The Dr. Matthew Stark Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Faculty and Student Award publicly recognizes unique contributions to human rights. The award and financial grant are given to a student and a faculty member for distinguished service, writing, teaching, involvement, and leadership in support of civil liberties, civil rights, public education, and social justice.
Matt Stark’s career demonstrates his lifelong commitment to civil rights and social justice. As a University of Minnesota assistant professor in the 1960s, Stark traveled with students to Alabama and Georgia in support of the civil rights movement. He served on the Minnesota Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and on the Minnesota Governor’s Human Rights Commission. Stark left the University to serve as executive director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union in 1973. He continues to be a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Advisory Committee.
This year’s student Stark award-winner is English and French senior
Joshua Capodarco. Capodarco is a recipient of a 2009 President’s Student Leadership and Service Award. He is also a peer liaison for the Engaged English Scholars program. Capodarco has an extensive background in service learning; he is currently serving as a teaching assistant for the English course Literature of Public Life, and has taught English in Senegal. Here is an excerpt from a story he wrote about his motivation to teach in Senegal:
In my first tutoring position at an ESL high school, most of the students were Somali or Ethiopian. They all spoke so glowingly of home. For NBC news-watching Americans like me, their home was anything but inviting: so often I watched another disaster spread across a continent that seemed doomed to constant strife.
Yet, no matter how many news reports I witnessed, I couldn’t get the students’ descriptions out of my head. I began to fill out application after application, looking for the first study abroad form that would ship me across the Atlantic. I knew what it was to help on my own terms, to live in America and teach English as a second language and know that they were the uncomfortable ones. I had yet to know how I would feel abroad.
When the hazy lights of Dakar popped out of the sunrise these histories accompanied me, haunting me even after I had left Dakar for Joal, the small fishing village where I taught English. What are you going to do with that major? I was going to do exactly what I could, try to help people through the knowledge I had. Of course, this confidence can’t make you completely levelheaded when you step into a classroom of 60 students, all of them fluent in at least two languages you barely understand, but it does help. Lessons from home flash through your mind as you close your eyes for a moment, wipe the blackboard clean, and prepare a grammar point, 120 ears listening for the slightest mistake.
Ellen Messer-Davidow, professor of English and Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, is this year’s faculty Stark Award winner.
Since joining the University of Minnesota in 1986, Messer-Davidow’s research and courses have reflected her commitment and passion in support of civil liberties. Through her courses, her students develop close reading and careful evaluation skills to help them become not only more engaged college students, but also engaged citizens.
Messer-Davidow’s fall freshman seminar, Probing the Social Text: Founding Ideas and Current Issues, examines three hot areas in civil rights—education, employment, and health care. Her students examine a variety of materials including government documents, NGO reports, academic scholarship, journalism, and personal narratives.
Globalization: Capital and Culture, another of Messer-Davidow’s fall courses, takes a panoramic view of the economic and cultural problems caused by globalization in developed and developing nations.
Her forthcoming book, The Spiders’ Web: Courts and the Constru(ct)ing of Racial Discrimination in Higher Education, analyzes lawsuits challenging affirmative action measures used to open college and professional schools to previously excluded or tokenized racial minorities. Her objective is to show how the Supreme Court—in cases concerning racial discrimination in K-12 education, employment, government contracting, and voter redistricting—constructed “racial discrimination” as an entirely different thing from the systemic racism that still prevents racial minorities and poor whites from enjoying the same rights and opportunities available to working, middle, and upper class whites.