MADISON – Twenty-one women of color in Wisconsin higher education will be honored for their contributions to diversity at the annual Women of Color Ceremony and Reception on October 22, 1999 at UW-Platteville.

The ceremony and reception, held in conjunction with the 24th annual Women’s Studies Conference and the 15th annual Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, is sponsored by the UW System Office of Multicultural Affairs, the UW System Women’s Studies Consortium and UW-Platteville.

“These women and their predecessors have made outstanding contributions to their local campus, surrounding community and higher education in the State of Wisconsin as a whole. We are fortunate to have such extraordinary women of color amongst our colleagues,” said Jacqueline Ross, former director of the Women’s Studies Consortium.

One woman of color from each UW System institution and member institutions of the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies will be recognized for her outstanding achievements and the contributions she has made to the university community and, in particular, to diversity. Ross and Carol Sue Butts, Provost at UW-Platteville, will present the awards.

The following honorees include faculty and staff, students and community members: (for biographical information click here)

University of Wisconsin System Institutions:

Deanna Dennis (UW-Eau Claire)

Denise Sweet (UW-Green Bay)

Leticia Pena (UW-La Crosse)

Amy Ling (UW-Madison)

April Holland (UW-Milwaukee)

Judith Hankes (UW-Oshkosh)

Mary Lou Mahone and Bridgette Johnson (UW-Parkside)

Pusaporn Tabrizi (UW-Platteville)

Jacquelynne Whitner (UW-River Falls)

Jyotsna Chander (UW-Stevens Point)

Tracy Benson (UW-Stout)

Karen Weiss (UW-Superior)

Graciela Colin-Dealca (UW-Whitewater)

Andrea-Teresa “Tess” Arenas (UW System)

Rejoice Sithole (UW Colleges)

Dina Castro de Knibbs (UW-Extension)

Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies Institutions:

Debora Barerra Pontillo (Edgewood College)

Mary Council Austin (Marian College)

Dr. M. Shawn Copeland (Marquette University)

Connie Burditt (Northland College)

Two of the women are being honored posthumously. Their awards will be accepted by Tony Hinds (Amy Ling) and Timothy Mahoney (Mary Lou Mahoney).

Denise Sweet, the honoree from UW-Green Bay and an Anishinaabe (White Earth) poet will give a poetry reading at the Women of Color Awards Ceremony and Reception.


Lorre Kolb
(608) 262-7353

Women of Color Honoree Biographical Information

UW-Eau Claire:

Deanna Dennis is a student in the pre-law program and is vice president of the UW-Eau Claire Pre-Law Organization. She is currently a volunteer at Eau Claire’s Bolton House, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, and has counseled and supported women of all ethnic backgrounds who have sought refuge there. As an UW-EC Ambassador, Ms. Dennis has assisted women of color in the admissions process and in their acclimation to the university community. She has served as a surrogate sister and advocate to young women of color during the transitional years from high school to university life. In the upcoming year, Ms. Dennis will be coaching a young woman’s soccer team. Her actions demonstrate a commitment to advancing the presence of women, and specifically women of color, within majority culture.

UW-Green Bay:

Professor Denise Sweet is an Anishinaabe (White Earth) poet and a tenured professor of Humanistic Studies. Five years ago, she was the first Women of Color honoree from UW-GB. Denise coordinated a symposium entitled “Those Who Will Listen and Remember: A Symposium of Anishinaabe History, Culture and Contemporary Issues” that was hosted by UW-GB and UW-EC in September. Her efforts brought together international speakers and attendees to share information about scholarly endeavors as well as language and cultural preservation projects in a first of its kind gathering. Ms. Sweet always finds time to work with the new generation and put together “A Way With Words: Young Writers Workshop,” that has broadened the university’s community outreach to rapidly increasing African American, Latino and Southeast Asian populations. This is UW-GB’s first and only pre-college program that is fully funded by the host university. Activities aside, Ms. Sweet’s proudest accomplishments are her sons, Damon and Vaughn Panek.

UW-La Crosse:

Dr. Leticia Pena has sought to imbue her teaching, research and community involvement with a valuing of diversity. That theme has resonated throughout her life. Upon obtaining a bachelor of arts degree in French, she returned to Mexico to use her languages as trilingual interpreter for the International Olympic Games in 1968, teach English to schoolchildren and eventually help found an English-speaking grammar school in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. She then did social work in the Hispanic and Black communities and with the elderly. Together with several professors from the College of Business Administration, Dr. Pena has been actively involved in the Latin American Business Studies program. In July 1995, professors and administrators from three universities in Mexico and in Brazil convened at UW-L and agreed to form a consortium of universities entitled the United States Latin American Consortium as a long-term objective. To date, UW-La Crosse and the three partner institutions from Mexico have completed numerous joint activities that Professor Pena has helped organize.


Amy Ling was a professor of Asian American Studies. She was one of the premier scholars of Asian American Studies. Professor Ling was a path-breaking founder of this field and is known throughout the United States and the world for her work as a scholar, editor and lecturer. As Director of the Asian American Studies Program, she expended enormous amounts of time and imagination to giving the program a presence on campus. Professor Ling worked tirelessly toward the development of international and intercultural peace and conflict resolution. Her award will be presented posthumously and will be accepted by husband Tony Hinds.


April Holland is the Director of the Pre-College Academy and is responsible for developing and implementing a variety of programs designed to prepare middle and high school students for college. She is currently pursuing her doctoral work in the Urban Education/Counseling Psychology program. Her current interest in counseling research focuses on multicultural counseling, successful academic interventions with African-American adolescents, and marriage/family counseling. She was instrumental in the creation and development of educational staff training and the Mentoring program for 12 to 17 year old young women. Through her works and words, Ms. Holland moves through life loving, inspiring, helping, encouraging others and making a difference in their lives.


Dr. Judith Hankes is a member of the teaching faculty of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Prior to teaching at UW-Oshkosh, her classroom teaching experiences included work with Native American children in the Oneida National Elementary School, Oneida, Wisconsin, the Rosebud School District in Wounded Knee, South Dakota and the White Shield District in White Shield, North Dakota. In the past two years, Dr. Hankes has collaborated on a project titled “Anishinaabe Teachers for Anishinaabe Children,” which focuses on attracting Native American high school students into the field of teaching during a precollege program. Through this project, she has brought students on campus during the summer as well as worked with the students during the academic year at their high schools to foster their interest in teaching mathematics. Dr. Hankes has devoted her teaching, research and service to promoting the best teaching for all students and for Native American students in particular.

UW-Parkside: (two honorees)

Mary Lou Mahone believed in reaching out and helping people to help themselves despite race, gender, social, political or economic status. She was committed to providing equal access for all people to achieve good qualities of life. Ms. Mahone was affiliated with the following organizations: Kenosha/Racine Urban League, Racine/Kenosha Community Action Agency, the NAACP, Women’s Horizons, Second Baptist Church and its Woman’s Ministry, Kenosha Community Health Center, Boys and Girls Club, Kenosha Housing Authority and the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights. She worked with the Lincoln Neighborhood Community Center for 12 years before retiring in 1998 at the age of 72. Her goal at the Center was to help children and families of the Lincoln Neighborhood meet and exceed their full potential. She also interacted with UW-Parkside’s Center for Community Partnerships. Her award will be presented posthumously and will be accepted by her son Timothy.

Bridgette Johnson is a graduate of UW-Parkside’s Communications Department and has worked in the Office of Admissions for the past six years. She has dedicated her life to the betterment of all youth, in particular students of color. Ms. Johnson’s primary mission is to increase the minority freshman class population through various means and she accomplishes this goal with new and innovative ideas every year. Her recruitment philosophy of higher education extends to early intervention of young minds. She’s been an active member of the Precollege Advisory Board for the past five years and has served as Board chairperson for one year. Ms. Johnson has served on the Academic Staff committee, the new faculty and staff orientation campus culture panel and the Plan 2008 committee. She has also served on the YWCA Board of Directors, is a member of the NAACP Education Committee and gives college workshops and motivational speeches to community and church organizations. She recently completed the Racine Leadership program, where she worked on a large community project for the inner city youth.


Puspaporn Tabrizi serves as an advisor to students of color in UW-Platteville’s Office of Multi-Cultural Services (MCS). She coordinates the MCS peer mentor program that assigns an upper level student mentor to each new freshman or transfer. Ms. Tabrizi has become the MCS specialist in assisting women of color with issues of relationships, date rape and other sexual assault, domestic violence and other family conflict. She assisted with the first meeting of MCS student leaders and the Platteville Police Department and University Police. As co-chair of Platteville Women of Color Network, a group of thirty African, Asian and Latin American women in Grant County who meet monthly for social and public service projects, she has encourages UW-Platteville women students of color to meet with other women of color in Platteville who have families and careers. As an immigrant of Thailand, married to an immigrant from Iran, she has helped students of color understand women’s issues on a global perspective.

UW-River Falls:

Jaquelynne Whitner is a graduate student in UW-River Falls’ Counseling and School Psychology program. Her bachelor’s degree is in English with a minor in Ethnic Studies. Her nomination recognizes both her contributions to the University and her lifetime of contributions to society through volunteer and work experiences. In the 1960’s Whitner worked in Mississippi in the civil rights movement, attended the March on Washington, was part of the march to Selma, Alabama and served in the Peace Corps. She was part of the Million Woman March in Philadelphia in 1997. Whitner has worked with emotionally disturbed adolescent mothers and developed a curriculum for non-minority foster parents to assist them to better care for minority children. While at UW-River Falls, Whitner has served as a mentor and guide to younger women of color, worked with precollege programs and worked in the Admissions office. She actively participated in the American Multicultural Leadership conferences in 1998 and 1999, winning a second place in prose writing and a first place in poetry.

UW-Stevens Point:

Jyotsna Chander has taught in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department since 1968. She has demonstrated a high level of commitment to the professional and personal development of women and students of color. Ms. Chander is very dedicated to the “Women in Science” program. She helped form the organization at UW-SP and has served tow separate terms as faculty advisor to the group. She also served as a member of the advisory board of UW System’s “Women in Science” program and assisted with the 1996 conference. Ms. Chander helped found and has served as the faculty advisor to the South Asian Society. She received the University Mentor Award for her work with the group in 1998. Over the years, Ms. Chander has organized hundreds of diversity programs ranging from Indian philosophy to traditional dance to retention programs for students of color. She has been the driving force behind 10 “Festivals of India” celebrations held in the community since 1988. Funds raised from this event sponsor economically disadvantaged women to attend college at the P.N. Doshi Women’s College in Bombay, India. Last year alone, they were able to provide 250 women with financial aid.


Tracy Benson is a student who has worked tirelessly for change. In the spring of 1997, she was one of the founding organizers and prime movers in the Students of Color Coalition. This coalition uses logic, persuasion, carefully researched information and nonviolent demonstrations to affect change in student government. The following year, Ms. Benson was appointed Director of Diversity for the Stout Student Association and she was selected as Diversity Director of the Year for the State of Wisconsin at the final meeting of the United Council for 1998-99. Ms. Benson attends club meetings for the campus organizations for students of color to encourage others to participate in student government. This past spring, she worked with other UW System students to draw up a call for a Students of Color Leadership Symposium designed to foster leadership and encourage participation in student government.


Karen Weiss is a senior, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies. Weiss, a Korean-American, is very active on campus. She is known for her strong communications skills and her ability to build alliances with others. She has been the recipient of many awards and has helped organize events on campus, including American Multicultural Student Leadership Conference (AMSLC). Ms. Weiss is a past volunteer and advocate at the Center for Sexual and Domestic Abuse in Superior and is the co-coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center on campus.


Graciela Colin-Dealca is the Assistant Director of Student Retention Services. She provides students with extensive support that will enable them to play meaningful roles in their professions and society. Ms Dealca has served as a marriage counselor and family therapist, and also has an active and distinguished record as a board member of the Badger Council of Girl Scouts.

UW System:

Dr. Andrea-Teresa “Tess” Arenas is assistant to the President for Multicultural Affairs for the University of Wisconsin System. She has oversight for: Plan 2008: Educational Quality Through Racial and Ethnic Diversity, one of the most comprehensive, systematic strategic plans to increase higher education diversity developed in this decade; meeting targeted multicultural student enrollment goals; preparation of policy options and reports; policy analysis, advising the President about trends affecting multicultural and disadvantaged programs; identifying multicultural needs for the UW System; and is the UW System liaison for multicultural/disadvantaged policies, the Multicultural Information Center and Institute on Race and Ethnicity.

UW Colleges:

Rejoice Sithole, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, serves as a role model for female students of color. Born in South Africa, Sithole brings a unique perspective to her teaching and research. She uses a cross-cultural perspective in teaching such courses as American Minority Groups and Marriage and the Family. Although some of her research has been focused on women in South Africa, she has also studied Black families in the United States and has engaged in comparative work on Native American and Black South African culture.

UW Extension:

Dina Castro de Knibbs is a nutrition educator who works with low-income families, teaching them how to manage their food budget and provide low cost, high nutrition meals. Ms. Knibbs is a role model of self-sufficiency for women, especially Mexican and Mexican-American women. She was instrumental in developing and implementing a parenting course and a self-esteem seminar for Spanish-speaking families. These programs were effective because of Ms. Knibbs observation of Spanish language women and their needs. She is an English tutor to Spanish speaking adults at Stateline Literacy Council, a translator and interpreter for birth mothers at Beloit Memorial Hospital, and a translator for the Beloit Domestic Violence Center and the Rock County Court. She also provides Spanish and English language assistance for families when they communicate with landlords, Social Services and health professionals. Ms. Knibbs has befriended many Janesville area Hispanic women in need of special services and has put them in contact with providers who can offer assistance.

Edgewood College:

Debora Barerra Pontillo is the Coordinator for Minority Student Concerns. She has established herself as an advocate for students of color and a strong voice for the promotion of cross-cultural understanding. She has contributed to the growth and development of women of color by sponsoring a women of color “Talk Circle,” providing empowerment workshops for students and providing extensive counseling, mentoring and advocacy. Ms.Pontillo established the Student of Various Ethnicities student organization. She also created diversity sessions for New Student Orientation and has provided a wide variety of classroom presentations.

Marian College:

Reverend Mary Council Austin has contributed countless efforts to promote understanding and justice among all members of the college and civic community. She works closely with the Marian College Diversity Task Force and the Marian College Student Multicultural Association to ensure that the voices of students of color are heard and recognized. Rev. Council Austin has served as Pastor of Salem United Methodist Church in Fond du Lac since July 1995. She has coordinated the United Methodist Seminars on National and International Affairs, with Women’s Division and the National Division of Global Ministries, and coordinated United Methodist involvement with Impact. As a member of the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Council Austin was the first racial ethnic women to serve under appointment. Serving in cross-cultural appointments, she was a pioneer in the church’s efforts to demonstrate its commitment to open itinerancy.

Marquette University:

Dr. M. Shawn Copeland is associate professor of Systemic Theology at Marquette University and associate professor of Systemic Theology at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies, Xavier University of Louisiana. She is the author of more than fifty articles, reviews and commentary in professional journals and books on such topics as suffering, identity and difference: the common human good, community and freedom. She holds membership in several learned societies including the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, where she serves as Associate Convener, the American Academy of Religion and the Society for the Study of Black Religion.

Northland College:

Connie Burditt is the Associate Director of Native American Studies and the Minority Student Coordinator and Counselor. She is a member of the Great Sioux Nation and is the Sixth Vice-Chair for HOCDU (Helping Our Country Develop Understanding), Inc., and alliance of Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal elders working together to regain responsibility for sacred lands. Ms. Burditt plays a major role in coordinating various Native American events on campus including the annual Native American Awareness Days and Environmental Conference. She also arranges multi-cultural events on campus.