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Two undergraduate students win Roosevelt University’s prestigious 2013 Matthew Freeman Social Justice Award

Posted: 04/01/2013

Roosevelt University undergraduates Nathan Lustig (left) and Bailey Swinney (right) are the winners of the 2013 Matthew Freeman Social Justice Award, which annually recognizes exemplary work furthering the University’s social justice mission on campus and in the community.

Lustig, 22, a psychology major, Chicago resident and native of White Plains, N.Y., was selected for the award based on his commitment and engagement as an activist and organizer both on campus and in the community.

Swinney, 24, a sociology major, resident of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood and native of Euless, Texas, received the award for her work in creating a conducive environment for Roosevelt students to teach reading skills to Cook County juveniles on probation.

The award winners were announced at noon on Monday, April 1 during the annual Matthew Freeman Lecture and Social Justice Award Ceremony, featuring distinguished lecturer Joseph Tulman, professor of law and director of the Took Crowell Institute for At-Risk Youth at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.  Topic of Tulman’s lecture was "What Works in Reversing the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline: System Change through Conflict and Collaboration."  

“This award is given in memory and recognition of the deep commitment that Roosevelt student Matthew Freeman had for social justice and making positive change a reality,” said Heather Dalmage, director of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation.

“This year’s winners epitomize what Matthew believed in. Each winner saw injustice and found ways to work to change it,” said Dalmage.

Lustig, who arrived at Roosevelt in 2009, quickly became immersed in the University’s social justice mission and its transformational learning coursework, but was troubled by student apathy.

 “During my time at Roosevelt I’ve tried to be involved in issues that everyone can have a stake in,” said Lustig, who began to attend labor-movement rallies after taking a labor-history course with Roosevelt associate history professor Erik Gellman.

"Nathan very early on showed an intellectual curiosity for history that extended beyond the walls of the classroom.  He embraced transformational learning by working with Local 1 of UNITE-HERE, a union of service workers that has struggled for living wage jobs and bolstering working-class communities in Chicago,” said Gellman.

Lustig transformed his experience into formation of a student-activist group called Rise, which has emboldened students to speak up and act on issues they care about.

“If I can spark an interest in people for things that I care about and that they should care about, I feel that I have accomplished something positive,” said Lustig, who recently worked through the Mansfield Institute to collect hundreds of signatures for U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk from Roosevelt students, faculty, staff and friends opposed to any new funding for police in schools.

Lustig and the campaign, entitled “Say Yes to Counselors, No To Cops, were recently featured in an article in the Chicago Tribune’s Red Eye newspaper.

 "Nathan is not just a terrific and enthusiastic student, but he is also genuinely committed to bettering the world, and willing to put in the time and energy to make it happen. I have tremendous admiration for him," said Roosevelt assistant professor of political science David Faris, who nominated Lustig.

Swinney took an interest in helping youth from disadvantaged communities succeed while taking a sociology course in 2011 with Dalmage that encouraged her to volunteer to learn and practice restorative justice techniques, including peace circles, with youths at the Morrill Elementary School in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

Swinney then applied what she learned from the Morrill experience by introducing peace circles into a new program that pairs Roosevelt students from the University’s Writing Center and a Writing Social Justice class with youths who are on probation and in need of better reading and writing skills to get on track for school and success.

 “Bailey’s work has helped solidify the program,” said Carrie Brecke, instructor of the Writing Social Justice course and director of the Writing Center, who nominated Swinney for the award. “She has helped make our students and the kids in Cook County Juvenile Probation’s Jumpstart program feel comfortable together.”

There have been solid gains in literacy comprehension as a result, according to Patrick Nelson, a Cook County juvenile probation officer in charge of the Jumpstart program.

“We’re making huge differences in young people’s lives with this program, and Bailey has been very good at that,” said Nelson, who was particularly impressed by Swinney’s leadership and initiative in introducing restorative justice practices into the program – an addition he believes has been positive for both Roosevelt student volunteers and youths in the program.

“There are so many people doing great things at the University and I am very grateful to be recognized for the work I am doing,” said Swinney, who hopes to one day do social work.