Advocating for the concerns of those whose voices aren't heard is a hallmark of diversity leadership. The University of Chicago’s 2018 Diversity Leadership Award recipients have dedicated their lives to helping support underrepresented communities: Faculty member Randolph N. Stone, alumna Sunny Fischer and staff member Scott Cook have their own areas of public service interests, but are united in their passion for equality and justice.
Regina Dixon-Reeves, assistant vice provost for diversity and inclusion, praised the commitment of this year’s awardees, who will be honored Jan. 16 during the University’s annual MLK commemoration. “We are extremely proud of this year’s recipients as their collective years of work and sustained engagement in support of marginalized populations demonstrates the inclusive excellence valued by the University of Chicago.”
Defending all communities
A lifelong advocate for the underrepresented, Clinical Professor of Law Randolph N. Stone is dedicated to supporting and representing disadvantaged individuals and groups in the Chicago area. As founder of the Criminal Juvenile Justice Project, he works with law and social work students to defend children and young adults who have been charged with criminal behavior, reform juvenile and criminal law policies, and improve the criminal justice system. He continues his child advocacy as a board member of the Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.
“We started the CJP because we wanted to help stop the movement to criminalize African-American children,” Stone said. “Illinois was a leader in transferring children out of juvenile court to the adult criminal court by curtailing judicial discretion, lowering the age of transfer, and increasing the number and types of crimes for transfer. Moving forward, we want to continue to help children and young adults be treated with compassion and fairness.”
In addition to working on programs devoted to fair child sentencing policies, Stone also serves on the advisory board of the Federal Defender Program and served on Chicago’s Police Accountability Task Force. Throughout his career Stone has mentored hundreds of minority students, chaired the American Bar Association’s criminal justice section and served as the public defender of Cook County, where he helped increase the number of minority and women lawyers hired to the office while improving the quality of representation.
Sunny Fischer, AM’82, has worked as a teacher, social worker and executive in philanthropy. After earning her master’s degree at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, she went on to work with abused women in the community. Learning how women-focused organizations were under-resourced, she helped start the women’s funding movement, serving as executive director of The Sophia Fund, the first private women’s foundation solely devoted to women’s issues. She also co-founded the Chicago Foundation for Women, and had leadership roles in the Women’s Funding Network and Chicago Women in Philanthropy.
Later in her career, Fischer served as executive director of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, where she focused on historic preservation, the arts, and architecture and design, especially in low-income neighborhoods. While at the foundation, Fischer helped start a public housing museum in Chicago. Fischer was enthusiastic about this opportunity, as it combines her commitment to social justice and the arts, and it challenges stereotypes of public housing residents and the role of public housing.
After 10 years of exhibits and programs as a “museum in the streets,” the National Public Housing Museum is expected to open in 2019 in its own building in Chicago. A former resident of public housing, Fischer knows how damaging stereotypes can be, and she hopes that the museum will raise important questions about race and poverty, and the true meaning of “home.”
Fischer reflects on her perseverance: “These years of labor have been worth it,” she said. “If you believe in social justice and that art and culture can bring deeper understanding and can be a call to action, then the belief is motivation enough.”
Bridging political and social gaps
A clinical psychologist who spent much of his life working to improve health care services for minority populations, Scott Cook works at the University of Chicago Medical Center and Biological Sciences Division to help achieve culturally competent health care and reducing health care disparities across all communities.
“Health care disparities are immediate for me because the physical and emotional suffering that they create harm the people that I love the most in this world—my family, community and friends,” said Cook, who is a quality improvement and clinical transformation strategist. “I try to use the power afforded to me by my privileged identities to address these problems and the problems of others in groups that I may not belong to.”
Cook also serves as the deputy director of Finding Answers: Solving Disparities Through Payment and Delivery System Reform, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation geared toward identifying and reducing health care inequities. Throughout his career, Cook has worked with underrepresented communities in rural Missouri, as an intern at Chicago Cook County Stroger Hospital and at the Howard Brown Health Center. At Howard Brown, Cook worked directly with the LGBTQ community to create health care programs and interventions, including a smoking cessation public health campaign.
At these organizations Cook said he “learned so much about how bias, discrimination and oppression play out in people’s lives and damage their health and well-being.” Cook uses this knowledge along with personal experiences to continue working toward health care equality.