Three members of UChicago community receive Diversity Leadership Awards

Faculty, alumni, staff winners honored during 2019 MLK commemoration

Each year the University of Chicago recognizes three members of the UChicago community for their contributions to diversity and inclusion at the University and in the broader community. The Diversity Leadership Council, along with the University of Chicago Alumni Board, selects a University faculty member, alumnus and staff member who have provided leadership in advancing social justice and equity in our society.

This year’s recipients are Prof. Monica Vela, MD’93; Sybil Jordan Hampton, MST’68; and Ron OJ Parson. They received their awards at a Jan. 15 reception on campus and were honored during the UChicago community’s annual Martin Luther King. Jr. commemoration at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

“The University of Chicago was built on a conceptual foundation of inclusion, having always been open to scholarship of both men and women, and those of all cultures, religions, races and ethnicities. Making these conceptual foundations fully manifest has been and remains ongoing work,” President Robert J. Zimmer said. “Diversity, and the varied perspectives that it brings, is critical to the quality of inquiry that drives our search for understanding across the natural, social and human worlds; is critical to our particular form of rigorous education embedded in such inquiry; and is essential for the nature of impact of our research and education.”

Learn more about this year’s honorees:

Faculty award winner

As professor of medicine and associate dean for multicultural affairs at the Pritzker School of Medicine, Monica Vela, MD’93, created a first-of-its-kind Health Care Disparities in America course, which is required for all first-year medical students and promotes health care equity and advocacy. Vela regularly travels across the country teaching educators how to create similar courses at their institutions based on local health disparities data. She also serves as associate vice chair for diversity in the Department of Medicine, advocating for the recruitment, retention, scholarship, leadership and mentorship of underrepresented students, residents, fellows and faculty.

The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she completed medical school at Pritzker and residency at the University’s Internal Medicine Residency program. Vela’s research focuses on medical education on health disparities, care of patient populations with limited English proficiency and increasing diversity within the medical profession. She maintains a clinical practice in the Primary Care group and mentors junior faculty whose research addresses health care disparities on Chicago’s South Side. Vela has directed three pipeline programs supporting the promotion of minority students into scientific research and the health profession. 

In 2016, she was appointed director of the Bowman Society, which brings together members of the University community for mentorship and scholarly discussion on health care issues affecting minority populations. Vela also convened the inaugural Black Men in Medicine Forum in 2016 and 2017, and the inaugural Black and Latina Women in Medicine Forum in 2017 and 2018. She has received numerous awards that reflect her dedication to inclusion and equity, including the Senior Distinguished Leader Award in Diversity and Inclusion in the Department of Medicine in 2017. 

Alumni award recipient

Sybil Jordan Hampton, MST’68, is a lifelong advocate of public education, economic development, philanthropy and social justice. Hampton grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was a member of the second class of African-American students admitted to Little Rock Central High School in 1959. Despite being shunned by her classmates for the three years she attended Central, Hampton graduated with honors. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Earlham College, a master's degree in teaching from the University of Chicago; and master's and doctoral degrees in higher education from Teachers College, Columbia University. 

Hampton’s determination coupled with her passion for education and social justice developed into a successful and productive career in higher education administration and philanthropic leadership roles. From 1996-2006, she served as president of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, an Arkansas-based organization that funds projects encouraging economic development, education, and racial and social justice.

In 2014, the Attorney General of Arkansas appointed Hampton to a five-year term on the Arkansas Ethics Commission.

Staff award recipient

As resident artist at the Court Theatre, Ron OJ Parson leads efforts to broaden outreach across Chicago’s South and West sides. Parson launched the theatre’s Spotlight Reading Showcase, a citywide reading series highlighting rarely produced classics by authors of color. As a result of this initiative, the theatre has significantly expanded its audience base, attracting increasingly diverse audiences and first-time theater-goers. Under Parson’s direction, overall participation at the Court Theatre by people of color has increased from 5 percent to 40 percent.

Parson has also contributed to the theatre's industry accolades and its growing reputation as one of the top theatres in the city. Radio Golf, the last Court Theatre production directed by Parson, was listed as one of the 10 best shows in Chicago theater in 2018 by the Chicago Tribune.

He is the co-founder and former artistic director of the Onyx Theatre Ensemble, a company member of TimeLine Theatre, and an associate artist at Writers Theatre and Teatro Vista. Parson’s productions at the Court Theatre include August Wilson’s plays: FencesGem of the Ocean, Seven Guitars, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson and Jitney. Other Court Theatre productions include The Mountaintop by Katori Hall; Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett; Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage; Home by Samm-Art Williams; and Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott.