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Courage to Climb Award Winner – February 2016

The Division of Student Life would like to congratulate Colleen Ryan on being selected as the winner of the 2016 Courage to Climb Award.  Colleen is a third-year Haslam Scholar and Baker Scholar from Cookeville, TN majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in Politics and Economics.

Colleen is a co-chair for Sexual Empowerment at Tennessee and has been involved with the organization for over two years. SEAT’s mission is to “strive to foster a comprehensive and academically-informed conversation about sex, sexuality, and relationships with the purpose of educating the UT student body and the Knoxville community through innovative, collaborative, and entertaining programming and events.” Colleen commented that her involvement in the group, especially her work with sexual assault prevention, is one of her most impactful experiences at UT.

Colleen started an organization on campus called the Student Peace Alliance. The mission of the organization is to empower and educate students about issues of structural and physical violence in the Knoxville community. The group organized a speaker series, which highlighted topics of solitary confinement, mass incarceration, and the death penalty.  Colleen’s internship with the Knox County Public Defenders’ Community Law Office sparked her interest in mass incarceration policies.

While studying abroad in Northern Uganda, Colleen researched gender-based and sexual violence in the post-conflict period; through this, she became especially interested in how the country’s anti-homosexuality laws affect access to health care for survivors. Colleen plans to apply for Fulbright Scholar Award to return to Uganda and more thoroughly research this topic.

Colleen currently works with the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at the US Agency for International Development and will be interning with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives in Washington, D.C. in Summer 2016. Colleen’s passion is post-conflict reconciliation and plans to study the topic in graduate school. She would like to work for the US government and influence policy to be more sensitive to cultural context. When asked about how she approaches these challenging topics around violence, she said “peace has also existed in humanity since the beginning of time.”