The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Commission for Blacks


Gene Mitchell Gray Pioneer Award

The Gene Mitchell Gray Pioneer award recognizes outstanding, pro-active contributions of students who serve the campus community and promote cultural diversity. The recipient should demonstrate a commitment to the spirit of cultural enrichment and the appreciation of differences on campus.

2012 Recipient—Melanie Barron

Melanie Barron

Melanie Barron teaches Geography 101 and intentionally incorporates social justice issues. The graduate teaching associate also has been meeting with other graduate students to form a group for teachers who are interested in expanding their teaching of social justice and diversity-related topics. She is building a strong community of teachers who can improve students’ social cultural competency through their teaching and interactions. The goal is to use innovative teaching methods that resonate with students. Barron is a doctoral student in the geography department. She also is engaged on campus as a member of the Progressive Student Alliance, an organization that works for social and economic justice.

Hardy Liston Jr. Symbol of Hope Award

The Hardy Liston Symbol of Hope award recognizes outstanding, pro-active contributions made through serving the educational community and/or the promotion of cultural diversity at UTK. The recipient (s) should demonstrate a commitment to the development of individuals in our society through cultivating and enriching the human mind and spirit. The recipient is openly pro-active in his/her beliefs in a diverse University community, e.g., membership in organizations that promotes diversity, plan/sponsor campus or community wide programs dealing with issues of diversity, multiculturalism and/or appreciation of differences, etc.

2012 Recipient—Rosa Thomas

Rosa Thomas

Rosa Thomas devotes a lot of her time to expanding students’ cultural horizons on campus. She is a wellness coordinator in the Safety, Environment and Education (SEE) Center. She is also a founding member of the Access and Diversity Staff Retention Fund, which helps UT employees expand their awareness by funding their participation in national seminars and conferences that relate to diversity and multicultural themes. She also is a member of the Commission for Blacks and the Commission for Women. She is a past recipient of the UT Citation for Extraordinary Customer Service. Thomas has been honored nationally for her work in health and wellness by the American College Health Association. She received their Ruth E. Boynton Award for Distinguished Service. She is on the advisory board for the Ronald McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program and works with the Black Issues Conference, Project Grad, and the Bridge Program.


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The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System