Student winners and honorable mentions of the 2024 James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial and Intercultural Peace and Harmony stand at this year’s ceremony with Cornell leadership and Cornell Trustee Emeritus Thomas W. Jones ’69, MRP ’72, standing, third from left, who endowed the Perkins Prize in 1994.

Latina sorority awarded Perkins Prize for dedication to literacy

The Invincible Iota Chapter of Sigma Lambda Upsilon/ Señoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority, Inc (SLU) received the 28th annual James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial and Intercultural Peace and Harmony during a ceremony April 15 at Willard Straight Hall. 

Each year, the $5,000 Perkins Prize is awarded to a Cornell program, organization or event making the most significant contribution to furthering the ideal of university community while respecting values of diversity. 

 “We are truly proud to recognize the Iota Chapter of Sigma Lambda Upsilon's commitment to creating a culture of belonging at Cornell and throughout our communities,” said Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life. “The varieties of your efforts and your consistent drive to give back and share knowledge you’ve gained with others is an inspiration to all of us.”

Students speak with Cornell Trustee Emeritus Thomas W. Jones ’69, MRP ’72, who endowed the Perkins Prize in 1994.

SLU, chartered at Cornell in 1993 and expanded to include Ithaca College in 2008, is a multicultural sorority that promotes sisterhood, academic achievement, service to the community and cultural enrichment for its members. 

Throughout its existence the organization has shown a commitment to advancing literacy within the Ithaca community. The women have volunteered at Cortland Free Library, hosted a book drive for the Friends of the Library and worked to establish a Free Little Library next to the Southside Community Center. SLU organized a “Blind Date with a Book” distribution program where students picked out books based on a one-sentence plot description – the cover, including title and author, remained a mystery – to encourage readership of more books written by women and authors of color.  

SLU President Amy Escalante ’24, an applied economics and management major in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, accepted the award on behalf of the group, which became the first Greek-letter organization to receive the award. 

“This opportunity is a continuous call to action and a reminder that our work is far from over,” said Escalante, who also serves as the president of the Multicultural Greek & Fraternal Council at Cornell. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable environment for all.” 

Cornell Trustee Emeritus Thomas W. Jones ’69, MRP ’72, who endowed the Perkins Prize in 1994 in honor of former President James A. Perkins, expressed pride that the prize has endured for more than 20 years. 

“I think the message is probably more important today than it ever was,” Jones said. 

The Perkins Prize honorable mention, worth $500, went to the Pan-African Muslim Student Association (PAMSA), a group dedicated to creating community for Black Muslims on campus through speakers, cultural events, and social events. 

PAMSA has built community by providing space for the education and discussion of the cultural, political and social landscape of the Muslim and Black Diaspora convergence. The group brings support and awareness to the intersectional experience of being Black and Muslim (and often female) at Cornell. The group recently hosted prominent speaker Mustafa Briggs on campus and celebrated with a Black Iftar during Ramadan that included multiple campus partners. 

“Firstly, to think about, is that seeing the best in other people is the key to building a community,” Jones said. “And the second thing to think about is, when you build community, you often discover things that you see are the best about yourself.” 

Laura Gallup is a communications lead for Student and Campus Life. 

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