Diversity champion

Harris head shotThomas Harris, ’01, earned the Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of articles recognizing alumni receiving distinguished service awards in September 2018.

Thomas Harris is a role model for UWL students, others

He’s served as a mentor and role model to thousands of UWL students — as well as students throughout the Midwest. During his nearly 30 years on campus, Thomas Harris has become known for his behind-the-scenes work in helping to make college campuses across the Midwest a better place.

“Thomas is very highly respected by students, hall directors, the Residence Life Central staff, and the many other campuses and community contacts he has made over the years,” says Ruth Kurinsky, assistant director emeritus of UWL Residence Life. “People actively sought opportunities to work with and learn from this exceptionally capable man.”

Harris is known as a distinguished professional in the field of student affairs, specifically in leadership, involvement, equity and social justice. Much of the work he does humbly — he’s not looking for personal recognition.

But students respect him and his work so much they did just that. Student leaders of the Wisconsin United Residence Hall Association, a student-run leadership organization, renamed their Advisor of the Year Award, the Thomas Harris Advisor of the Year Award.

“He has influenced and made life better for countless individuals over a long period of time.”

On campus, Harris serves as an advocate for all students he encounters, helping them navigate through academic, personal and other issues, as well as opening doors for leadership opportunities. He’s also a mentor for students of color, along with a social justice change-maker and promoter of diversity and inclusion. He’s worked to help others understand the difference between equity and equality. He has helped administrators and community leaders to better recognize their unconscious biases. He has increased opportunities for students of color in earning scholarships and seeing they get recognized for their accomplishments.

Harris is also known and respected throughout the 7 Rivers Region, where he has partnered to organize and facilitate diversity and social justice programs in schools, government agencies and businesses. He led the way for the 7 Rivers Region Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday celebration to be shifted from UWL’s celebration into a community collaborative event orchestrated by area organizations, including UWL, and community members. In 2010, he led the 7 Rivers Region Diversity Collaboration Initiative that brought together 21 regional organizations to host the National White Privilege Conference in La Crosse.

“He has been involved in dozens of efforts in pursuit of racial equality and social justice,” says former La Crosse Mayor John Medinger. “He has influenced and made life better for countless individuals over a long period of time.”

The Thomas Harris file

• Esteemed student mentor, and leader of equity and social justice.
• Long-time student advisor and, since 2003, assistant director of UWL Multicultural Student Services. Other titles during his nearly 30 years at UWL: administrative assistant; camp coordinator; assistant residence hall director; residence hall director; student education and resource liaison.
• Advisor to Residence Hall Association Council, Asian Student Organization, Black Student Unity, Students for a Free Tibet; Leadership Workshop Coordinator; interim advisor for numerous organizations in transition; provides oversight for nine Multicultural Student Organizations.
• Committee member on many campus committees and search and screen committees; initial board member for Greater La Crosse Area Diversity Council and The Privilege Institute.
• Numerous awards, including the La Crosse Area Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Leadership Award, 2010; Rada Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient, 2012; La Crosse YWCA’s Men on a Mission Award, 2015.
• Master’s of Science in College Student Personnel from UWL, 2001; bachelor’s in political science and public administration from UW-Stevens Point, 1988.

Seven to receive distinguished alumni awards

Alumni who graduated during the past four decades will receive the top awards bestowed by the UWL Alumni Association this fall. They’re being honored for distinguished service and successful careers. They’ll return to campus to speak with students and participate in a panel at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, in the Great Hall, Cleary Alumni & Friends Center. An Alumni Awards Brunch and Ceremony is planned for 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, in The Bluffs Room, UWL Student Union. Tickets are $25 per person and can be ordered through the Alumni Association at 608.785.8489.

Awards and honorees include:

The Maurice O. Graff Distinguished Alumnus Award
Recognizes outstanding achievement of alumni who have brought honor and distinction to the university. Long-time administrator Maurice O. Graff instituted the honor in 1977.
• Joonkoo Yun, ’92
• Jon Erickson, ’76

Rada Distinguished Alumnus Award
Recognizes alumni who have graduated within the last 20 years, achieved professional distinction and taken part in humanitarian activities. Professor emeritus Ron Rada and his wife, Jane, created the award in 2002.
• Matt Brantner, ’05
• Marc Gall, ’03

Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award
Recognizes outstanding alumni who have contributed greatly to improve multiracial culture and understanding on campus and in their careers. History Professor Emeritus James Parker initiated the award in 1997.
• Thomas Harris, ’01
• Houa Xiong, ’98 & ’00

Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award
Honors and recognizes outstanding educators and the significant contributions they make to children and communities. Professor Emeritus Burt Altman and his wife, Norma, long-time supporters of teacher education, created the award in 2015.
• Phil Ertl, ’88