Burnside Watstein Awards honor three for contributions to LGBTQIA+ community

October 16, 2018

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., with award recipients Alexa Santisteban and Archana Pathak, Ph.D., and Liz Canfield, an assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Relations)
Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., with award recipients Alexa Santisteban and Archana Pathak, Ph.D., and Liz Canfield, an assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Relations)

Virginia Commonwealth University recognized three individuals last week at the 13th annual Burnside Watstein LGBTQIA+ Awards, an event that honors those who make a significant difference in the lives of LGBTQIA+ faculty, staff, students, alumni and local community members. 

The event was co-sponsored by Equality VCU, University Student Commons and Activities, VCU Libraries and the Division for Inclusive Excellence. The award acknowledges honorees regardless of where they fall on the gender or sexuality spectrum.

“From my point of view, those most deserving of the Burnside Watstein Award recognize the threats of exclusion, intolerance and ignorance,” said Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., vice president for inclusive excellence, in his welcoming remarks.

In a video address to the award winners, VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said, “I am grateful for the work being done to make the VCU community a more equitable place. Today’s honorees have shown us what we need to do to improve the human condition. Their persistence and example inspires us to listen, learn and become better people.”

The three honorees are: Afton Bradley (community winner), Alexa Santisteban (student winner) and Archana Pathak, Ph.D. (faculty winner).

Bradley, a graduate of the Bachelor of Nursing and Master of Social Work programs at VCU, was lauded for his work in health care and advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community throughout Central Virginia. He serves as a registered nurse with the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood and leads its transgender health program, which he started in 2016. Bradley is a group facilitator at Side by Side (formerly ROSMY). He also has served as the transgender services program manager at Health Brigade.

Bradley is part of a small team that created and facilitates the “Trans Sensitivity in Policing” workshop for the VCU Police Department, which has been taught to police academy participants since fall 2015. Though Bradley could not be present to accept his award, Donna Coghill, community engagement librarian and coordinator of campus partnerships for VCU Libraries, said, “What he’s doing impacts us every single day.”

Santisteban, a student in the Anthropology and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies programs is a founding member of the VCU student organization, Queer and Trans People of Color Collective. Santisteban has participated in efforts toward an inclusive nightlife scene in Richmond and is a member of Queer Action. She also is helping to plan the Latinx Institute for the 2019 national Creating Change Conference.

Reflecting on the experience as a first-generation, black, Latinx American, Santisteban said, “I never would have imagined I would be up here receiving this award.” When expressing gratitude to family members and friends, Santisteban said receiving the award was “not an individual effort” but “a community effort.,”

Pathak, senior faculty specialist in the Division for Inclusive Excellence and an assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, was described as an “absolute warrior” in her contributions to diversity and inclusion initiatives at VCU. Pathak has worked to advance strategic initiatives now on the verge of implementation: an expanded curriculum in LGBTQ studies and an LGBTQ center, which will coordinate LGBTQ scholarship, advocacy and community engagement across and beyond VCU. Pathak regularly facilitates difficult dialogues on privilege, power and social justice on campus, and leads training on unconscious bias and other topics for workplaces.

 “The work that we do is built on the shoulders of so many,” Pathak said.

By Raina L. Fields
Division for Inclusive Excellence
804-828-6847