May 2, 2006

Film-discussion series on Africa awarded 12th annual James A. Perkins Prize

Creators of "Around the World in 8 Days ... Goes to Africa," a film and discussion series at Cornell University focusing on the continent, recently won the 12th annual James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony.

Cornell Provost Biddy Martin presented the award and accompanying $5,000 prize to Shawkat Toorawa, assistant professor of Arabic literature and Islamic studies in the Department of Near Eastern Studies; William (Woodg) Horning, program director for Community Centers; and Jeanne Butler, graphic designer for Campus Life, during a ceremony April 17 at the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room.

"I am personally gratified that the Perkins Prize went to a program that involves so many constituencies: undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, staff and others within the larger university community," said Toorawa. Key to his program's success, he said, were Cornell's support for faculty interaction with students outside the classroom and the recognition of a program that empowers constituents as both organizers and participants.

Through Toorawa, a faculty fellow at Robert Purcell Community Center, "travelers" journey to places as far-flung as the islands of the southwestern Indian Ocean, or as close as Fire Island, N.Y. Helping Toorawa guide those journeys during the fortnightly Toorawa Family Dinner Table are his wife Parvine and daughters Maryam and Asiya. This year the students spent eight days touring Africa with Toorawa and guest speakers to such places as Mali, Tunisia and Burkina Faso through films by and about people in those nations. The voyage complemented the 2005 First Year Reading Project selection, Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart."

A play on the novel "Around the World in 80 Days," the eight in the prize-winning series refers to the number of months in the academic calendar.

Receiving honorable mention at the ceremony:

These awards included a $1,000 prize.

Sue McNamara, executive assistant to the dean of students and coordinator for the prize and ceremony, said the prize selection committee awarded projects that were beneficial to the campus community and sustainable. The committee -- consisting of students, faculty members and administrators -- administers the prize through the Office of the Dean of Students.

Created in 1994 by Thomas W. Jones '69, Cornell trustee emeritus, the Perkins Prize promotes efforts that make the most significant contribution to furthering the ideal of university community while respecting the values of racial diversity. As an undergraduate, Jones participated in the student takeover of Willard Straight Hall in 1969.

Although Toorawa will be away next academic year, he said he and his winning team want to parlay the award's recognition and funds into a program that is even more focused on interracial harmony and understanding. "We are looking at doing a series of eight films that explore interracial relationships," he said.