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Keene State to Recognize Six Women Who Share A Vision For A More Inclusive Tomorrow

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Each year, for more than three decades, and as part of Women’s History Month, Keene State College honors outstanding women of New Hampshire. This year’s recognition theme is Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Individuals who have worked to eliminate bias and discrimination from our lives and institutions are difference-makers. “Few events are more rewarding than those that honor people who redefine best practices and who share a vision for an inclusive tomorrow,” said Misty Kennedy, business manager for external events at the college.

The college recognizes that the desire for equity, diversity, and inclusion is a powerful driving force, and understands that women are at the forefront of reevaluating the status quo as members of families, civic and community groups, businesses, and legislative bodies.

“It takes courage for those who advocate for practical goals like equity, diversity, and inclusion when established forces aim to misinterpret, exploit, or discredit them,” Keene State President Dr. Melinda Treadwell noted. “It is important that we honor women who have taken the lead to show the importance of change and to establish firmer safeguards, practices, and legislation reflecting these values.”

At an on-campus celebration on March 28, Dr. Treadwell will present awards to six women: Devon Chaffee, Debbie Bowie, Gail Somers, Ritu Budakoti, Celia E. Rabinowitz, and Molly Edmark ‘24.

The gala will be in the Mabel Brown Room, Lloyd P. Young Student Center, and will begin at 6 p.m. The award ceremony is open to the public. RSVP.

Below is a brief overview of this year’s honorees.

State of New Hampshire Awardee

Devon Chaffee, Executive Director, ACLU Of New Hampshire

As the Executive Director since 2012, Devon has overseen the ACLU of New Hampshire’s major growth in membership and staff and its success in protecting and defending civil rights in the Granite State.

Under her leadership, the organization has made historic progress, including repealing the death penalty, adding gender identity to the state’s nondiscrimination law, and overhauling the bail system.

Devon’s fight for civil liberties in New Hampshire continues to be focused on deepening relationships with communities impacted by injustice and fighting to create a more equitable Granite State for all.

Previously, Devon served as Legislative Counsel in the National ACLU’s Washington D.C. Office, and as Advocacy Counsel at Human Rights First, fighting against U.S. counter-terrorism and national security policies that violate human rights.

Devon received her law degree, magna cum laude, from the Georgetown University Law Center.

Region Awardee

Debbie Bowie, Tri-Chair, Truth Reconciliation and Equity Collaborative

Debbie is a community volunteer who unites community members to create an inclusive society that provides a sense of belonging for all. She is committed to working with individuals and groups resulting in action and positive change.

She is a Tri-Chair of Keene State College’s Truth Reconciliation and Equity Collaborative, a member of the Manchester NAACP Economic Justice Committee, a Cheshire Academy of Lifelong Learning (CALL) student, the CALL Book Group facilitator, and a City of Keene volunteer in the roles of Election Greeter, Roadway Safety Committee Member, and Human Rights Committee Alternate.

Previously she served as a Board Member/Chair of the Keene Housing Kids Collaborative, Member/Co-Chair of the American Association of University Women, and hosted teens with the Creating Friendships for Peace Program.

Debbie resides in Keene with Dwight, her husband, and Ted, their cat.

In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, taking CALL classes, and spending time with family.

Region Awardee

Gail Somers, Chair, Keene Family YMCA’s Community Anti-Racism & Equity Task Force

Gail is a finance professional, entrepreneur, and ardent community advocate.

Gail immigrated to the US from Jamaica in the 1990s from a rural part of the country and humble beginnings. Food — especially “good food” — was how her family celebrated and showed love, and today she owns Yahso Jamaican Grille in downtown Keene.

Gail graduated from the University of Technology in Jamaica and later earned a degree in business and finance from Villanova. She also owns an MBA from St Joseph’s University.

When she’s not busy juggling professional and entrepreneurial pursuits, Gail is a tireless and engaged champion for equity and social justice in her community, especially for BIPOC individuals and new Americans. She serves on several boards and committees, including the Keene YMCA Board; chairperson for the Y’s Community Anti-Racism & Equity Task Force; the City of Keene Racial Justice and Safety Committee, and the Monadnock Area Transitional Shelter.

She is working on a vision to establish a multicultural center to serve Keene and surrounding communities. Gail is the mother of two children and she spends her free time reading and traveling.

Region Awardee

Ritu Budakoti, Educator, Activist, Member of Keene Human Rights Committee

Ritu is an exemplary educator at Keene Middle School and epitomizes unwavering dedication to her student’s growth and learning. Recognized with the 2020 Exceptional Teacher Award during the pandemic, she demonstrated resilience and innovation in her teaching, inspiring a love for learning.

Ritu’s influence extends beyond her classroom, as she mentors fellow educators and spearheads community-building initiatives like the Keene International Festival. She was a recent finalist for N.H. Teacher of the Year, and her commitment to excellence and continuous professional growth through Keene State’s Leadership Graduate Program promises a future of continued transformative leadership in education.

Outside of her professional endeavors, Ritu is a dedicated community activist, working to bridge diverse cultures in the Monadnock Region. She holds leadership roles in organizations like the Keene India Association, The Daily Good, Keene Public Library, and Keene Human Rights Committee. Her efforts have embraced, showcased, and celebrated diversity where she lives and works.

Keene State Faculty/Staff Awardee

Celia Rabinowitz, Assistant VP for Academic Engagement and Director of Mason Library

Celia Rabinowitz has been at Keene State College since 2014 and currently serves as Assistant Vice President for Academic Engagement and Director of Mason Library. She has a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fordham University, an MLS from Rutgers University, and has been working in academic libraries for 32 years.

At Keene State, she has worked on planning several campus teach-ins, is a member of the Safe Space Committee, and served as Interim Director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Staff Recognition Committee. She is interested in interfaith dialog, LGBTQ+ equity, and facilitating access to information.

Celia collaborated with the Coordinator of LGBTQ Student Support to create the Courageous Conversations Committee and offered events like “Can we Disagree and Still Be Friends?” Said Celia to The Equinox for a story on the event: “To me, people’s trust and respect is more important than whether they like me or not. When you disagree, it’s about your relationship as friends and respect for one another.”

Most recently she worked on a project that now offers free Mason Library privileges to all New Hampshire residents.

Student Awardee

Molly Edmark ‘24, President, Student Athletic Advisory Committee

Molly is majoring in Secondary Education and History and will graduate in the spring.

From Plymouth, N.H., Molly has excelled as a four-year member and captain of the field hockey team and is a four-year member and president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. She was also involved in a partnership with the college Wellness Center and Athletics in a joint effort to bridge barriers and enhance resources for student-athlete mental health.

Being a part of these groups allowed Molly to lead and participate in projects that have enhanced not just the experience of student-athletes at Keene State, but the campus community as a whole.

Throughout her time at Keene State College, Molly has developed a love for learning and teaching, but also an undeniable passion for field hockey and coaching. Molly looks forward to utilizing the tools she’s developed at Keene State in her career as an educator and coach.

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