Four UW community members to receive Women of Distinction Leadership Award

Collage of four women of color.
From left: Christy Clark-Pujara, Brenda González, Candace McDowell, and Hazel Symonette are among six recipients of the 2022 Women of Distinction Leadership Award from YWCA Madison.

Four members of the UW–Madison community will be among six eminent women of color honored by the YWCA Madison organization this May for their leadership and enduring legacy in the greater Madison community.

The nonprofit YWCA Madison announced on April 12 that Christy Clark-Pujara, Brenda González, Andrea Jones, Candace McDowell, Lucia Nuñez, and Hazel Symonette would receive the Women of Distinction Leadership Award at the organization’s 47th annual awards event on May 26. Learn about the event and register now.

“I am so excited for this historic year in our Women of Distinction history. This is the first time in our 47-year history of the Women of Distinction awards that we are honoring all women of color. As a Black woman leading YWCA Madison, during this time, it feels so right and necessary,” said Vanessa McDowell, CEO of YWCA Madison.

Congratulations to Christy Clark-Pujara, Brenda González, Candace McDowell, and Hazel Symonette for this well-deserved recognition for their work as teachers, organizers, and change-makers.

Christy Clark-Pujara, Associate Professor of History in the Dept. Afro-American Studies

Portrait of Christy Clark-Pujara
Christy Clark-Pujara

Prof. Christy Clark-Pujara, Ph.D., is a historian whose research focuses on the experiences of Black people in French and British North America in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. She is particularly interested in retrieving the hidden and unexplored histories of African Americans in areas that historians have not sufficiently examined—small towns and cities in the North and Midwest. She has published about slavery, spoken on radio programs about Black abolitionists, given guest lectures to the UW Odyssey Project, been a guest lecturer in the Justified Anger program, designed history programs to educate judges, mentored girls and young women, and much more.

In the awards announcement, the YWCA called her “a superstar who devotes her life to speaking out against racism, uncovering this country’s dismal record of abuse against nonwhite populations, and sharing that knowledge in engaging ways with broader audiences. … She exemplifies all the aspects of the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women both through the life she lives herself and through the work and service she does for others.”

Brenda González, Director of Community Relations

Portrait of Brenda González
Brenda González

As director of Community Relations, Brenda González serves as UW–Madison’s primary point of contact with local community and nonprofit organizations. She is responsible for developing strategies to ensure the university is engaged with these organizations and the broader community.

Since becoming director of Community Relations in 2019, González has grown and improved the community access space located at The Village on Park to include co-working spaces, conference space, gathering spaces and classrooms for teaching and events, all now open and available to community members and organizations. On any given day, you will see people seeking free help in completing their taxes, Madison School District students attending “micro schools” in art history, or employees from partner organizations working in co-working spaces. Under her leadership, the UW South Madison Partnership has quadrupled its space from 3,015 square feet to nearly 13,000.

“Brenda González’s career revolves around one theme — improving the human condition for people in our community,” the YWCA said in the awards announcement. “She does so by seeking assignments that allow her to benefit others with an emphasis on improving access to healthcare and education for women and their children.”

Candace McDowell, Founding Director of the Multicultural Student Center

Candace McDowell
Candace McDowell

Candace McDowell started her career in the early ’70s training adults in secretarial skills, empowering particularly nonwhite women to enter into the historically white-dominated secretarial field. She then joined UW–Madison, and after working in admissions for 10 years became the founding director of the Multicultural Student Center (MSC). During her 22 years as leader of the MSC, the center served about 500,000 students and helped to establish its pivotal campus role as a social justice education center and gathering place.

She has served as a role model and mentor for thousands of students — who she calls “my babies” — many of whom come back every year during Homecoming to still seek out her tutelage. Since retiring from the university in 2010, McDowell has continued to serve as a role model in her church, sorority and in the greater Madison community.

Hazel Symonette, Program Development & Assessment Specialist Emerita

Portrait of Hazel Symonette
Hazel Symonette

Hazel Symonette, Ph.D., not only co-led the 1969 Black Student Strike at UW but continues to dedicate her life as one the most beloved scholars in the campus community. She has used her background in social justice and her long history on campus and at UW System to develop, evaluate and improve success opportunities for all. She has spearheaded important initiatives that have made the work of UW–Madison more accessible to community members.

Currently she serves as evaluation facilitator at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and as multicultural initiatives manager in the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives. Her work focuses on using assessment and evaluation as participant-centered self-diagnostic resources for continuous improvement, developmental innovation, and strategic image management. Her work draws on social justice and systemic change research to create meaningful and life-changing interactions among students, faculty, staff and administrators.