winners of the Women of Action award

Left to right, Renada Greer, executive director of the Student Multicultural Resource Center and Trio Support Services, and Bethany Peppers, Women’s Resource Center coordinator and assistant director of the Office of Student Engagement, presented awards to: Meera Komarraju, Jessica Murphy, Abby Bilderback and Grace Gunn. Photo provided.

September 23, 2022

SIU honors the inaugural Women of Action award winners

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale recently presented the inaugural Women of Action awards to recognize “everyday heroes” from diverse backgrounds who lead, inspire and serve at SIU and in the community. Organized by the Women’s Resource Center, the awards recognize women who overcome adversity in their workplaces and communities to prevail and advocate for anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion.

The award winners were:

  • Woman of Inspiration – Abby Bilderback, director of Counseling and Psychological Services and associate director of Student Health Services at SIU. The award recognizes a women committed to empowering women, a champion for the inclusion of women in the goals and vision of enterprise, who is a role model for others and supports women throughout the university while leading by example. Bilderback serves on numerous committees including Network Empowering Women, Campus Violence Prevention Task Force, Sexual Assault Response and the Threat Assessment Team, and she coordinates the response to campus mental health emergencies. Nominators commended her as an “advocate and cheerleader for everyone” and said she has helped create jobs to increase access to mental health care, vocalized the importance of being a positive mentor to new staff and interns, and provided supervision to help produce fine psychologists while also recognizing her team and giving them options for new opportunities and roles.
  • Ascend Award – Camille Davidson, dean and professor of law at the SIU School of Law. The award recognizes and honors a woman whose early accomplishments distinguish her as potential future leader in her profession, marking her as a rising star who already has a positive impact on women both on campus and in the community as she leads and inspires. Before assuming her position at SIU in 2020, Davidson was a judicial hearing officer for the state of North Carolina, presiding over hearings in the areas of estates, foreclosures, partitions, guardianships, incompetency proceedings, claims and deliveries, adoptions and legitimations. She was also a tenured law professor and associate dean for academic affairs and faculty development in Charlotte, North Carolina, and she’s the founder of the Wills Clinical Lab, where she supervised students who prepared estate plans for older low-income residents. She has also taught at other colleges and universities, signed agreements between SIU and other institutions, and last summer hosted SIU’s inaugural Diversity Prelaw Summer Institute to help promote diversity in the profession.
  • Above and Beyond Award – Grace Gunn, a junior public health major with a minor in Africana and multicultural studies. The award recognizes a current SIU student who has a “go-getter mindset, a drive that ignites her spirit to achieve beyond expectation” and someone who is a young role model, inspiring others to follow their dreams and take action. Gunn advocates for fellow students and has served in numerous leadership positions at SIU, dedicating her time and energy to find new and innovative ways to address student needs and represent undergraduate students on university committees. She currently serves as the coordinator for administrative affairs for the Black Affairs Council and as executive vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government.
  • Empowering the Youth Award – Jessica Murphy, a teacher at Carbondale Middle School. This award goes to a teacher or staff member in grades K-12 who pours her time and energy into the youth of the community, working to create positive change and be a meaningful influence. Murphy’s students nominated her for the award, saying she is a favorite teacher who pushes them to be the best they can be while providing them great opportunities to learn about music and more. They also said she makes everyone feel like they belong, as if everyone is part of a big family.
  • Champion of Change Award – Linda Flowers, a longtime educator and active community member. The award recognizes community members for sustained commitment to women and/or issues of diversity through leadership, vision and action in an area of expertise or service. Recipients show commitment via leadership, caring and compassion. Flowers is a triple alumna of SIU, completing her bachelor’s in special education in 1978, her master’s degree in early childhood education in 1988 and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction in 2006. She has been active in Zeta Phi Beta and Phi Delta Kappa, and she and her husband Carl Flowers, a professor at SIU, have both been very active at the university. She has devoted 38 years to being an educator, beginning at Lincoln High School, where she taught language arts and social studies to grades 7-8, including students with disabilities and behavioral disorders. She later taught at Parrish Elementary School, Winkler Elementary School and Thomas Elementary School. She taught various grades along the way, became principal, serving at two schools before retiring. Since that time, she has dedicated herself to community service and is currently the president of the NAACP, Carbondale Branch. In that role and beyond, she champions for minorities, women and social justice while serving the community.
  • Meera Komarraju, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, was also presented with a plaque in recognition of her many years of dedicated service and leadership.

The awards were presented by Bethany Peppers, Women’s Resource Center coordinator and assistant director of the Office of Student Engagement; Renada Greer, executive director of the Student Multicultural Resource Center and Trio Support Services; and Paul Frazier, vice chancellor for anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion.