Associate Professor Deb Aikat recognized for commitment to inclusion, honored with 2019 Diversity Award

In his 24 years as a faculty member at the UNC School of Media and Journalism, Associate Professor Deb Aikat has been a diligent advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University. His research, accomplishments and contributions to campus diversity made him an excellent candidate for the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s 2019 Diversity Award.

The University Diversity Awards recognize significant contribution, time and effort of Carolina community members toward advancing an inclusive climate for excellence in teaching, research, public service and academic endeavor.

“I have mixed feelings about receiving this award,” Aikat said. “Recent events have disrupted Carolina’s spirit of unity in diversity. We are making national news for the wrong reasons. That’s not good. On a more positive note, these events have advanced diversity issues to the forefront. Our diversity challenges have motivated us to endure and emerge stronger.”

Aikat will be one of six individuals honored during the annual Diversity Awards program and reception on Monday, April 29, at 2 p.m. at the Current ArtSpace + Studio. This award is considered the University’s highest recognition for diversity efforts and provides an opportunity to recognize individuals and organizations across six categories — faculty, staff, undergraduate student, graduate/professional student, alumni and intergroup collaboration — for exemplary service or scholarship in promoting diversity, equity, social justice, community engagement and/or cultural awareness.

Since joining the staff in 1995, Aikat said he’s learned three important lessons about diversity.

First, he said, the spirit of diversity thrives when we “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That saying has motivated and directed his research, teaching and public service. Second, Aikat said Carolina embodies the “University of the People” that binds the community together. And third, Aikat has realized that inequity affects us all.

“When inequity affects you, do not forget that you have the power to act, lead and seek justice,” he said. “Remember, the only limitations in our lives are those we place on ourselves.”

Aikat was recognized for his work to assemble peaceful efforts to oppose the Confederate monument. Aikat worked with students, faculty and colleagues to foster a civil conversation on Silent Sam.

Aikat’s commitment to diversity and inclusion informs his research on the technology tools and digital media that ushered increased diversity in the global sphere. His research theorizes the rise of the digitally networked public sphere amidst the declining dominance of traditional media.

“Diversity issues are so critically important at this time on our campus,” said Susan King, dean of the MJ-school. “Our congratulations and appreciation go to Deb, all of this year’s diversity award winners and the Carolina community of students, faculty, staff and alumni who are committed to making our University the rich tapestry of people and ideas that is essential to the promise of our mission.”