in which WOCAP supports the women on campus.”