Dean’s Award winners reflect on their college experience

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Fowler Hall, Johnson Hall and the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center steps. March 17, 2020.

Each year, the Dean of Students office collaborates with the office of Student Affairs to select the Dean’s Award winners, a group of seniors who exemplify the college’s four pillars of service, excellence, equity and community both on and off-campus. According to a campus-wide email from Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Flot, the award winners must also have an understanding of how to create change within a community and have demonstrated effective mentorship to other students. Jagmit Dhami ‘20 and Kayla C. Williams ‘20 were recognized for “Equity,” Tyler Webb ‘20 and Maggie Smart-McCabe ‘20 were recognized for “Community,” Malcolm Sowah ‘20* was recognized for “Service” and Emily Jo Wharry ‘20* was recognized for “Excellence.”

Service

Sowah, a Diplomacy & World Affairs major, transferred to Occidental his junior year. According to Sowah, he was an advocate for transfer students’ needs throughout his time at Occidental. He was an active member of the Transfer Student Union and as a staff writer for The Occidental, he wrote an Opinions article advocating for an improved orientation for transfer, exchange and visiting students that demonstrates better awareness of their specific needs.

Sowah said he practiced resilience in navigating college. He also was an active member of the Black Students Alliance (BSA), the African Students Association, Harambee and the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

“There’s only a handful of students who come to Oxy with an African background,” Sowah said. “But I was able to form a good community within the college and form relationships with students of all barriers and all colors.”

Excellence

Wharry double majored in history and politics. She won the Hardy Prize for the best senior history thesis and won the Jaquette Prize for being a high-impact politics senior. According to Wharry, she worked with staff members on restorative justice projects, was a resident advisor of Chilcott Hall for three years, and served as the editor-in-chief of The Occidental.

“The newspaper was kind of a place I existed as a very scared, timid first year, then a place I existed as a more confident, self-assured senior,” Wharry said. “It was something that saw me grow into the person that I am today.”

Equity

Dhami, a politics major, said that as a first-generation Punjabi, Sikh student, she shared her cultural identity with other Occidental students through presentations and clubs. She eventually became the co-president of the South Asian Student Association (SASA) and choreographed traditional Bhangra dancing for four years with Dance Production.

“With Indian dancing, and especially with Bhangra, it originates from this kind of harvest festival in India,” Dhami said. “It’s a dance of joy, because this means people are fed for the year and that you are successful in your work.”

Dhami also said that being a member of SASA felt like a home base. According to Dhami, even small moments — like everyone showing up to SASA’s weekly meetings late — helped her feel connected to her culture.

“We shared, of course, identity but also this experience of navigating a white space or white institution together,” Dhami said.

Community

Webb majored in politics and minored in Black studies. According to Webb, he was the track and field team captain for two seasons and an active member of Harambee, BSA and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Webb said he would tell first-year students to stay focused and work hard if they want to leave an impact on the college community.

“Just do the right thing, do what you think is right, build on your strengths and just keep your head up,” Webb said. “But stay ten toes down.”

*Sowah was a staff writer at The Occidental. Wharry was Community News Editor and former-Editor-in-chief at The Occidental.