The V. Shamim Sisson Ally of the Year Award seeks to recognize a member of the University community who has gone above and beyond in their daily life in supporting the LGBTQ community, furthering the rights and acceptance of queer-identified individuals at the University of Virginia and beyond. Understanding that allies coming in many shapes and sizes and with varying access to resources, we encourage and welcome student, faculty, staff, and alumni nominees. This award brings necessary attention to the important role that allies play in the fight for equality, social justice, and the acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
Shamim Sisson was presented with the inaugural award at UVa’s inaugural Lavender Graduation Ceremony on May 1, 2009. As Senior Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Student Life, she worked closely with students, faculty, staff and alumni alike to provide a strong support network and resources for LGBTQQI members of the University community. Most notably, she was an instrumental advocate in the establishment of the LGBT Resource Center in its original Newcomb Hall location and the hiring of UVa’s first full-time faculty LGBT Program Coordinator in October 2006.
Each September, the V. Shamim Sisson Ally of the Year Award recipient is chosen by the LGTBQ Center and is presented annually during the Serpentine Society’s Gala Awards Dinner.
Biography of V. Shamim Sisson
Shamim Sisson is retired from the University of Virginia where she served most recently as senior associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Life. Her career in higher education has been primarily in the field of student affairs with previous appointments at Auburn University, Valdosta State University, and Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. She has longstanding professional interests in women’s education, communication between men and women, leadership development, and interracial and intercultural understanding.
Other emphases of her work have included student development theory as applied to university systems and college and university responses to sexual assault. She holds a B.A. from Judson College; M.Ed. from Livingston University, and Ed.D. in counseling and college student development from Auburn University.
Sisson served in numerous capacities in Student Affairs at the University after she arrived in Charlottesville in 1988. Shamim chaired the University’s Sexual Assault Board from 1998 until 2006 and co-founded the Women’s Leadership Development Program. Shamim is a former recipient of the Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at UVa.
Shamim lives in Charlottesville, VA, with her husband Jim Cooper, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. She and Jim sailed twice with Semester at Sea, in 2009 and 2012.
Prior year recipients are listed below.
Laura Widener (College ’16)
At the time of receiving the award, Laura Widener was a third year student majoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. During her second year (2013- 2014), she was the LGBTQ Center’s Speakers’ Bureau Intern, organizing over twenty panels for professors, University organizations, and Contracted Independent Organizations (CIOs).
Currently, Laura is a Marketing Communications Intern at University of Virginia’s Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, providing content for the Center’s Instagram account (@uvawomenscenter). Recently, she accepted a spot in UVa’s all-female student group One Less, which aims to educate students about sexual and domestic violence and to empower survivors.
When she is not fulfilling her duties as a student or an intern, Laura volunteers with Thrive, a local health care medical center. Furthermore, for the past two summers, she worked at the Presbyterian (USA) Church’s Montreat Conference Center with children aged six months to three years. Once she graduates, Laura hopes to work in a career dealing with gender-based issues and aspires to work with children who have siblings with disabilities.
Eric McDaniel (College ’14)
At the time of receiving the award, Eric McDaniel was a fourth year from Richmond, Virginia, studying English in the College of Arts & Sciences. Eric served as the President of Student Council, and served at all levels of the organization from fall of his first year to graduation. His major projects while on student government included the reform of internal structure and recruiting methods to increase diversity among Council’s membership, the creation of the undergraduate-wide newsletter StudCo News, and sponsoring several resolutions to advocate on behalf of marginalized students and student groups.
Outside of Council, Eric served as the head of the Undergraduate Humanities Initiative at the University, where he and a team of undergraduate students planned events and initiatives to promote the Humanities across Grounds. He planned and organized the student speaker series On Being Human, where he and seven others spoke about their thoughts on what it might mean to be a human being.
Dr. Marcus L. Martin
Dr. Marcus L. Martin is professor and past chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Virginia. He held the chair position from July 1996 to December 2006. During his tenure at UVa, Dr. Martin served as Assistant Dean, School of Medicine, Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice President, Interim Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity. He was appointed Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity in April 2011.
The University’s Diversity Council, Women’s Leadership Council, LGBT Committee, and the John T. Casteen III Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Award Selection Committee are organized and staffed by the Office for Diversity and Equity under Dr. Martin’s direction. Dr. Martin also established the UVa IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) Fund and its associated Trustee Board at UVa.
Tara Saylor (GSED ’06)
At the time of receiving the award, Tara Saylor was a PhD candidate at the Curry School of Education. Her dissertation examined what she calls a “sexual minority curriculum” in high school. Ms. Saylor found that this curricula established regulatory learning environments for LGBT adolescents. Sexual minority students learned the rules and codes of appropriate student behavior and the limits of sexual embodiment, but also how to circumvent and resisted school homophobia and heteronormativity. The dissertation has been supported by the Curry School of Education, and the proposal won a Doctoral Research Award in Education Science from the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.
She received support to establish a LGBT families program in Oklahoma from the Doris Buffett Fellowship for Families and the Law, funded by the Sunshine Foundation and the U.Va. School of Law. Tara has been an active volunteer with UVa’s Queer and Allied Activism, the Reider Otis Scholarship Committee, Tulsa’s All Souls Unitarian Church with emphasis on LGBT rights in Uganda, and Oklahomans for Equality. She currently resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband Ryan and their young daughter, Evelyn.
Robert “Bob” Covert (Faculty, Curry School of Education)
Bob Covert has been a faculty member at UVa since 1972. He helped develop and currently teaches the popular Multicultural Education class. He is the co-chair of the Curry school’s Faculty Diversity Group, a member of the University wide Diversity Council and the co-founder and member of the Va. Chapter of the National Association of Multicultural Education. His research focuses on the impact of diversity training on University students and community members. He has done diversity training in a wide variety of settings including public and private schools, universities and social service agencies.