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December 2, 1999

UW-RF Student Honored for Achievements

By Emily Felling
UW-RF News Bureau

From a young age, Women of Color award recipient and University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate student Jacquelynne Whitner has been interested in helping people. "I've always been interested in the good for all, and I've always been geared towards working in public service," said Whitner, a Minneapolis resident who attends UW-RF as an evening graduate student.

In October Whitner and 20 other women of color, each representing a campus in the University of Wisconsin System, were honored for their contributions to diversity.

In the five years of the award, the recognition of Whitner represents the first time that a UW-RF student was the recipient of this prestigious honor. In the past it has been awarded to faculty or staff members.

Whitner was recognized for more than 30 years of work in human rights and mentoring to others. Her experiences ranged from placing her life on the line as a Freedom Marcher in Mississippi in the 1960s to serving as a Peace Corps volunteer to writing tutorials that help majority foster parents understand the racial and cultural needs of minority foster children. Whitner was nominated by UW-RF Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau and Lisa Reavill, the director of the academic success center, who felt she was the perfect candidate because of her long list of achievements.

Thibodeau said of Whitner's nomination: "Jacquelynne Whitner is an exceptional role model in her efforts to provide public service and to support others. She has witnessed and continues to participate in numerous important historical events that are advancing our society. We all can learn from her example."

In the 1960s, Whitner in the Civil Rights movement in the state of Mississippi, she attended the March on Washington, was she a marcher in Selma, Ala. She later served in the Peace Corps. Through all those years Whitner has been active in registering voters.

During the Freedom March movement Whitner experienced first-hand the prejudice of being banned from restaurants and public accommodations because of the color of her skin. She saw the retaliation people of color losing their homes or property for asserting their constitutional right to vote.

"Resistance ran amuck of itself," Whitner said. "The majority showed total resistance towards integration. They didn't care about killing. People of color lived in fear and lost their houses and property for simply wanting to vote."

Whitner's passion for social justice continues. She was a participant in the Million Woman March in Philadelphia in 1997. She also attended the American Multicultural Leadership conferences in 1998 and 1999 in which she won a second place award in prose writing and a first place in poetry. She also works with emotionally disturbed mothers and has developed a curriculum for non-minority foster parents to assist them when caring for minority foster children.

Of foster children, Whitner says she wrote the curriculum because she believes that its crucial youngsters not lose track of their heritage and culture.

"I advise the parents to learn as much as they can about their child's culture and to expose their child to that," Whitner said. "Also, the parents should find a person of that culture to be a special friend to their child, and one that they can use as a cultural reference."

While at UW-River Falls, Whitner has been a mentor and guide to student women of color, participates in pre-college summer programs for young people of color and worked in the Admissions office. Last May she graduated with a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in ethnic studies. Whitner is now working toward her master's degree in counseling and school psychology in the College of Education & Graduate Studies.

Of all her personal accomplishments, Whitner says that completing her formal education was the most rewarding.

"I wanted to finish my degree before the millennium," Whitner said.

Whitner feels she believes that everyone is obligated to give back to society as long as they are alive. "If you're not doing something productive while you're here, what are you doing here?" Whitner rhetorically asks.

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