Activist artist Common, Pulitzer-winner Tillet headline Graduate School's 2023 Inclusive Academy Symposium and BADI Awards

Written by
Tracy Meyer, for the Graduate School
July 1, 2023

“You can grow without pulling up your roots.”

These words from activist and artist Common crystallized one of the recurring messages that emerged from the Graduate School’s second Inclusive Academy Symposium and Best of Access, Diversity, and Inclusion (BADI) Awards, a two-part event held on May 18 at the Lewis Center for the Performing Arts.

Led by the Graduate School’s Access, Diversity and Inclusion team, the annual gathering is intended to support and celebrate underrepresented graduate students and postdoctoral researchers; the event is open to everyone in the University community. Common and Salamishah Tillet, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and Rutgers University professor in creative writing and African American studies, were among the featured speakers this year.

Salamishah Tillet seated onstage talking at the 2023 Inclusive Academy
Salamishah Tillet, Pulitzer Prize winner and Rutgers University professor, discussed excellence, culture, and connection in academia, during a fireside chat with Nova Smith, assistant director of diversity initiatives, at the Graduate School’s 2023 Inclusive Academy Symposium. Photo: Sameer A. Khan h’21

The Inclusive Academy Symposium

The day got off to an early start with the Inclusive Academy Symposium. This year’s theme, “Cultivating Excellence through Culture and Connection,” shaped a full program of sessions and workshops. Panels of speakers from Princeton and beyond explored topics in early career development, the practice of writing, and community connections and identity in academia.

The format of the symposium was highly interactive: The audience was encouraged to participate during the sessions, and the informal breaks between sessions were buzzing with conversation among speakers and attendees. The Graduate School’s Diversity Fellows, a group of graduate students who work with the ADI team throughout the year, helped organize the event. Several served as program moderators or panelists.

“We wanted the symposium to be an opportunity for everyone to come together, step back from their daily work, and consider the challenges and triumphs of what it means to be an emerging scholar, said Joseph L. Lewis, associate dean for access, diversity and inclusion. “Judging from the thoughtful and animated conversations sparked by the speakers throughout the day, I think the event was a success.”


Three shots of audience engaging with speakers

Photos: Sameer A. Khan h’21

An Evening of Celebration

Dean Rodney Priestley at podium with audience clapping in foreground

Graduate School Dean Rodney Priestley addresses the audience attending the evening keynote of the School's 2023 Inclusive Academy Symposium/BADI Awards in the Wallace Theater at the Lewis Center for the Performing Arts on May 18. Photo: Sameer A. Khan h’21

Taking the stage to kick off the evening’s festivities, Graduate School Dean Rodney Priestley underlined the School’s commitment to sustaining an “inclusive community of belonging where every graduate student feels welcome and can thrive academically, socially, and professionally.”

Crediting Princeton’s culture with fostering the strong and diverse connections he sees in the Graduate School community, Priestley recounted how the University’s informal motto was recast in 2016. He noted that the current broad and inclusive wording, “In the Nation’s Service and the Service of Humanity,” arose from a suggestion by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ’76, the first Latina, the first woman of color, and only the third woman ever to serve on the High Court. Priestley said he hears two imperatives in Princeton’s motto. First, that diversity is an irreplaceable ingredient in excellence, especially in research and education. Second, that diversity is a moral good in and of itself. “Providing opportunities for as many people as possible is simply the right thing to do,” asserted Priestley.

The dean closed by quoting Common, “I believe in the power of community. When we come together, we can do anything. We can change the world.” Then speaking to the crowd, Priestley added, “I want you to understand that by doing what graduate students and postdocs and faculty do, WE change the world.”

In the evening’s lively keynote conversation that followed, Joseph L. Lewis, the Graduate School’s associate dean of access, diversity and inclusion, drew out Common on topics ranging from sustaining creative inspiration, to the link between arts and activism, to staying in touch with your community. Common ended his appearance by delighting the crowd — and surprising Lewis— with two minutes of freestyling. As the crowd clapped and hollered, Common spun rhymes about Princeton, the BADI Awards, audience members who had asked him questions, and deans Lewis and Priestley. 

“I’m telling you now, Joseph here is my guy.
Plus, check it out, the way I speak freely,
I’m a be a Dean just like the Dean Priestley.”

Eight women dressed in brightly colored outfits hugging in posed group shot
Graduate student diversity fellows and Sarah Mullins (center), a member of the Graduate School’s ADI team, enjoy the 2023 Inclusive Academy Symposium and BADI Awards. Photo: Sameer A. Khan h’21

The BADI Awards

The evening continued with a dinner and awards ceremony in the Lewis Center's atrium. Eighteen students, staff, faculty, alumni, student groups, and programs were applauded and cheered as each was called up to receive an award recognizing the excellence of their work. The BADIs honor underrepresented minority graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at Princeton and those who advance them as researchers, scholars, mentors, and future leaders of academia, government, industry, and beyond. 

Associate Dean Lewis said planning for next year’s Inclusive Academy and BADI Awards has started. “We hope this year’s event left everyone feeling empowered, inspired, and, most importantly, that they belong in this dynamic community of scholars,” said Lewis.

Princeton Alumni Weekly was on hand to cover the 2023 event.

2023 BADI Awards Recipients  

Leadership Award

  • Rodney D. Priestley, Dean of the Graduate School, Pomeroy and Betty Perry Smith Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Postdoc Champion Award                           

  • Lauren R. Kerby, Associate Research Scholar, Center for Culture, Society and Religion

Faculty Champion Award

  • Judith Weisenfeld *92, Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion. Chair, Department of Religion
Woman in dress with bright print accepts award
Theresa Thames, associate dean of the Office of Religious Life, was recognized as an Unsung Staff Hero with a 2023 BADI Award. Photo: Sameer A. Khan h’21

Staff Unsung Hero Award                             

  • Theresa S. Thames, Associate Dean, Office of Religious Life

Outstanding Programming Award                 

  • Graduate Women of Color Caucus 

  • Native Graduate Students of Princeton 

  • GSP HUMSS Chat

Outstanding G1 Student Award                    

  • Noah Collins, Graduate Student, Anthropology

Outstanding Advocacy Award

  • Jiya Pandya , Graduate Student, History

Outstanding Mentorship Award                    

  • Rodrigo Cordova, Graduate Student, Astrophysical Sciences

  • Vanessa Gonzalez, Graduate Student, Molecular Biology

Outstanding Divisional Leadership Awards

  • Engineering:  
    Sneha Srinivasan, Graduate Student, Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Humanities:                                       
    Yassine Ait Ali, Graduate Student, French and Italian
  • Natural Sciences:                               
    Seraya Jones Nelson, Graduate Student, Molecular Biology
  • Social Sciences:                                 
    Nikhil Pandhi, Graduate Student, Anthropology
    Sebastian Guarda, Graduate Student, Economics

Legacy Award                                               

  • Courtney DelPo *23, Chemistry

Pinnacle Award                                             

  • Sarah Mullins, Assistant Director of Recruitment and Community Engagement for Access, Diversity, & Inclusion, Office of the Dean of the Graduate School