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Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton receives MLK Social Justice Leadership Award

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: On Feb. 10 Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton became the fourth recipient of UW-Eau Claire's Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Award for her decades of advocacy, education and outreach work on campus and in the city to create a more inclusive community.

For nearly three decades, Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton has been known as an advocate, activist, community-builder and leader as she’s worked to bridge gaps in knowledge, raise levels of awareness and understanding, and broaden participation in critical conversations around race and social justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and in the Chippewa Valley.

Selika Ducksworth-Lawton

Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a familiar figure both on and off campus, is frequently seen and heard on local and regional media outlets, tapped for her unique ability to contextualize current events within both historical and cultural frames.

Earlier this month, Ducksworth-Lawton, a professor of history, was honored for her leadership and advocacy during the fourth annual UW-Eau Claire Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

Ducksworth-Lawton is the recipient of the 2021 Martin Luther King Social Justice Leadership Award, given by the division of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Student Affairs. The award recognizes a campus community member who has demonstrated an exceptional ability to advocate for underserved and underrepresented groups and who leads, organizes and engages the community in the difficult work of EDI through their voice, vision and actions.

Dr. Rose-Marie Avin, a professor of Latin American and Latinx studies and director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at UW-Eau Claire, who received the leadership award in 2019, presented the award to Ducksworth-Lawton Feb. 10 during the university’s virtual Martin Luther King Junior Celebration.

In her presentation, Avin said that Ducksworth-Lawton’s work in the EDI arena is too vast to sufficiently itemize. So, instead, she highlighted several of Duckworth-Lawton’s recent contributions and titles, including:

  • Regional and development co-chair for the 2021 Toward One Wisconsin conference, aimed at bringing EDI into workplaces.
  • President of Uniting Bridges of Eau Claire, a nonprofit entity that brings together local organizations to plan events like the Eau Claire Juneteenth Celebration and the annual King Remembrance Program.
  • Co-chair of the UW-Eau Claire Anti-Racist Faculty and Staff group.
  • Co-host of the weekly podcast “Conversations in Color,” which features community discussions around race and creating an inclusive community.
  • Facilitator or lead in countless professional development opportunities in collaboration with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, including serving as a leader of reading and focus groups for EDI training for the campus community.
  • Past EDI Fellow for UW-Eau Claire, playing a critical role in creating the 2015 EDI Implementation Plan for campus.
  • Named to the Black Power List of 2018 by Madison 365, recognizing her as one of the most influential Black leaders in the state.
  • Trainer for the Black and Brown Women’s Network.
  • Member of the Eau Claire Police and Fire Commission.

In her remarks, Avin pointed out that both King and Ducksworth-Lawton’s actions are rooted  in the traditions of servant leadership.

“A true servant leader understands that they are a servant first and chooses this method to influence others; they are someone who takes action and leads by example,” Avin said. “Dr. Ducksworth-Lawton is an inspiration to many and exemplifies these qualities of true servant leadership.”

Avin also noted that in the weeks around the MLK celebration, Ducksworth-Lawton has been working with students and administrators to respond to a student’s racist social media post. That incident, especially during Black History Month, is a reminder of the importance of Ducksworth-Lawton’s ongoing antiracist work, Avin said.

While accepting the award, Ducksworth-Lawton said there are a series of paths that can help to bring UW-Eau Claire closer to the institutional goals around anti-racism. However, one call to action, she said, stands out as accessible to most of the UW-Eau Claire campus.

“We need to train our white students on ‘backstage racism,’ so that they will create a culture where the use of the N-word in all-white environments is not seen as funny, it’s simply seen as proof of being racist,” Ducksworth-Lawton said when receiving the honor.

For 28 years, she has worked alongside wonderful colleagues across the campus, Ducksworth-Lawton said.

“I’m tired of these incidents, and so are they,” Ducksworth-Lawton said about UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff’s reaction to racist incidents on campus. “Our legislature and our Supreme Court may tie our administrators’ hands, but we have the power to protect ourselves.

“So, I leave you with this: Tell the racists that using the N-word marks them as a racist. The racists are on the wrong side of history … Martin Luther King said that the universe bends toward justice. I am telling you that we have the power to bend the universe toward justice.”