Brittney Austin and Sean Hussey receive the 2018 Matthew Freeman Award
Brittney Austin (left) and Sean Hussey (right) receive social justice awards from President Ali Malekzadeh
"Both students exemplify the best of Roosevelt’s student body in making change for the better in our world and in their communities." Heather Dalmage Director, Roosevelt University's Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation

Two students at Roosevelt University have received the prestigious Matthew Freeman Award for Social Justice from Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice. 

Brittney Austin, undergraduate biology major and president of the Black Student Union (BSU) received the award for social justice leadership on campus and her work in helping the homeless in the Chicago’s South Loop area.

Sean Ellis Hussey, graduate student in the music composition program at Roosevelt’s Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA), received the award for continuously showcasing important societal issues through music.

“This year we had two extraordinary nominees for the Matthew Freeman Social Justice Award. Both students exemplify the best of Roosevelt’s student body in making change for the better in our world and in their communities,” said Heather Dalmage, director of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation.

Pamela Thompson-Hill, director of Multicultural Student Support Services, nominated Austin. “Brittney has a strong passion for social, economic, and environmental justice issues and her current position as BSU president has allowed her to emerge as a leader,” she said. 

David Kjar, assistant professor of music history, Kyong Mee Choi, associate professor of music composition, and Allegra Montanari, director of CCPA’s Center for Arts Leadership, nominated Hussey. 

“Sean’s commitment to social justice is exemplary and unparalleled by any other student with whom we’ve worked,” said Kjar, one of Hussey’s mentors.

As a social justice leader, Austin began organizing food drives for the homeless shortly after taking the reins in August 2017 of BSU, which has a goal of representing the interests and concerns of African-American students on campus by way of political, educational, social and community initiatives.  Every third Wednesday of the month, she and other members of BSU package food at the university and bring it to the streets of Chicago’s South Loop, in partnership with South Loop Campus Ministries. 

“When it’s warm we usually bring sandwiches but we recently have been packing soups and walking around and giving them to homeless people along Michigan Avenue, Dearborn Street and Congress Parkway,” said Austin.

Besides food drives, Austin has spearheaded discussions to address ways to alleviate food deserts on the west and south sides of Chicago. Austin also serves as a member of the Student Committee for the American Dream Conference at Roosevelt University, and co-hosts her own radio show, “Know Justice, Know Peace” which airs at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays at Roosevelt’s student radio station, WRBC: The Blaze.

Besides winning this year’s prestigious social justice award, Hussey is the recipient of CCPA’s Performing Social Justice Seed Grant, which opened the door for a project in Sweden exploring how music can bridge disparate perspectives regarding refugees living in Malmö, a southern city in Sweden. 

Last year he also composed a six-soprano opera that is about the misrepresentation of women in the opera art canon. Thompson Street Opera Company, a professional opera company in Chicago, will perform his opera in early 2019. Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music opera program is also putting together a production on May 3 in Cleveland.

Hussey also will present a musical composition about the state of our foster care system and those impacted by foster care at his graduate recital on April 7 at Roosevelt University. 

Inspired by interviews he conducted with social workers, foster youth and their parents, the recital “...safe, stable and permanent home” consists of a 20-minute cantata and two electroacoustic works. The cantata features piano, cello and violin, and eight singers who will present different views about foster care issues. Some of the spoken word presentations include data about those in foster care systems, including children and families living in poverty. “My goal is to have this music provide perspective and inspire activism toward addressing problems in the nation’s foster care systems,” said Hussey. 

Austin, who lives on Chicago’s West Side, plans to attend medical school after graduating from Roosevelt in May. Her ultimate goal is to work in communities that have health disparities and she hopes to provide more healthcare opportunities for those who are unable to afford quality healthcare. “Social justice is embedded in my DNA. It is something that I’m constantly involving myself in.” she said. 

Following graduation in May, Hussey plans to continue working on the compositions he started at Roosevelt and intends to develop his work further for the benefit of society and to make the world a better place.

“Both of these students have been leaders and positive change agents,” said Dalmage, who presented the award to the two students on March 12. ”These students exemplify what can happen when we bring together social justice scholarship and action.  I expect we’ll see a great deal more from each of them in years to come.”

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