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Keene State honors women

Union Leader Correspondent

February 22. 2018 9:04PM

Benajil Rai (courtesy)

Puja Thapa (courtesy)

KEENE — Five women will be honored at the 28th annual Outstanding Women of New Hampshire Awards at Keene State College next month.

The awards night, which will be on March 5, is traditionally held during National Women’s History Month and is focused this year on recognizing “New Hampshire women who persisted in fighting discrimination against women.”

Recognized this year are Keene State students Puja Thapa and Benajil Rai; Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Retention at Franklin Pierce University Jill Bassett; associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Keene State College Patricia Pedroza Gonzalez; and U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster.

Nominations for the awards come in from around the state, said Dr. Dottie Morris, associate vice president for Institutional Diversity and Equity at Keene State.

This year, the Keene State College Award is going to two students from Nepal, Morris said.

Thapa and Rai work as advocates and mentors through Little Sisters and Women Lead, programs based in Nepal that selected them to receive higher educations so they can return as leaders and advocates for women in Nepal.

“They are already leaving their mark,” Morris said Thursday, “because of their openess and willingness to participate in any way possible.”

The two women were selected for these scholarships because of “their persistent leadership and advocacy, as well as their qualities of clarity, compassion, and equanimity.”

So far at Keene State they have given well-received formal and informal presentations with fellow students, faculty and staff.

Both have joined Keene State’s student newspaper, The Equinox. They are also undertaking academic work focused on furthering their work to combat discrimination against women. Benajil wrote a paper on rape culture in Nepal and in the U.S., and both are minoring in women’s and gender studies.

“They have come to Keene State College and have become involved in the community in many, many ways,” Morris said. “I just think they have such a giving way, it really deepens the experience that we all have on campus.”

Kuster is receiving the award for statewide impact for her work as a representative fighting against “wage discrimination, the rescinding of campus sexual violence guidelines, sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and elsewhere, discrimination against LGBTQ people, workplace pregnancy discrimination, discrimination within the Veterans Affairs against women veterans, restrictions to women's access to health care and reproductive services, and more.”

Kuster is the founder and co-chairman of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, which has focused on issues such as campus safety, sexual trauma in the military and online harassment.

The Keene State Faculty award goes to Gonzalez, who has fought discrimination in life and career in many ways, including advocating for women in Mexico.

And the Monadnock Region Award recipient is Bassett, who is currently collecting data on how secondary trauma from stories and shared experiences of sexual misconduct impacts Title IX agents in higher education. The survey data she is conducting is research for a dissertation she is writing.

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