Matthew Freeman was a Roosevelt University sociology student with a sense of commitment to working for justice, equality and fairness; his untimely death in 2002 profoundly impacted the Roosevelt community. Heather Dalmage, Professor of Sociology and Director of Mansfield Institute for Social Justice Transformation along with Freeman's parents, created the Matthew Freeman Award for Social Justice in his memory to recognize students that shared his values and the values of the University.
At the annual Matthew Freeman Lecture, awardees are presented a plaque and a $500, in addition to a relevant keynote speech from a guest speaker. This year, there was a new component of the award to honor alumni.
"This is the first year we included the Alumni Award, and we did so to recognize our alumni. This allows us to connect alumni with current students and highlight the role of Roosevelt University in the lives of people across a range of social justice work," said Dalmage. The Student Award began a legacy of recognizing exemplary students that positively influenced their communities with their work in social justice, and the addition of the Alumni Award further augmented that legacy. This year, Roosevelt recognized student Beckett Costello (Political Science with Honors, BA '19) and the first recipient of the Alumni Award, Gina Ramirez (Sociology, MA '14).
Beckett Costello balanced multiple of roles both at Roosevelt and in the greater Chicago Community during his time as an undergraduate student. Costello's roles included everything from being a research assistant to becoming a co-founder of The Healing Purr, which was established as a safe space that combines LGBTQ+ mental health discussions with the healing power of pets. Costello credited faculty members faculty Bethany Barratt and Jeannine Love, along with fellow student and friend Britt Harvey, for influencing him along his journey. "I feel that this award was really a great validation for me," said Costello."It was a great feeling knowing that all of our efforts, no matter how small, could still impact someone's life for the better."
Gina Ramirez, the first alumna honored, was also excited to be recognized for her work as an advocate for combating the toxic pollutants created by manganese and petcoke, which impacted her own Chicago neighborhood. "It is such an honor to be recognized as an alumna. The work I do with environmental justice advocacy is rooted in the social justice principles I learned while attending Roosevelt," said Ramirez. "I think this award proves that environmental work is a form of social justice work." Ramirez described herself as an active voice for her community in meetings with the Chicago Department of Public Health, where she advocates for policies and decisions that ultimately mitigate exposure to dangerous pollutants. Ramirez recognized Professor Dalmage's hands-on classes as some of the inspiration for her current work. "These classes enabled me to find creative ways to implement social justice practices and advocate for equity in my neighborhood, the Southeast side," said Ramirez.
Both Ramirez and Costello said they were looking forward to the future with hopes they could continue to impact their communities through avenues of social justice. "I would love to be a professor one day and help others achieve their goals of social justice," said Ramirez. Costello'ss graduation in May 2019 will open many possibilities for him as he determines what is next. "I want to find a career that embraces the social justice values that have grown in me during my time at Roosevelt," said Costello. Their work and dedication to social justice continues to carry the legacy of Roosevelt—and Matthew Freeman—positively into the Chicago community and beyond.
The Matthew Freeman Lecture occurred on February 11 2019, with Dr. Stacy Lindau MD, MA of Lindau Lab at the University of Chicago Medicine as the keynote speaker. Video recording of the Student Award and Alumni Award acceptance speeches, as well as the keynote speech, can be found on YouTube.