Two recent University of Wisconsin-Stout graduates have received special state recognition and will be honored Thursday, Nov. 8, at a ceremony in Madison hosted by UW System President Ray Cross.
Coltan Schoenike is one of 14 honorees for the Dr. P.B. Poorman Award for Outstanding Achievement on Behalf of LGBTQ+ People.
Schoenike, of Omro, in May earned an undergraduate degree in human development and family studies with a concentration in LGBTQIAP+ studies and education. Schoenike is pursuing a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and sex therapy in UW-Stout’s Graduate School.
Otaasia Barfield, who graduated in May in criminal justice and rehabilitation, is one of 15 recipients of the Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award.
Barfield, of Milwaukee, is working at College Possible in Milwaukee. She helps high school juniors — mostly students of color with an average family income of less than $25,000 a year — prepare for the ACT and learn about applying for, transitioning to and succeeding in college.
Dr. P.B. Poorman Award
The Poorman award is given annually to LGBTQ+ people who have helped to create a safer and more inclusive climate. It celebrates the memory and legacy of Paula B. Poorman, a faculty member at UW-Whitewater who dedicated her life to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ people. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the award.
“The honorees have positively transformed the experiences of our students and staff in enduring ways through the creation of new programs, initiatives and offices as well as the advancement of new research,” Cross stated in a UW System news release. “This award recognizes their significant achievements to benefit both the UW System campuses and surrounding communities.”
Schoenike is appreciative of the honor and called it “incredibly validating.”
Schoenike is chair of the UW System Student Representatives, a student governance body that represents students from each campus and promotes shared governance, represents student interests and advocates for student rights.
Schoenike, who identifies as nonbinary transgender, is the first openly transgender chair of the group and was the first inclusivity director of the UW System Student Representatives.
Schoenike openly spoke against the Freedom of Expression policy adopted in October 2017 by the Board of Regents. The policy makes students subject to expulsion if they repeatedly “materially and substantially” disrupt the speech of others.
Dissent is patriotic, and Schoenike believes in the importance of challenging systems in place, something Schoenike plans to continue despite growing up and hearing all the things transgender people could not do.
“I’m going to keep fighting, and I hope others will too,” Schoenike said. “The biggest thing I can do is be there and exist as my true self. It’s OK to be me.”
Outstanding Women of Color Award
This year is the 23rd anniversary of the Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award, through which 375 faculty, staff, students and residents have been recognized for improving the status and climate for women and people of color and advancing the work of diversity, equity and inclusion. UW institutions submit nominations for the award.
At UW-Stout, Barfield was a member of the Black Student Union and a research assistant with the Hegemony Project.
“At first I was very surprised, and I didn’t feel like I deserved the award,” Barfield said, noting she later realized she was deserving.
“The UW System has a long-standing commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion at our institutions. This award honors women of color whose advocacy, activism and scholarship has resulted in the positive transformation of our UW System campuses and surrounding communities,” Cross stated. “Through the efforts of this year’s award recipients, our campuses and communities have become more welcoming and equitable places to learn, work and live.”
UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.