The Peter Morgenstern-Clarren ’03 Social Justice Awards recognize students and staff members who promote social justice and activism on campus and beyond. This year, the staff recipients are Mario Torres, who works for Physical Plant, and Astrid Vidal, a Service Management Group employee who works in residence halls. The student recipient is Kevonte Payton ’22.
The award was created in memory of Morgenstern-Clarren, who dedicated his time on campus to social justice.
“His activism included securing benefits for Wesleyan custodial staff, participating in the United Student and Labor Action Committee, and contributing his leadership to the campus chapter of Amnesty International,” the award description reads. “We are grateful to Dr. Hadley Morgenstern-Clarren and The Honorable Pat Morgenstern-Clarren for their generosity in sponsoring this award honoring their son’s activism for the public good.”
Each recipient will receive a $1,500 prize.
Mario Torres serves as a materials handler for Physical Plant and is actively involved in student life on campus, notably through Forklift Danceworks, which uses performance and storytelling to shine light on essential workers.
“Mario has been instrumental in helping with location selection, working with students directly, attending meetings, giving up personal time, and being a mentor to myriad students over the years via this program [Fork Lift],” Director of Physical Plant Operations Michael Conte wrote to the award committee. “The program continues this semester as it has for the past 5 years or so. Mario has been along for the ride since its inception and has provided invaluable service to this program.”
Astrid Vidal works diligently to keep residence halls on campus clean and shares her positive energy with the students she sees on a daily basis. Especially during the pandemic, her work has been essential to keeping campus open.
“I have worked with her and actually seen the work she does – clean every bathroom, every study room, wipe every window, take out all the heavy trash bags even as an older woman,” Tamara Riviera ’21 wrote to the award committee. “While doing all this strenuous work, she still manages to smile and stay positive. I could not imagine doing it all myself. We appreciate our professors on campus for providing us with education, but Astrid deserves this award for providing students with back-breaking work in order to keep the campus running.”
Kevonte Payton ’22 is a double major in government and history. He is involved with three hip-hop dance groups, Fusion, Xtasy, and Troupe, was a research assistant for Professor Wendy Rayack, and served as Wesleyan’s Questbridge Chapter President for the 2020-2021 academic year.
“Academically, Kevonte has chosen to take classes and pursue research projects that explore social justice issues, such as race, education, employment, and incarceration in the black community,” Senior Assistant Dean of Admission Jane Tran wrote. “Recently, Kevonte shared with me he was selected by the Meigs History Society to perform research for the local Middletown museum pertaining to black-owned barbershops. These businesses were overlooked, deemed unimportant by history as their records, stories do not exist. Through this studentship opportunity, he plans to bring them back to life.”
Additionally, when the pandemic hit, Payton started a tutoring and teaching service in his community.
“This small program that I started cost families nothing because I wanted to give back to my community and take down this barrier because of the lack of financial resources,” Payton wrote in his personal statement for the award.
He emphasized that he tried to help the kids he worked with in as many capacities as he could.
“I did everything from ACT prep for high school students to math and writing workshops, helped with FAFSA, and even made personalized plans for some students who needed extra help,” Payton wrote. “I tried my best to fill every role that I could, from teacher to college counselor, so that students in my community would not fall as behind as we already were compared to other communities. I met with students as often as their parents would let me.”