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March 4, 2002

Awards honor Emory's 'everyday' heroines

By Stephanie Sonnenfeld


Friends, family, coworkers and peers gathered to sing the praises of the fifth annual recipients of the Women’s Center’s Unsung Heroine awards at a ceremony held Monday, Feb. 25, in the Miller-Ward Alumni House.

Women’s Center Director Ali Crown told the 147 guests in attendance that they were the event’s largest crowd. She then opened the stage to the evening’s honorees by introducing past award recipients in the audience.

“I guess we can’t call them unsung heroines anymore,” Crown joked. “We’ll have to call them ‘sung’ heroines.”

This year’s Unsung Heroines include: Eleanor Main (faculty); Patricia Douglass (administrator); Cheryl Elliott (staff); Laura Steinberg (student); and Shaila Rao Bheda (alumna).

The evening’s originally slated speaker, Lynn Morgan, president and CEO of the Women’s United Soccer Association, was unable to make the event, prompting Crown to tap the “next most important person in the universe” for the job: President Bill Chace.

“I’d like to sing the praises of the women whose praises have not yet been sung—for all the women in forthcoming years who will be honored at this event and at other events in their lives. This [praise] will be coming to you because you are wonderful,” Chace said, turning to Crown to thank her for the opportunity to honor three unsung heroines in his life.

He cited his daughter Kati for her guidance and solicitude; wife JoAn for her practical advice; and his mother, Grace, for her understanding and deep wisdom. “I thank them, and I thank you,” he said to the honorees.

The words ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ have become part of the common language since Sept. 11, said event cochair Catherine Howett Smith. “If any good came from the rubble of our national tragedy, it was to remind us of the everyday hero,” she said before she and fellow cochair Mary Ellen McClellan presented the awards.

“The women we honor today are heroines: person-to-person by counseling students; working for change in human resource policies; serving as youth mentors; smashing through the glass ceiling to make way for other women; fighting for justice in crimes against women or by simply speaking up, these women demonstrate the power of service without expectation of reward,” Howett Smith continued.

Main was cited by nominator Alicia Franck as “a brave risk-taker, a fearless trailblazer, a dedicated mentor and a role model in every way.” When Main first came to Emory in 1969, she was one of four female professors in Emory College after becoming in 1966 the second woman ever to earn a doctorate in political science from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. She was a founding member of the Emory Women’s Caucus (which eventually became the President’s Commission on the Status of Women) and the the Georgia Women’s Political Caucus. Main sits on the board of the Department of Juvenile Justice and Georgia Professional Standards Commission Review Panel. In January 2001, she was named director of Emory’s Division of Educational Studies.

Douglass is the type of administrator who has a “rare combination of razor-sharp skills in her field and warmth in her approach that speaks of trust and care for the people at the core of her work,” wrote nominator Claudia Adkison. Douglass, assistant vice president for Human Resources, has been an advocate for the equalization of faculty and staff benefits, the extension of disability benefits to staff, same-sex domestic partner benefits and the skills-enhancement program. “Pat taught all of us that we can be magnificent leaders and administrators and still laugh, hug and love each other in the workplace,” Adkison said.

A law enforcement officer for 27 years, Elliott has “dedicated her life to fighting injustice, crime and fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves,” wrote Craig Watson, chief of the Emory Police Department (EPD). Elliott, a lieutenant with EPD, started working at Emory in 1988 but began her career in the early 1970s, when being an African American police officer was hard enough without adding “female” to the mix, Watson said, but Elliott managed to overcome those barriers and do her job with “grace, dignity and passion.” Addition-ally, Elliott serves on Emory’s Sexual Assault Consortium, the DeKalb County Coalition against Domestic Violence, the DeKalb County Safe Community Taskforce and the Atlanta High School Counseling program.

In an environment where expressing a feminist perspective could be politically and socially dangerous, Steinberg has demonstrated a “remarkable” ability to embrace feminist thought while still respecting other opinions, said nominator Patti Owen-Smith of Oxford. While at Oxford, Steinberg’s scholarship, intelligence and gracefulness have been hallmarks of her student leadership, Owen-Smith continued. Steinberg has been involved in a multitude of student and community organizations including, the Clifton Child Care Center, Residence Life, DeKalb District Court and the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center and she is chair of the Women’s Center student advisory board. “Laura represents the finest of the young people that grace our univer-sity,” Owen-Smith said.

After graduating from Emory College in 1994, Bheda continued her dedication to community service by joining Ameri-Corps and becoming a Hands On Atlanta participant, a youth mentor and a volunteer for the homeless. She has touched the lives of countless young women through her work with the Georgia Department of Human Resources and through Raksha, a local group aiding South Asian women involved in domestic violence, her nominators wrote. “Through her professional and community activities, Shaila lives her life with a single-minded determination: to empower the lives of young girls, to lift up the poor and abused, and to spread light to unlit corners of the world,” wrote nominators Association of Emory Alumni and Sonia Sharma, program coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Programs and a fellow Emory graduate (’93C).

All honorees received a plaque and a $100 award.